Thoughts On The Special Election

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - May 26, 2010

Ah, the tyranny of deadlines. Here I am, writing an analysis of the 1st Congressional District’s special election four days before the votes are counted.

Why should that stop me, licensed political columnist that I am? Whoever wins, there’s much to be noted about this election without knowing with certainty its result.

First of all, it marked a perfect opportunity for Republican Charles Djou: 1) there was no incumbent in the race, 2) the vote of the majority Democrats was split between two strong candidates, and 3) Djou’s message - the word “no” repeated incessantly - resonated with the electorate in these tea dumping times.

With an incumbent in the 1st District contest, Democrats have won every race since statehood save two. Those were won in 1986 and 1988 by Patricia Saiki, a moderate Republican ex-schoolteacher back in the days when the GOP still included - believe it or not - moderates.


Otherwise, a Republican has come close only once: in 1996, when former prisoner of war Orson Swindle, in his second attempt, came within three percentage points of beating incumbent former anti-war protester Neil Abercrombie. Shortly thereafter, Swindle left the state and in the next election state Rep. Gene Ward lost to Abercrombie by 15 percentage points. It’s been all downhill for the 1st District GOP from there.

But, ah, the joy for Republicans - national and local - in a special election in which two strong Democrats, former 2nd District Rep. Ed Case and current state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, split the donkey vote. With such a split, the Republican’s 35 percent in the 1st could win. With sufficient Mainland and local Republican money - of which Djou has received oodles - that 35 percent could grow significantly, perhaps to the 41 or 45 percent Swindle achieved.

Then there’s the power of “no” to any and all tax hikes in this the third year in a row in which the United States will run a $1 trillion-plus deficit - with more of them promised into the future. In recent elections in Massachusetts, Kentucky, Virginia and Louisiana, the anti-tax Tea Party’s numbers and exuberance have been felt. Its members don’t like bailouts, stimulus packages or expensive health care; and they hate the tax hikes that will be required to pay for them.

A second observation. In the 1st District special election, the Democrats were victims of their own long bench. How long? It stretches all the way into the locker room and out into the parking lot: Forty-four of the 51 members of the state House are Democrats, 23 of the 25 members of the state Senate are Democrats, as are eight of the nine members of the Honolulu City Council.

In 2006, when Case made a bid for the United States Senate, no fewer than six elected Democrats sought their party’s nomination to succeed him. Two others were former state legislators and, in one case, a former lieutenant governor. Colleen Hanabusa ran second in that 2nd District Democratic primary - to the former lieutenant governor and longtime state legislator Mazie Hirono. In the general election, the Republicans sacrificed my MidWeek colleague Bob Hogue - one of then only three GOP state senators - for the cause.

So an open seat in the 1st District special election offered an enormous opportunity for ambitious Democrats like Case and Hanabusa - too much opportunity for the good of the Democrats’ cause.

A third thought. Never have I seen so many attack ads used in a Hawaii election. Their style and much of the money needed to put them on the air came from the Mainland.

Both should have stayed there. They don’t play well in Hawaii. They never have and I doubt that they ever will, particularly when they are as shrill, vague and unfair as those that have appeared during the 1st District special election campaign.

Fourth (and finally, I promise), the special election campaign these past three months took all the air out of the race for the governor-ship between Abercrombie and Mufi Hannemann. That will change this coming weekend when the mayor officially announces his candidacy at the Democrats’ state convention.

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