Patient Aiona Ready To Lead

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - January 20, 2010

Duke Aiona: family first

Hawaii’s lieutenant governorship has never been much of an office. It has no constitutional responsibilities, save to wait around for the governor to either die or be term-limited from running again.

Waiting pays. Since state-hood, three lieutenant governors have grown impatient and challenged an incumbent governor in their party’s primary election: Republican Jimmy Kealoha in 1962, Democrats Tom Gill in 1970 and Jean King and in 1982. Each lost.

Five twiddled their thumbs amidst the quiet of the LG’s office and waited their turn: George Ariyoshi from 1970 to 1974, John Waihee from 1982 to 1986, Ben Cayetano from 1986 to 1994, Mazie Hirono from 1994 to 2002, and Duke Aiona from 2002 to 2010. Three of those four - Ariyoshi, Waihee and Cayetano - ascended to the governorship. Only Hirono went down in defeat.

This year Republican Duke Aiona seeks to follow in the footsteps of Democrats Ariyoshi, Waihee and Cayetano. He’s hired the political consultant who developed Gov. Linda Lingle’s successful campaigns. He printed bumper stickers and he’s raised money. As election year 2010 begins, Aiona’s going out to sell the voters on “Who I am. I was born and raised in Hawaii. I’m the father of four children, a husband of 28 years. I’ve been blessed with opportunity to be a judge, a coach and lieutenant governor. That’s what will define me.

“Family is important to me. Family is at the core of everything that happens in the state: socially, economically, in terms of education.”

Aiona feels his experience as a Family Court judge sets him apart from other gubernatorial aspirants. “It’s unique,” says Aiona. “Being a judge teaches you to be fair and objective. You have to be dispassionate, and you must find out the facts before making a decision.”

Aiona found sentencing “the hardest part” of being a judge. “You can’t do it alone. The decisions are too important: parental rights, visitation. You learn the necessity of collaboration with child and protective services, the utility of mediation. You learn how to defuse tense situations.”

The toxic quality of Hawaii politics bothers Aiona. “I know it may sound cheesy, but we have to bring more aloha to our political system,” he says. “We have to learn how to agree to disagree. We have to recognize that we’re all in this together.

“This administration is Republican - the first Republican administration in a long time. We brought some balance to state government. But we shouldn’t allow every disagreement to be about Republicans vs. Democrats. That’s the easy way out. No one in the administration or the Legislature did anything wrong. The origin of our economic difficulties are global and far beyond the control of anyone in the state of Hawaii. To deal with them we all need to understand aloha and what it’s all about. We have to get back to the good old days when you could look a person in the eye and say, ‘You can trust me.’”

Aiona expresses pride in the Lingle administration’s accomplishments. He points to the governor’s energy initiative, her five-point economic plan, the public schools’ robotics program and STEM - the emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math instruction.

Debate about civil unions will be part of election year 2010 - but, in Aiona’s opinion, “only as important as the community makes it. We need to be talking about the economy, jobs and education. That’s what I’ll be talking about.”

Aiona has long been opposed to same-sex marriage. “I’m not in favor of gay marriage, but I’ve never said I was not in favor of civil rights for everyone. After all, I’m a man of color. I understand the importance of protecting civil rights.

“I simply believe that traditional marriage is the best thing for society. My experience in a courtroom speaks to this. There you learn that a child’s best chance is in a family with a mom and a dad. But I know what the real issues are in 2010: the economy, jobs and education.”

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