O‘ahu’s rash of incumbents

I was at a fast-food drive-through for lunch and the car in front of me had a bumper sticker that said, “Voting for an incumbent is like voting for an allergy.”

I must admit to sharing the sentiment at times of frustration with the fumbling of local government, and it made me wonder why O‘ahu voters so seldom hold incumbent elected officials to account.

I came of voting age on the Big Island, where the electorate once threw out six of the nine sitting council members — including the major power players — in one fell swoop.

Neighbor island voters still aren’t bashful about cleaning house. This year, the Big Island voted out three council members; Maui gave the boot to its mayor, two council members and a legislator; and Kaua‘i dumped its council chairman and a legislator.

On O‘ahu, I can’t think of a single incumbent who lost unless you count Mayor Kirk Caldwell and U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, who were only warming the seats.

Why the difference? Are neighbor islanders just more cantankerous? Do voters in the smaller communities pay more attention and know the candidates better? Is it that elected officials on the neighbor islands get more intense scrutiny from the local media than in O‘ahu’s metropolitan setting?

Whatever it is, we could use more of their healthy political skepticism in the big city.

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22 Comments on “O‘ahu’s rash of incumbents”

  1. el guapo Says:

    “Throw the rascals out!”
    Moon Sameshima

  2. As If Says:

    Maybe there are more incompetent politicians on the neighbor islands that are _deserving_ of being voted out, possibly because the bench isn’t very deep for candidates due to the smaller population?

  3. Nikki Heat Says:

    As If, I’d rather have an honest Joe Bertram who in support of a friend uses unfortunate language than “Lightning” Rod Tam of Naps and Snacks fame who repeatedly shows his incompetence but gets re-elected and actually promoted (from the House to the Senate and then the City Council). At least the people of South Maui can vote Joe out while Honolulu had to term limit Rod Tam (and I’m sure Rod will be back in the mix in two years on Oahu).

  4. charles Says:

    David, the more relevant question that should be asked is does it make sense to throw the bums out?

    Using your Big Island example, did the council then pass out cutting edge public policies that benefitted the community?

    Or was it (with apologies to The Who), meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

  5. As if Says:

    Good point Nikki. More likely then that the smaller neighbor island communities mean they keep track of their possibly less competent elected officials better and do something about it when their choices don’t work out.

  6. zzzzzz Says:

    I’ll throw out some theories:

    1. Because they’re smaller communities, neighbor islanders are much more likely to actually know the candidates, or know something about them, or know someone who knows them, than on O’ahu. This makes the name recognition advantage of the incumbent smaller than on O’ahu, and also means more voters are more aware of where the candidates stand and what interests they support.

    2. Again because the communities are smaller, any individual’s personal and family network is a larger percentage of the electorate than on O’ahu.

    3. A lot more O’ahu residents have neighbor island roots than vice versa, which means that a larger percentage of neighbor islanders have bigger personal networks than on O’ahu.

    4. Dan Inouye is less involved in neighbor island politics than O’ahu politics.

    Other than item 4, the points above theorize that politics are more personal on the neighbor islands than O’ahu.

  7. Michael Says:

    What does one expect when they want change? Something to happen overnight?

    Rome was not built overnight but it fell in a few days.

    Neighbor Islands don’t have Military. Don’t have agriculture like they used to. Definitely they depend on Tourist. From the News, understanding Tourist Boards are advertising more on Island hopping.
    Why so late? It seems other Islands are only needed to support Oahu in money and natural resources.

    Neighbor Islands may still be in the dark ages but other Islands are still Hawaii. We don’t have a need for rail. We get by and complain less about issues that are Mainland. Drive to North Shore Oahu versus Ala Moana and you see a big difference. City versus Country. Other Islands is very much country. Drive to Hana versus Kihei. City versus Country. The people in Kihei are mostly rich people from the mainland and Hana are more local people with old fashion Aloha.

    Maui, I feel is changing. Never was an issue on Gays, or racist comments. Things we learn as we grow older and not easy to cope with. Make waves on Maui or any other Island and they send you back home crying. Pack your bags and go home. Move if you don’t like it here. We tell Tourist straight to respect the land and the people. If not, they get beaten and sent home. Of course the guilty go to jail but they stand their grounds when it comes to their life style. I feel we are more tolerant of issues and fight back only when shoved. That is Old School. You can keep New School on Oahu.

    Where is the Aloha? Mainland Aloha or Hawaii Aloha? That is the question. This will always be Hawaii and not the Mainland. We have bumper stickers that say that here on Maui. Slow down this is not the Mainland. etc.

  8. David Shapiro Says:

    Charles, the last time I saw someone argue for keeping bums was when the Dodgers left Brooklyn in ’58. What’s your position on rascals? Can we throw them out?

  9. Andy Parx Says:

    The factual matter that your premise relies on Dave doesn’t really hold water, at least on Kaua`i. We never throw out incumbents without specific incidents involving the incumbent. In Chair Asing’s case many things over this election cycle and the last led to his having worn out his welcome. And in the case of Roland Sagum he had never- even in his first election- faced a viable opponent and originally won due to name recognition. The only other incumbents we voted out in the last 10 years was Ron Kouchi who was odd man out in a slate of incumbents and former councilpersons.

    We not only kept every other incumbent but brought back two former councilmembers who replaced two who didn’t seek re-election. That was circumstantial and rare. not any trend on neighbor islands.

  10. anticoqui Says:

    For Kauai, the council meeting are aired; don’t now about the other islands..so antics can be seen by those who tune into the meetings. Maybe that should be required of all County Council meetings on all islands. Also, Kauai is under ‘attack’ by those who moved here for the ‘island life-style’ but demand the convenience/prices of the Mainland BIG BOXES. Stomp on the local stores because imported goods are cheaper; and when disaster strikes, they have the money to hoard goods while us locals fend as best we can. Getting off subject so I’ll stop.

  11. Michael Says:

    In 1959 the bums came to Hawaii and made it a State. Took them 1 year to sail from East Coast to Hawaii.

  12. David Shapiro Says:

    We never throw out incumbents without specific incidents involving the incumbent.

    Andy, we’re not lacking for specific incidents to throw out incumbent council members on O‘ahu, we just never do. We’ve had people convicted for felonies and misdemeanors involving official malfeasance, involved in a hit and run, openly ignoring city regs on wedding chapels, cheating on their expense accounts, lying on their resumes, etc. etc. But I can’t remember the last time a sitting council member was voted out. They leave when they’re term-limited out, voluntarily split for another job or go to jail.

  13. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:


    Weren’t three Councilmembers recalled in 1985 or thereabotus?

    I was in graduate school at UCLA at the time so I wasn’t that involved in Hawai`i politics.

    BTW – somehow I am not able to keep my “header information” anymore. I must have clicked something inadvertently. How do I fix it?

  14. David Shapiro Says:

    Cap – Akahane, Matsumoto and Pacarro were dumped when they switched parties, but that was 25 years ago. Dunno about the header.

  15. Pamela Says:

    This is a tad off-topic, but I want to discuss the local (and national) Republican Party. I think they need to re-think their party. The Republicans used to stand for limited government– including staying out of people’s private lives – and fiscal responsibility. Now, however, their local chairman is a religious zealot who actually thinks their candidate should win because he is the most Christian, the most “righteous.” Now, the Republic Party appears to have no understanding of basic sciences — paleontology, geology, zoology, astronomy, etc. Now, they stand for no-stem cell research, and prayer being the answer to everything. The Republicans also appear to believe that they own patriotism.

    I think these so-called “Republicans” who put religion before party should form their own d*mn party. Were that to happen, and the real Republicans, the fiscal conservatives, the small-government people, who can separate their religion from their politics, could re-claim their party.

    And, then, I believe, the two-party system would return to Hawaii, and the Democrats would have a real challenge.

    And by the way, that video of Duke preaching at UH really creeped me out, as did the letter Jonah K wrote to the Christian pastors. My husband, a genetic Republican, a small-businessman who has never voted for a democrat, said his party had been hijacked, and he voted for Neil. In our household, an amazing event.

  16. charles Says:

    David, first of all, the definition of a “rascal” is a subjective one, obviously. I mean, one person’s “terrorist” is another person’s “freedom fighter.”

    That said, yes, it is possible to throw the bums out but two things have to happen. First, the candidate that wants to throw the bum out better not be a bum also.

    For many voters, the choice between a bum and a flake is an easy one: stick with the bum.

    Second, the person who thinks that it’s easy to get somebody out of office better think again. Campaigning is not an easy thing to do and more times than not, the person who runs the better campaign wins irrespective as to whether he or she was the best person to be in office.

    Campaigning and legislating are two very different things.

  17. Michael Says:

    How long does it take to graduate UCLA from first grade? I hear they are now accepting students to
    WassaMatta U. palin is an alumni.

  18. ppcc Says:


    Good points regarding the local and national Republican party. The Tea party and people like Glenn Beck and Marco Rubio of Florida have put newly elected Republicans “on notice” that their new found power in controlling the House is to do the “peoples work” of repealing Obamacare and eliminate the out of control tax and spend policy that BOTH Democrat and Republican controlled Congress’ have done in the past, post Clinton/ Newt Gingrich era.

    The Hawaii Republican party is completely messed up and needs a big time house cleaning from the top, down. Actually most Repubs lost their bids for City and State offices so really it is a major shakeup in the local Repub organization itself.

    Just from memory there was one local Repub official who was caught attempting a ‘George Michael’ of trying to have anonymous gay se x in a public park restroom. He was caught as the guy he “grabbed” in the public restroom was an undercover officer. Then there was another ex Repub elected official who “grabbed” and fondled a girl sitting next to him in flight on an airplane while the girl was sleeping and her parents were with her on the flight. What about Fred Hemming who resigned after it became public that his wife was a MULTIPLE convicted felon for theft and ?. Hemmings then made the most pathetic comments about how his wife was innocent and was somehow targeted or framed because he was an elected official. I am sure there are other local Repubs who have done other bad things that have put off many Hawaii residents but I believe the death nail on the coffin for the local Repub party was when Lingle vetoed the Civil Union bill. She sided with a minority anti CU groups who were both liars (Business round table execs lying that all businesses in their group wanted CU bill vetoed) and cheaters (Arakaki’s tax exempt group that illegally used donated money for lobbying against CU bill). Lingle then gave bull S reasons for vetoing the CU bill such as the education of school children would be negatively impacted, the CU bill is same sex marriage in another name , the CU bill would negatively impact employment of others, etc. Appears the CU bill was well crafted to prevent abuse such as a person wanting to marry their dog or cat or that it was a way to cheat paying taxes. Just the opposite, had two people gotten in a civil union, it was identified that they would take a negative hit with their federal income taxes. Because of what Lingle had done, the next legislative session will be wasted with fighting over the CU bill all OVER AGAIN and creating a major rift between pro and anti CU people. Also had Lingle allowed the CU to pass without her signature, CU would have been a NON ISSUE for this past Governors race between Aber and Aiona, giving Aiona a much better chance in defeating Aber if the issue of CU was resolved once and for all. But the most important reason why Lingle should have let the CU pass because it was the right thing to do as the majority of Hawaii residents feel that 2 adults of the same gender in Hawaii should be allowed to enter in a Civil Union, just as former Gov Burns who was a devout Christian, allowed abortion to be legal in Hawaii.

    At this point the people who make up the local Repub party needs to be completely disbanded and a new leader of the local Repub party must emerge that is in strong agreement with the Tea party movement, is for gov’t fiscal responsibility BUT is not completely anti-Union, AND is not a religious fanatic that demands all Repub party members who want to run for office be anti CU and try to interject religion and God into the business of running our Government.

  19. ppcc Says:


    ..Burns was a devout CATHOLIC…

  20. Lurch Says:

    “We tell Tourist straight to respect the land and the people. If not, they get beaten and sent home.” This quote from Michael is sad and pathetic. Surfrider Foundation asked recently which is your favorite island. Two folks answered Maui but there are too many haoles. Well, Michael, no more agriculture. Only tourism left to support the economy. Maybe you and your pals can meet the visitors at the airport. Instead of leis and aloha you can give them a good beat down. Then everything will be jes’ fine.

  21. KoreAmBear Says:

    I think Jonah Kaauwai’s statements leading up to the general election, were the undoing of the local GOP and part of the reason the party received a beat-down. I’m a devout Christian but religion and politics have no business being intertwined. Did Jesus seek to be a government official? Remember when Constantine tried to Christianize the Roman Empire, it marked the watering down and compromise of the Church, which had remained tightly rooted to the apostolic teachings during the 1st and 2nd centuries.

    Like @Pam said, the GOP should be about policies and governing principles, not about declaring which candidates are “righteous” and which are not. Jonah did not do Aiona, Djou or any of the other GOP candidates that seemed to lose 25% to 75% in their races — any favors. I believe we need a balanced Hawaii, with a two-party system of checks, balances and accountability.

    A one-party machine (backed by the same interest groups) repulses me and breeds a continued culture of corruption and conflict of interest. I really hope the GOP in Hawaii can get their act together soon. If that means Jonah toning it down, so be it. Otherwise, he’s not the right guy to lead the committee here as if he continues with this kind of platform, it will be self-destructive. Just my two cents.

  22. Michael Says:

    Lurch, the truth hurts on the recieving end.
    Disrespect others and it will come back to haunt you.
    Your words said are assuming. Think whatever you like. Your assumptions are sad and pathetic.

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