Posted tagged ‘Election 2010’

Long political campaigns getting even longer

October 27, 2010

I used to think Hawai‘i’s general election season was a bit too short — about six weeks from the primary election on the second to last Saturday of September to the general on the first Tuesday of November.

But this year’s campaign seems too long — way too long — even when you chop off a couple of weeks of having to pay attention by voting absentee.

In the 1st Congressional District race, Charles Djou and Colleen Hanabusa have been going at it since Neil Abercrombie announced he was stepping down way back in December, and with nothing new to say, they’re just saying it nastier.

In the governor’s race, the candidates have been sounding like Rain Man impersonators lately.

Everything Abercrombie says, James “Duke” Aiona accuses him of bringing Washington-style politics to Hawai‘i. Everything Aiona says, Abercrombie accuses him of not getting it done during the eight years of the Lingle-Aiona administration.

The absentee voting is part of the problem; candidates have to time their campaigns to peak when the first ballots are mailed, and they seem at a loss on what to do after that in a game of diminishing returns with fewer votes still up for grabs every day.

If this yearʻs campaign seemed long, wait until 2012, when Hawai‘i’s primary will be moved up to the second Saturday in August, making the general election campaign six weeks longer,  to comply with federal rules on mailing military and other overseas ballots.


If you’re tired of the real thing, AARP is pitching  its votersʻ guide with a funny spoof on negative campaigning at


Or for reading that is less light, my column in todayʻs Star-Advertiser, “Government needs to pay up to fix hot-water system now.”


The lost generation in Hawai‘i politics

October 25, 2010

The A line that stuck with me in an AP analysis of the governor’s race described the 72-year-old Democratic candidate, Neil Abercrombie, as “one of the last remaining major Hawaii politicians who was an adult when statehood was achieved in 1959.”

His Republican opponent, James “Duke” Aiona, is relatively young at 55, but it’s not really young at all by Hawai‘i gubernatorial standards. If elected, Aiona would join Ben Cayetano as the oldest person to become governor since statehood.

It serves as a reminder that Hawai‘i’s roster of elected officials is aging even faster than our population — and there’s not much of a crop of young leaders coming up behind them.

One of our U.S. senators, Daniel Inouye, is running for reelection this year at 86 and the other, Daniel Akaka, says he’ll run again in 2012 at 88. Rep. Mazie Hirono is the baby on the Democratic side of our congressional delegation at 63.

If either senator steps down, the leading candidates to step up are hardly spring chickens — Linda Lingle, 57; Ed Case, 58; Mufi Hannemann, 56; and Hirono. Not exactly a lot of prime years left to build the kind of seniority that Inouye put to our advantage in nearly 50 years of service after being elected to the Senate at 38.

U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, at 40, is by far the youngest person holding one of Hawai‘i’s highest offices, and he’s under serious challenge by Colleen Hanabusa, 59.

The only statewide office that’s guaranteed to have a relatively young occupant is the mostly ceremonial post of lieutenant governor; Democratic candidate Brian Schatz is 38 and Republican Lynn Finnegan is 40. There are few others in the younger age bracket in the legislative ranks who seem good candidates to move up.

Whether it’s because our brightest young prospects have been squeezed out by a logjam at the top or because our special-interest driven system breeds followship more than leadership, political leadership seems to have skipped a generation here and is becoming one of Hawai‘i’s biggest sustainability problems.

Pols go wee, wee, wee all the way home

October 22, 2010

Blow up your TV, throw away your paper
Go to the country, build you a home
Plant a little garden, eat a lot of peaches
Try and find Jesus on your own

– John Prine

Is anybody out there still paying attention to the deluge of political ads running hot and heavy on the TV news?

I usually start the news 10 minute late so I can TiVo through the ads, and I go through stretches blissfully free of the political noise. The ones I need to know about for news purposes, like the Karl Rove spot I wrote about the other day, always find their way to my e-mail inbox.

But sometimes like last night, I feel a need to experience the full gamut and let the news run with my finger off the fast-forward button.

The negativity isn’t as bad as I’ve seen in other states, but the endless petty carping by candidates and their third-party supporters casts a pissy tone on the campaign, leaving an unpleasant taste with viewers who see the attackers looking as bad as the attackees.

It breeds disrespect for both the candidates and the system, and I’m beginning to understand why so many see it all as pointless and just tune it out and don’t vote.

The rat-a-tat repitition of the same spots for weeks tends to grate on the viewer, as does the proliferation of similar ads from different sources.

A Charles Djou ad attacking Colleen Hanabusa for supporting the 36-percent legislative pay raise loses impact when it’s immediately followed by a Republican Congressional Campaign Committee spot making the same point.

President Barack Obama’s ad saying he needs Hanabusa in his corner doesn’t look so special when it’s followed a minute later by an almost identical spot saying he needs Neil Abercrombie.

I voted absentee the day the ballots came out and don’t feel I missed a shred of useful information by sparing myself the final two weeks of this noise.

It gives me time to ponder the sobering thought that the special interests who put up the dough for the grossly expensive onslaught will expect to be paid off by the winning candidates with public favors.


OK, if I’m going to grumble about ads I don’t like, I should point out one I do. This spot — entitled “On my knees!” — was sent in an e-mail to supporters by OHA candidate Peter Apo, musician, community activist, former legislator and all-around good guy. Brilliant combination of social media and sign-waving.


Aiona can’t rise and shine while he’s ducking and running

October 21, 2010

James “Duke” Aiona is trying to turn lemons into lemonade by depicting concerns about his involvement in a conservative religious movement as negative campaigning by Neil Abercrombie supporters.

Aiona can quibble about the details, but he has been neck deep for at least five years in the International Transformation Network and its local offshoot, Transformation Hawai‘i, which stated a goal of introducing Christian values into all aspects of Hawai‘i society, including government.

His operatives have played the religious card to the hilt in the governor’s race, and it’s disingenuous of him to now throw a smokescreen around fair questions about his understanding of the line between church and state.

Aiona has promoted ITN events and had his way paid to the group’s Argentina conference in 2006. He’s been prayed over by the group’s founder as Hawai‘i’s salvation.

In a 2004 talk at a local Transformation Hawai‘i event, Aiona declared, “Our school will become God’s school, our community will become God’s community, our city will become God’s city, our Island will become God’s island, our state will become God’s state, our Hawai‘i will become God’s Hawai‘i.”

The “rise and shine” slogan used by the Republican Governors Association in its ads for Aiona has origins in scripture, and one ad emphasized Aiona’s support of the Power of Aloha program, in which he and Transformation Hawai‘i won Board of Education approval to distribute “Aloha Cards” promoting moral values in the public schools.

Critics charged that the project sought to get around the prohibition against proselytizing in the schools by substituting the word “aloha” for God.

Aiona’s Republican chairman Jonah Ka‘auwai, who described politics as his “ministry,” has aggressively worked conservative Christian churches during the campaign, questioning the faith of Democrats Abercrombie and Mufi Hannemann while proclaiming Aiona to be Hawai‘i’s first “righteous” leader since Lili‘uokalani.

In one tirade against the Democrats sent to conservative Christian churches, Ka‘auwai said, “Duke will win because the Church has been behind him the entire time operating in the POWER and the AUTHORITY of the NAME OF JESUS!”

Aiona’s personal faith should be respected, and he’s right to object to specious attempts by his most extreme critics to tie him to religious atrocities such as the oppression of homosexuals in Uganda.

But it was the Republicans — not Abercrombie — who first introduced religion into the campaign, and itʻs reasonable to ask if Aiona could separate his religion from his duties as governor.

He can’t expect to use cries of negative campaigning to run away from an issue his side initiated.

Local Democrats weigh the Obama factor

October 20, 2010

Hawai‘i  Democrats are placing a heavy bet that President Barack Obama’s popularity remains considerably higher in his native state than in the rest of the country, where his fortunes are clearly sagging.

While Democrats in other states run from the president, local candidates continue to embrace him.

A large part of Colleen Hanabusa’s campaign to unseat U.S. Rep. Charles Djou is built around supporting Obama’s stimulus program, health care reforms and tax proposals that Djou and the Republicans have denounced as costly failures.

Democratic candidate for governor Neil Abercrombie was ebullient when he received the president’s formal endorsement this week, saying, “I treasure President Obama’s friendship and I’m happy to have his endorsement. If I’m elected Governor, our people will benefit from his commitment to Hawaii, the place of his birth.”

One top Democrat told me he didn’t believe a poll showing Abercrombie and Republican Duke Aiona in a dead heat because the poll had Obama’s local approval at barely 50 percent, which he thought was too low and demonstrated a Republican tilt to the survey.

My gut feeling is that while Obama’s local approval has dropped from the 71.5 percent of the vote the got against McCain here in 2008, it’s probably still high enough to be a net plus for the Democrats.

Can the same be said for Democratic candidates supported by our senior U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye? I look at that a little bit in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser, “Inouye might have a job for life, but it is not a royal appointment.”

Rove, Rove, Rove your boat

October 19, 2010

Hawai‘i is getting its first taste of mainland style political campaigning with the spate of national ads pouring into the 1st Congressional District race between Charles Djou and Colleen Hanabusa, and it’s not easy on the stomach.

The third-party TV spots are done independently of the campaigns and display little understanding of local sensibilities; you have to wonder if they do the campaigns more harm than good.

There have been bad and misleading ads on both sides, but a spot that stands out to me as one of the worst of the breed is the latest attack ad on Hanabusa by American Crossroads, a group led by Karl Rove that is dumping more than $100,000 into the race in the final weeks.

It’s an amateurish, generic cartoon presentation barely tailored for Hawai‘i, showing a poorly drawn and stereotypical figure of an Asian female sitting on a yacht called the “Big Spender” and tossing around greenbacks.

There’s no mention of local issues as it attacks Hanabusa with GOP buzzwords about “Nancy Pelosiʻs tsunami of spending,” the “trillion-dollar health care program” and “cap and trade.”

These preach to the converted and do nothing to speak to voters who still may be undecided. I wouldn’t be surprised of the cheesy come-on costs Djou a couple of points in the polls.

Rove, who was the chief political adviser to President George W. Bush, is supposed to be one of the smartest GOP strategists in the fight to regain control of Congress. If this bush-league production is an example of his work, I don’t get it.

Talking stink with Charles and Colleen

October 13, 2010

The race in the 1st Congressional District is sinking fast with Democrat Colleen Hanabusa and Republican Charles Djou exchanging accusations that the other side is “smearing” them with negative ads.

Hanabusa called a news conference yesterday to condemn a Djou ad predicting a storm of GOP negative advertising against him in the final weeks of the campaign, which she called “one of the worst negative ads that I have ever seen.”

I’m sorry, but not even close.

Equally disingenuous was the Djou camp’s response through the state Republican Party to the effect of “she started it first.”

If this contest is to be decided by which side has the most pilau ads, it’ll be a tie. Between the two campaigns, the state parties and the Democratic and Republican congressional campaign committees, my e-mail inbox is filled with new loads of fresh garbage every day.

The “storm” spot that Hanabusa found offensive was actually quite similar in its formula to an earlier Democratic ad attacking Djou as a Republican lackey because he voted with his party most of the time.

The tried-and-true formula of negative political advertising, which both sides employed, is to get the most unflattering photo of the opponent you can find, edit it to look as dark and sinister as possible, and then massage a few sketchy elements of the opponent’s record to appear similarly sinister.

This race, which has been going on and on and on since Neil Abercrombie announced he was stepping down in the winter, long ago ceased producing any new or useful information for voters.

Blessed are the early absentee voters, who will soon be to hold their noses, mail in their choices and put the unpleasantness in the rear-view mirror.


My column in today’s Star-Advertiser: “Few votes in primary show appointed BOE is necessary.”

New governor, same old Legislature

October 11, 2010

Since the primary election, the Star-Advertiser’s Derrick DePledge has been writing Sunday pieces on the top issues in the governor’s race, and he’s doing a good job of helping voters understand where Neil Abercrombie and James “Duke” Aiona differ.

My eye is drawn to the part at the end where he solicits the views of key legislators. As you’d expect, the Democrats who control the Legislature don’t think much of the Republican Aiona’s proposals. But it’s interesting that they’re not exactly lining up either behind the ideas of Abercrombie, their own party’s candidate.

In yesterday’s piece on energy policy, Senate energy chairman Mike Gabbard wouldn’t commit to Abercrombie’s centerpiece proposal to establish a new state energy authority, and his House counterpart, Rep. Hermina Morita, suggested it was downright unwise.

Similarly, in the story a couple of weeks ago on education policy, House education chairman Roy Takumi said he doesn’t see much appetite in the Legislature for another Abercrombie centerpiece — a new Department of Early Childhood Education.

It’s a reminder that the possible return of a Democrat to the governor’s office is no guarantee of smooth sailing or an end to the gridlock that has existed between the Legislature and Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

We should remember that the last Democratic governor, Ben Cayetano, didn’t have much better luck with the Legislature than Lingle, failing to win approval of his key initiatives on economic revitalization, civil service reform and rebuilding infrastructure such as public schools and prisons.

When I interviewed him toward the end of his term, Cayetano expressed contempt for the Legislature as harsh as anything Linda Lingle has ever said.

“Very few things today, in my opinion, are … decided by philosophical or ideological basis,” he said. “The people I served with (during his years in the Legislature) had more life experience. The Legislature is different today, which, in a way, is why I’m kind of glad I’m going to be leaving. I’m not sure there’s a lot of people there who really stand for anything.”

The point is that the Legislature marches to its own drummer, and the beat is most often played not by party leaders, but by the special interests in whose pockets many legislators reside.

It’s way too early to declare Abercrombie’s proposals DOA before he even has a chance to make his case to the Legislature, but if he’s elected, his fate will depend on whether he’s more effective than Cayetano and Lingle at selling his ideas to change-resistant lawmakers and their special-interest benefactors — and using the power of the office to leverage agreements.


Speaking of DePledge, if you haven’t already done so, check out his blog item on the latest theory of where Duke Aiona’s “Rise and Shine” theme came from, which amused me while greatly entertaining my granddaughter. Diabetics beware.

Back to the basics in debate for governor

October 8, 2010

I wasn’t able to catch all of debate on community television stations the other night between gubernatorial candidates Neil Abercrombie and Duke Aiona, but from the parts I saw it was a welcome return to a simple format that put all the attention on the candidates and issues.

The candidates sat side by side on a plain set with a draped folding table. There was a live audience  — the sponsoring Maui Economic Development Board — but unlike some of the debates on commercial TV, it wasn’t a rowdy crowd that was allowed to disrupt the proceedings with partisan hooting and hollering.

Instead of questions coming from multiple directions that showcased those asking as much as those answering, there was a single moderator, Kayla Rosenfeld of Hawai‘i Public Radio, who ably set a consistent and orderly tone while giving the candidates an even shot at presenting their views.

In the end, you got a pretty good idea of where Abercrombie and Aiona differ on some of the major issues in the campaign.

It goes to show that we don’t need a lot of glitz and artificial excitement to generate interest in a campaign at this level, and I hope KITV and PBS Hawai‘i take note in the “major” televised debates coming up.

A welcome youth movement for LG

October 6, 2010

I think lieutenant governor is a do-nothing job that should either be given some real responsibilities or abolished.

But as long as we have to fill the position, I like that both parties are putting up some of their best young talent in the general election — Brian Schatz, 37, for the Democrats and Lynn Finnegan, 39, for the Republicans.

I suggested only half-facetiously in a recent column that if we’re going to leave an LG sitting around for eight years waiting for a promotion, we may as well go with someone young enough to have some prime years left when the time comes.

Schatz and Finnegan are unquestionably among the best and brightest of their political generation.

Schatz proved an akamai legislator after being elected at a young age and went on to run a nonprofit, organize the early Barack Obama campaign in Hawai‘i and serve a term as Democratic Party chairman. He ran a masterful campaign to soundly defeat five veteran lawmakers in the primary election.

Finnegan, as leader of the Republican minority in the House, ably provided an articulate voice for the shrinking opposition party and managed to make herself a player on issues such as charter schools.

Both have enough quality experience to make a contribution now if Neil Abercrombie or James “Duke” Aiona has the good sense to use their No. 2, and they’re quite capable of growing into contenders for the top job down the road.

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