Posted tagged ‘James “Duke” Aiona’

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.


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.

Aiona needs a ‘know when to shut up’ shot

October 4, 2010

Some news stories are called “talkers” because they generate a lot of it, and from what I’ve been hearing, Denby Fawcett’s story on KITV about Duke Aiona refusing flu shots for himself after urging others to get vaccinated is quite a talker.

At an August news conference to promote a flu shots, Aiona urged the public to get vaccinated, leaving the impression that he already had.

But Aiona told Fawcett that he’s never been vaccinated and has doubts about the safety after studying the literature. “I am not convinced that vaccines are more beneficial that harmful,” he said.

Some Aiona backers accused Fawcett of bias in her rather straightforward report, but that was just a tacit admission that their man looked bad playing it both ways.

The main concern, of course, is the “do as I say, not as I do” hypocrisy in which he blithely urged others to submit themselves and their kids to a vaccination that he thinks is possibly unsafe.

Then there’s his undermining of extensive efforts by the state Health Department since the swine flu outbreak to educate people to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others they might infect.

It’s not as if Aiona had no choice but to be a hypocrite; he could have been honest with the public about how he feels and defended his very minority view to the throngs of ardent voters who line up at senior fairs to get their flu shots.

Or he could have at least told the Health Department he wasn’t the right guy to be promoting vaccines because of his personal beliefs, but he’s been milking these photo ops for eight years and couldn’t pass up the publicity.

All he did in the end was feed worries that he’s a bit of a loose cannon, with some out there views that he’s not always honest about sharing.

A negative wind in Aiona vs. Abercrombie

September 29, 2010

The contest for governor between Duke Aiona and Neil Abercrombie has turned negative, but in an ever-so-gentle manner.

The Republican Governors Association has been running a series of “Rise & Shine Hawaii” TV spots presenting positive views of Aiona’s positions on education and other issues.

The RGA’s latest ad goes negative for the first time, but I have to say it’s the nicest negative ad I’ve ever seen.

It starts out expressing appreciation for the Democrat Abercrombie’s 35 years in politics, showing a picture of him in his Sunday best with his blue blazer and neatly trimmed hair and beard.

The announcer goes on, “We appreciate his service, but not how he’s voted. Abercrombie voted for higher taxes on Hawai‘i families, the bailout, failed stimulus — bonuses for Wall Street executives.”

Cut to somewhat grungier picture of the former congressman and the question: “In this economy, Mr. Abercrombie?”

Then comes a picture of a beatific looking Aiona and the announcer’s soothing assurance: “Fortunately, Hawaii has a choice we can afford. Duke Aiona will oppose tax increases and create jobs. A smart, independent leader. Duke Aiona for governor.”

Very mild as far as negative ads go, and a clear sign of the sensitivity to negative advertising in the race after the huge backfire of Mufi Hannemann’s “Compare and Decide” in the primary.

It reminds me of advice in the book “Etiquette for Outlaws” on what to do if you feel a bout of flatulence coming on while at a party. The advice is to find somewhere semi-private to cut a test fart, see how bad it smells and gauge from that if it’s safe to let loose back in mixed company.

This ad was the political equivalent of a test fart to see how much negativity the electorate will tolerate, and it’ll be ramped up until blowback is encountered.

Another debate about debates II

September 27, 2010

I tried last week to give Duke Aiona my best advice not to start a debate about debates against Neil Abercrombie, but he wouldn’t be denied and it put a bit of tarnish on what was otherwise a good week for the Republican candidate for governor.

The Democrat Abercrombie took the week off to recharge his batteries from his grueling primary race against Mufi Hannemann, and Aiona took advantage of it with a series of news conferences to spotlight his proposals for jobs and the economy, energy, agriculture, the environment, transportation and health care.

Abercrombie had earlier released all of his policy initiatives at once in a 45-page booklet called “A New Day in Hawaii” and was disappointed in the news coverage it got; Aiona got better media attention by spreading it over several events.

But he distracted attention from his substantive proposals by using each occasion to carp at Abercrombie for not accepting his proposal for six televised debates, making that the story — and not necessarily a favorable one for the lieutenant governor.

KITV reported that Aiona seemed clueless about his campaign’s negotiations for a debate on that station that he ultimately agreed to.

And the Maui News chided him in an editorial for accusing Abercrombie of ducking debates after himself refusing to debate his primary opponent John Carroll and ducking joint appearances with Abercrombie and Hannemann.

“It is a little disingenuous to demand that Abercrombie debate him now when Aiona ducked opportunities to do so earlier. His caginess in the primaries is coming back to bite him now,” the editorial said.

But Aiona persisted, and looked a little silly by insisting “he’s ducking, he’s definitely ducking” the same day it was revealed that both candidates had accepted through the normal channels three televised debates and three other joint appearances, with more still on the table.

In a side angle to the debate fracas, Hawaii News Now appears shut out of the gubernatorial debates for the general after all sides complained that its primary debates lacked dignity, with raucus audience participation, “lightning rounds” and an overly busy format that seemed intended to spotlight news personalities as much as the candidates.

Aiona conditionally accepted the HNN debate, but not before complaining to Star-Advertiser reporter Derrick DePledge about the format, saying, “This is not a circus. It’s not entertainment.”

Spokesman Jim McCoy said Abercrombie turned down HNN and KHON mainly because he appeared in their debates in the primary and wanted to be fair and give KITV and PBS Hawaii a chance in the general.

But McCoy said the HNN format was a factor after both the Abercrombie and Hannemann camps were unhappy with the primary debate in which both candidates were heckled by supporters of the other and felt they were given too little time to answer questions.

“During pre primary debate discussions, both the Abercrombie and Hannemann campaigns opposed the ‘lightning round’ aspect, but the station wouldn’t give it up,” McCoy said. “The station stuck to its guns, saying lightning rounds and studio audiences liven a debate, but I recall both our side and Mufi’s side saying it will be lively given who the participants were.

“There were also tug of wars over time allotted  for answers, and you saw the results; candidates were cut off in mid sentence due to the red light going off.”

Another debate about debates. Yawn …

September 22, 2010

Two days after Republican James “Duke” Aiona challenged his Democratic opponent for governor Neil Abercrombie to six debates, Aiona’s campaign manager Dutch Hanohano issued a press release ripping Abercrombie for not immediately accepting.

“The people of Hawai‘i need real solutions, not just talk,” Hanohano said in what  hardly seemed a compelling argument for six hours of talk.

There is nothing more boring in a political campaign than a debate about debates, which is on the same intellectual level as the argument over the shape of the table at the Paris peace talks.

In the 2006 Senate race between Daniel Akaka and Ed Case, you would have thought for a time that Case’s only issue was Akaka’s refusal to debate him as often as he wanted. You saw how far that got him.

Early in this year’s Democratic primary, it was Abercrombie whining that Mufi Hannemann wouldn’t agree to his debate demands. They ended up debating so many times in forums around the state that they were feeding each other cues.

Aiona is right that there need to be substantive debates before we go to the polls, but no candidate is going to accept an opponent’s debate proposal as presented — effectively allowing his own campaign timetable to be set by the opposition.

It happens by the campaigns meeting with the private groups that sponsor debates and hashing out a schedule. Until that process happens, trying to paint an opponent as being afraid to debate is one of the oldest — and cheapest — tricks in the book.

This election isn’t going to be decided by who’s the better debate organizer.

Don’t count Abercrombie out on GOP math

September 19, 2010

Local Republicans had better hope they’re better at campaigning than arithmetic heading into the general election for governor.

After Saturday’s primary, GOP chairman Jonah Ka‘auwai issued a statement belittling Neil Abercrombie’s landslide victory over Mufi Hannemann on the Democratic side.

Ka‘auwai said, “While a stunning percentage victory over Hannemann, Abercrombie garnered fewer votes than Randy Iwase did in 2006 Democrat Primary for governor.  Democrats will now have to fight to unify after a bitter primary while Republicans are already unified and ready to hit the ground running in the weeks leading into the General Election.”

I’m not sure how he figures; Abercrombie got 142,234 votes against Hannemann compared to Iwase’s 119,058 votes against William Aila in 2006.

The only good news Republicans can take from the 2006 numbers is that Iwase barely improved his total in the general election to 121,717 votes, while Republican incumbent Gov. Linda Lingle swooped in to take virtually all of Aila’s votes, all of the  51,813 blank Democratic ballots and all of the  72,295 additional voters who came into the general to amass 215,313 in trouncing Iwase.

But this isn’t 2006, Aiona isn’t Lingle and Abercrombie isn’t Iwase.

In that race, Lingle was a popular incumbent with $6 million while Iwase was a relatively little-known late starter who put up a brave fight with pocket change. This time, Abercrombie has the better established track record against the untested Aiona, who has never won an election on his own, and the Democrats will be at no significant disadvantage in funding.

The real math facing the Republicans is daunting. Primary turnout this year was slightly more than 2006 at 292,838 compared to 276,693. If increased turnout in the general election turnout is also roughly comparable, it’ll be about 370,000 and Abercrombie or Aiona would need around 185,000 votes to win.

Assuming Abercrombie holds most of the 142,234 voters who favored him in the primary, a good bet, he’d need only about 43,000 more to win from the 90,535 Hannemann votes and 70,000+ additional voters expected to come into the general election, which would seem quite achievable if Democrats present the wall of unity they are promising.

The Republican challenge will be to throw up some kind of game changer and hope Abercrombie blunders after carefully avoiding doing so in the primary.

The likely GOP strategy will be to appeal to religious voters and harshly attack Abercrombie’s liberal congressional record in a way Hannemann couldn’t after his ill-advised “Compare and Decide” ad raised voter sensitivity to any kind of negative campaigning.

But the Republicans won’t be immune from attack themselves, with the Lingle administration’s eight-year record of gridlock with the Legislature and a dismal economy to answer for.

Dueling Christians

September 3, 2010

After GOP Chairman Jonah Ka‘auwai sharply criticized the Mufi Hannemann campaign for urging Christian Republicans to pull Democratic ballots in the gubernatorial primary to vote for Hannemann over Neil Abercrombie, another prominent Christian is encouraging just that.

Dennis Arakaki, formerly of the Hawai‘i Family Forum, recorded a spot for a group called Island Values saying that Hannemann and Republican James “Duke” Aiona are both acceptable because of their opposition to civil unions but that Abercrombie, who supports gay unions, is not.

Island Values is not officially associated with any campaign, but its deputy treasurer Kenneth Wong was also on the Hannemann campaign committee. (Note: His name was removed from the Hannemann website after this story broke.) Ka‘auwai singled out Wong as the Hannemann representative who was soliciting support from conservative Christian churches, accusing him of having “no righteous intent.”

“In the battle over HB 444, we learned the importance of electing people with our traditional Christian values,” Arakaki said. “In every election, there are acceptable and unacceptable candidates. Neil Abercrombie is unacceptable.”

Arakaki praised Hannemann, saying, “Mufi strongly supports traditional Christian values.”

“The other acceptable candidate is Duke Aiona, who will easily win the Republican primary,” Arakaki said. “Christians can make a difference now by voting in the Democratic primary and stopping the unacceptable candidate Neil Abercrombie. Please pull a Democratic ballot and vote for the acceptable candidate Mufi Hannemann.”

The group also put out a flyer claiming that Abercrombie “mocks the faith-based community and voted against practically everything we believe in.”

Hannemann issued a statement on the flyer:

It has come to my attention that there is a flyer circulating in the community which takes issue with Neil Abercrombie. The piece paints a harsh picture of his congressional voting record on issues of faith and religion.

Legitimate issues deserve full and thorough discussion and evaluation, and the tenor and tone of this flyer do not encourage that.

I have asked that any and all supporters of our campaign who receive this material do not distribute it.

A recent Island Values campaign flyer

GOP’s Ka‘auwai raises national eyebrows

September 2, 2010

Republican Chairman Jonah Ka‘auwai’s Bible-laced message to local churches attacking Mufi Hannemann and calling James “Duke” Aiona the only “righteous” candidate for governor is getting play in mainland publications, including the Huffington Post, thanks to an excellent report by AP’s Herbert Sample that smoked anything appearing locally on the story.

Ka‘auwai also got himself and Hawai‘i unflattering national attention when MSNBC’s Keith Olberman named him the day’s “worst person.”

Olberman took particular aim at Ka‘auwai’s contention that Aiona would be Hawai‘i’s first “righteous leader” since Lili‘uokalani, calling it an anti-Semitic slap at our current Jewish governor, Linda Lingle.

I thought the charge of anti-Semitism was a stretch. Ka‘auwai wasn’t just putting down Lingle, but every previous Democratic and Republican governor in Hawai‘i, most of whom were Christian.

It’s getting difficult to pin down whether the local GOP is standing behind Ka‘auwai’s statement or not.

Aiona has criticized it as divisive, and when I asked Ka‘auwai a couple of days ago about the “righteous leader” assertion, he said, “This letter was sent out as a private email to Christian Pastors not intended for publication. Upon reflection, I can see that some of my words carry implications which I did not intend. I did not intend to make a broad-brush judgment about all of Hawaii’s Governors, Republican or Democrat.”

But in a subsequent interview with KITV, he defended it as effective in reaching the conservative Christian audience it was aimed at.

And GOP executive director Dylan Nonaka told KITV that despite Aiona’s attempt to distance himself,  “Obviously, it would not have been done if there wasn’t some benefit.”

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