The gubernatorial showdown will be a battle of contrasts — in style, ideology, demographics, labor and social policy — and will reveal much about today’s Hawaii residents and their vision for the next generation. More voters need to engage beyond the 40 percent that turned out for Saturday’s primary election.
The Nov. 2 general election race between liberal Democrat Neil Abercrombie and conservative Republican James "Duke" Aiona is set, after a grueling primary campaign for Abercrombie against Mufi Hannemann. Riding a message of hope and change, the former congressman was able to trounce the former mayor by nearly 50,000 votes.
Abercrombie benefited from a grassroots "listening" campaign that morphed his longtime firebrand image to a more statesmanlike one. The 72-year-old former Vietnam War protester and President Obama supporter is a social liberal who unequivocally supports civil unions.
Contrast that with Aiona, Gov. Linda Lingle’s loyal lieutenant the past eight years, who would have vetoed Hawaii’s civil unions bill. Religious entities, in and outside the Republican fold, have embraced Aiona, 55, a former Family Court judge — but he will need to step up to tell voters of his accomplishments beyond the recent "Rise … and shine" TV ads.
But it’s the state’s hobbling economy that looms large — and voters are eager to hear solid solutions. Republicans want to downsize government; Democrats fight that urge. Still, talking points on improving revenues, education and homelessness will prove empty unless innovation occurs. And of course, the new governor will need to sign off on the rail project and will have important says in transit-oriented development.
We like that Aiona has already challenged Abercrombie to six debates, which will serve to enlighten. He’s taken the offensive to call for specifics on balancing the budget, growing the economy and jobs, and revamping education. For his part, Aiona vows a "clear path" on how the GOP will lead the state. We can hardly wait — frustrations linger over Furlough Fridays and legislative stalements — and will be listening intently.
Abercrombie, who made an impressive near-sweep of Oahu and the neighbor islands, is paired with lieutenant governor running mate Brian Schatz, 37, a former legislator and onetime Hawaii Democratic Party chairman. Aiona will run with Lynn Finnegan, 39, state House minority leader. Both running mates are assets — smart, articulate and energetic.
One important finale: Kudos to Honolulu Mayor-elect Peter Carlisle, who won despite a respectable surge by acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell. We trust the independent enthusiasm that Carlisle brings will propel rail and City Hall forward. He’ll need to be a quick study and a sorely needed steady hand, as the nine-member City Council also will be in tumult with five new incoming members, three of them to be determined Nov. 2.
We applaud all candidates for keeping races spirited; there is much at stake in the general election besides the governor’s slot: Hawaii’s two congressional seats, U.S. Senate and state legislative offices; six contested school board seats; two contested races in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, which is weightier now that the Akaka Bill is ripe for a congressional decision.
Other crucial ballot issues: City Charter amendments to create a public transit authority to oversee the $5.5 billion rail project, and to decide on recreating a city housing office; plus, a state constitutional amendment to change the state school board from voter-elected to appointed.
With the smoke clearing from Saturday night’s primary battlefield, voters need to see clearly to what’s important for Hawaii — on Nov. 2, and beyond.