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Schatz, Finnegan take primaries for Hawaii lieutenant governor

By Susan Essoyan

LAST UPDATED: 7:43 p.m. HST, Sep 19, 2010

Former Democratic Party Chairman Brian Schatz and Republican Rep. Lynn Finnegan swept to victory in their primary races for lieutenant governor, as voters sided with youth in a contest that offered lots of options.

The crowded field featured seven Democrats, all but one of them seasoned state legislators, while two Republicans faced off in the GOP primary.

The lieutenant governor has virtually no power and few duties other than filling in for the top dog when the governor is out of town. But the job is coveted as a springboard for the state's highest political office.

"I think people are hungry for change this year, and they're looking for a leader that they believe will tackle the problems rather than tackle our opponents," said Schatz, 37. "I think people really like the energetic, positive and optimistic tone of the campaign."

"The next step for us is to unite and focus on recapturing the governorship," he said. "A lot of people are frustrated and we feel that our ticket is the strongest ticket for change."

Schatz captured 34.7 percent of the Democratic vote, followed by former Sen. Robert "Bobby" Bunda with 19.3 percent and Sen. Norman Sakamoto with 18.3 percent. Former Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser placed fourth, at 9.8 percent, followed by Rep. Lyla Berg, at 8.4 percent. Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu and Steve Hirakami, a public school principal, were far behind.

On the Republican side, Finnegan had a commanding lead over attorney Adrienne King, 59.5 percent to 26.9 percent. Looking ahead to the general election, Finnegan said she and gubernatorial candidate James "Duke" Aiona were focused on electing Republicans from the top to the bottom of the ticket.

"The legislators were huge shackles for our Republican governor," she said, referring to outgoing Gov. Linda Lingle. "This time around we have many contested races on the grass roots. We were successful in recruiting 95 Republican candidates and we only had three seats that were left uncontested, which is a very, very good standing going into the 2010 election."

Finnegan, 39, an Aiea resident who is far better known than her opponent in the primary election, was elected to the state House in 2002 and became GOP leader in 2005. Before running for public office, she was a mortgage loan originator.

Schatz emerged as an early Democratic front-runner in opinion polls, thanks in part to his prominence as spokesman for Barack Obama's presidential campaign in Hawaii and his recent stint as party chairman. The former state legislator from Makiki enjoyed the backing of the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

"I chose Brian Schatz," said Janet Lee, a teacher who cast her ballot at Kawananakoa Middle School. "I met him once and he seemed really rational. I think he'd make a very good lieutenant governor and, maybe someday, governor."

Along with his political experience, Schatz served as chief executive officer for the nonprofit Helping Hands Hawaii.

Bunda, a conservative Democrat from Wahiawa, resigned his Senate seat to run for lieutenant governor, and Sakamoto, a moderate who represents Salt Lake, has a Senate term that ends in November. Both Bunda and Sakamoto are 63.

Hooser, who represents Kauai and Niihau, was the only major neighbor island candidate, while Berg, a former teacher and principal who represents Kahala, was the only woman among the Democratic contenders.

"Many people helped me and we have to ask our volunteers to pull together, because if we pull together, Hawaii wins," Sakamoto said.


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