Hotly contested races for governor, mayor and Congress have made this year’s election season one of the most critical in decades. Now that Tuesday’s filing deadline has passed, most candidates for September’s primary election are known. Hawaii voters should demand that these office-seekers conduct positive, issues-focused campaigns, and punish them at the polls if they don’t.
After all, there is much at stake — Oahu’s multi-billion dollar rail project, the future of the public school system and the still-struggling economy, to name just a few.
Running a positive campaign may prove difficult for former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Mufi Hannemann, who resigned as mayor on Tuesday and signed up for the gubernatorial race. The two men squared off in the 1986 Democratic special election and primary races for the 1st Congressional District seat; unfortunately, the bitterness from those days remains. Hannemann and Abercrombie already are sniping at each other. They should avoid personal attacks and explain, in detail, what they’ll do if elected. The same goes for their likely general election opponent, Republican Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona. Voters deserve an informed choice.
Another critical contest is what’s expected to be the general election race between U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, winner of the special election in May, and Colleen Hanabusa, the state Senate president. The choice is a stark one: Djou already has begun to join fellow Republicans in Congress casting "no" votes against the Obama administration, while Hanabusa needs to explain how she will be more than a rubber stamp for the rest of Hawaii’s delegation.
Hannemann’s departure from Honolulu Hale will result in a multi-candidate nonpartisan election to serve out the remaining two years of his term as mayor. Mayoral candidates so far — others may add their names in the days ahead — include acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell, city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle, outgoing City Councilmen Donovan Dela Cruz and Rod Tam and University of Hawaii engineering professor Panos Prevedouros. It’s a strong lineup, and it’s critical that Oahu voters line up for this one: The candidate with the most votes will win, even with less than a majority. This plurality threshold is worrisome because of Prevedouros, who is known mainly for his unflinching opposition to the $5.5 billion rail transit system from Kapolei to Ala Moana, the largest public works project in Hawaii’s history.
Hannemann has declared that he made sure before resigning as mayor "that no future mayor, no future City Council, can reverse the course we are embarking upon" with the rail project. Prevedouros believes otherwise.
Elsewhere on the ballot, voters will see a healthy presence of Republican candidates for the Legislature, where the GOP now is outnumbered by Democrats 45 to six in the House and 23 to two in the Senate. Republicans are running in all but three legislative races, but candidacy does not assure Republican gains — or relevance — in next year’s session. But it’s possible. It depends on voter turnout.
The only major candidate with little to worry about is U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who is seeking his ninth six-year term. For everyone else, it’s a chance to shape Hawaii’s future for years to come. They should make their best case, and let the voter — every eligible voter, we hope — decide.