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Hawaii News

Crowded race sees 11 hopefuls vie to be lieutenant governor

A pack of seven Democrats — nearly all current or former state legislators — is among an 11-person field running for lieutenant governor, the No. 2 elected office in the state.

Also in the field are Republicans Lynn Finnegan and Adrienne King, as well as Free Energy Party member Deborah Spence and nonpartisan candidate Leonard Kama.

But most of the attention leading to the Sept. 18 primary election will be on the Democratic side:

» Lyla Berg, 59. She is a former principal of Kailua Intermediate School and has served in the state House since 2004. She also operates a consulting, training and leadership business.

» Robert "Bobby" Bunda, 63. He recently resigned from the state Senate (he was in the middle of a four-year term) to run for lieutenant governor. He was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1983 and moved to the Senate in 1994, serving as its president from 2001 to 2006.

» Steve Hirakami, 64. He is principal of Hawaii Academy of Arts and Science School and taught at Pahoa High and Intermediate School from 1995 to 2001.

» Gary Hooser, 56. Like Bunda, he was a midterm state senator who had to leave that office to run for lieutenant governor. He was elected to the state Senate in 2002 and was a member of the Kauai County Council from 1998 to 2002.

» Jon Riki Karamatsu, 35. He was first elected to the state House in 2002 and is a lawyer.

» Norman Sakamoto, 63. He was first elected to the state Senate in 1996.

» Brian Schatz, 37. He served in the state House from 1998 to 2006. He was elected chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party in 2008 and is chief executive officer of Helping Hands Hawaii, one of the state’s largest social service agencies.

On the Republican side, Finnegan, 39, was elected to the state House in 2002 and was chosen as minority leader in 2003. King, 62, is a lawyer and has worked in the city prosecutor’s office.

Nonpartisan candidate Kama, 67, can advance to the general election if he gets 10 percent of the vote or matches the total of the lowest-ranking party candidate. Spence (who did not respond to a Star-Advertiser request for information) is guaranteed a spot on the Nov. 2 general election ballot with Free Energy gubernatorial candidate Daniel Cunningham.

The candidates tend to agree that jobs, the economy, education and leadership are key issues facing the state.

In citing jobs as being one of the biggest problems facing Hawaii, Hooser called for investment in "rebuilding our physical infrastructure (roads, airports, harbors, schools, broadband)." Sakamoto advocated emphasis on "shovel-ready construction jobs."

Bunda said he would work with the governor and the county mayors "to fast-track the $32 billion in state and county projects."

On education, Schatz said more emphasis should be on early education, more direct support for teachers and less political interference. King said work is needed on restructuring the state’s educational system "based on the results of a comprehensive fiscal management of the Department of Education."

Finnegan said the biggest challenge facing Hawaii "is the lack of balance in our government leadership" with Democrats far outnumbering Republicans in the Legislature. "This type of imbalance is unhealthy," she said.

Berg said the state’s biggest problem is "inertia caused by fear of change, failure, loss. I would facilitate professional development sessions to motivate proactive thinking, inspire actions to excel, and enhance communication skills."

Berg, Bunda, Finnegan, Hooser, Sakamoto and Schatz said they oppose the legalization of gambling.

Kama said he would favor allowing gambling on ships anchored 3 miles offshore. Karamatsu said casino gambling should be allowed, but only for people who can prove they are out-of-state visitors (with a plane ticket and proof of a hotel room stay).

Hirakami did not indicate which way he feels. King said she has not seen evidence that legalized gambling would have an overall positive impact.

On the issue of raising the general excise tax, Karamatsu said he would support an increase only if there was a reduction in income taxes. Bunda, King, Sakamoto, Berg, Finnegan and Kama oppose raising the excise tax.

As of June 30, reports filed with the state Campaign Spending Commission show Schatz raising the most money with $438,782 collected followed by Sakamoto with $341,341; Hooser with $189,489; Bunda with $149,570; Karamatsu with $99,275; Berg with $77,200; Finnegan with $66,475; and King with $42,183. Puna educator Hirakami reported raising and spending no money on his campaign. Nonpartisan candidate Kama and Free Energy candidate Spence did not file a spending report.

Under the Hawaii State Constitution, the lieutenant governor becomes the state’s chief executive whenever the governor is absent from the state or is unable to exercise and discharge the powers and duties of office.

The latter circumstance happened once, in October 1973 when Lt. Gov. George Ariyoshi assumed his constitutional role as acting governor for a year when John A. Burns was ill with cancer. The following year Ariyoshi was elected as the state’s third governor. Two other governors — John Waihee and Ben Cayetano — had served as lieutenant governors.

By law, the lieutenant governor also is responsible for recordation of all legislative and gubernatorial acts, the administrative rules of state departments and agencies, and the certification of state documents. The office also provides for the establishment of prices for the session laws and supplements to the Hawaii Revised Statutes and for the sale and distribution of the session laws. The lieutenant governor also can head special task forces or projects, as delegated by the governor. The office maintains copies of the notices and agenda of public agency meetings for the departments and agencies.

The office is staffed by eight people, which includes bodyguards and a chauffeur, with an operating budget of $1.2 million. The Council of State Governments reported the Hawaii lieutenant governor’s salary as $114,420 annually.


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