James "Duke" Aiona sees danger if Hawaii returns to one-party rule.
The Republican lieutenant governor believes it did not work in the four decades before he was elected with Linda Lingle eight years ago and has not worked on the national stage over the past two years with President Barack Obama and Congress.
His campaign for governor is based on bedrock conservative principles of lower taxes, less government and strengthening families. But it is also about keeping some political balance in a state where Democrats hold an overwhelming majority at the Legislature.
"It just doesn’t work. That’s why we got elected in 2002. At that point in time, people said, ‘Enough is enough, we don’t want the status quo. We don’t want to have one supermajority in both the executive branch and the legislative branch,’ and they made the change," he said.
"And, of course the Democrats will disagree, but we know that it’s made a big difference in the last eight years. It’s made a tremendous difference in a lot of things."
Aiona, 55, is facing John Carroll, 80, an attorney and former state lawmaker, in the GOP primary.
Carroll, who ran unsuccessfully in the primary against Lingle in 2002, said Aiona and Lingle have not fulfilled what they outlined in their platform — "A New Beginning." The most glaring shortcoming, he said, is their inability to get a comprehensive audit of the state Department of Education. He also opposes a native Hawaiian federal recognition bill pending in Congress that has the support of Aiona and Lingle.
"None of the things they said they were going to do did they ever get done," he said. "That is the reason I’m running."
Sandra Fong, senior vice president of Market City Shopping Center, said Aiona has gained leadership experience as lieutenant governor to complement his history as a judge. She likes what she sees as his sincerity and the fact that he has raised a family.
"He understands our issues because he’s a family man," Fong said. "He has raised four children of his own. He understands how important it is to have a good education.
"He understands the economy, because some of his children have finished college and they’re looking for jobs."
FROM COURT BENCH TO LOCAL POLITICS
Aiona, who grew up in Pearl City and graduated from Saint Louis School, the University of the Pacific and the University of Hawaii-Manoa law school, was a Honolulu deputy prosecutor and judge before entering politics.
James "Duke" Aiona
» Age: 55
He was a Family Court judge and the first judge to lead the state’s Drug Court. The Drug Court, which offers an alternative to incarceration for nonviolent drug offenders, has been praised as a model.
Aiona retired from the bench in 1998 to become a legal consultant after he determined he did not make enough money as a judge to raise his family.
Elected lieutenant governor with Lingle in 2002, Aiona, like the Republican governor, has had difficulty leaving his mark on public policy with Democrats in control of the Legislature.
His most significant policy draft, a drug-control plan in response to public concern over methamphetamine abuse, was criticized by Democrats as disappointing and by many drug treatment providers as lacking depth. The plan emphasized prevention and enforcement over treatment and lawmakers adopted only a few of Aiona’s recommendations, including new restrictions on the sale of pseudoephedrine, an over-the-counter medicine that can be used to make "ice."
Aiona, however, used his stature as lieutenant governor to consistently speak out against drug abuse and underage drinking. He also promoted the importance of healthy eating and regular exercise.
Like Lingle, he considers the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative a major accomplishment. The state has committed to a plan designed to meet 70 percent of energy needs with clean energy by 2030.
Aiona said the initiative, which has bipartisan support from lawmakers, environmentalists and utilities, could be the most important policy decision since statehood.
"It just shows that we are leading the way," he said.
The Lingle administration has also encouraged more science, technology, engineering and math education at public schools, a smaller effort than alternative energy, but one that could lead to innovation as students compete in robotics and learn the value of scientific discovery.
Earlier this year, Aiona asked lawmakers to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to create a nonpartisan, elected secretary of state to oversee elections. He argued that the state Office of Elections has lacked accountability since it was removed from the lieutenant governor’s oversight responsibility in 1995, but lawmakers rejected his idea.
Aiona, who rarely differed from Lingle on policy, will have to defend the Lingle administration’s record for independents and moderate Democrats who have grown skeptical. Their biggest public split came last year when Aiona disagreed with Lingle’s decision not to veto a bill that restricted high-technology tax credits known as Act 221.
Democrats, after they choose a nominee, will describe Aiona as second fiddle to a governor who never lived up to her promise of "A New Beginning." Democrats will also question whether Aiona has anything of substance to show for his eight years in the No. 2 job.
"I never looked at this as being a steppingstone to anything. It was always a part of a team, part of the administration," Aiona said. "I didn’t look at it that way. But I have said when people say, ‘What’s going to be the difference between you and Lingle when you get in there,’ and I’ve always said, ‘Lingle is Lingle, Aiona is Aiona. We’re two separate people. We have separate styles and everything else. We’re just separate.’
"But it’s akin to any team concept," he said. "When you’re part of a team, you may not agree with the coach’s decisions, but you’ve got to support it because you are part of that team and you move forward."
Lingle said Aiona is not a career politician even though he has spent most of his life in public service. She said it enables him to make difficult, even unpopular, decisions without having to worry about the impact on his political future.
Lingle said he gained knowledge of the state’s budget and operations as lieutenant governor and has proved he can handle pressure in emergencies, such as after the Big Island earthquake in 2006, when he rushed to the Civil Defense command center at Diamond Head while she was on the Big Island.
She said he embraced the administration’s main initiatives, such as alternative energy and science, technology, engineering and math education, and complemented her own work.
"In a personal way, he never grandstanded at my expense in the time he was in office," the governor said. "Certainly, there are always those opportunities depending upon the kind of relationship that exists between a lieutenant governor and a governor."
Lingle said Aiona has an ability to objectively analyze competing interests because of his experience as a judge.
"That is a great skill that many people don’t have, and many politicians, certainly, don’t have," she said.
FOCUSING ON FAITH AND FAMILY
Aiona has made faith and family focal points of his life.
"The strength of a nation, a country, a community, a state, lies in the homes of its people," he says.
He wants the state to focus on strengthening families as part of programs to combat illegal drug use, underage drinking and poverty.
He believes it is relevant that his two potential Democratic opponents have not raised families. The former football and basketball star and youth coach uses a sports metaphor: He said it is like the difference between a basketball coach who has played the game and a coach who has not.
"It gives me a different perspective," he said. "Just like being a judge gives me a different perspective. They can talk all they want about programs and whatnot. They can talk to all the experts that they want.
"But I’ve lived it. I’ve lived it. That’s a huge difference."
Aiona, a Catholic, also believes faith-based groups have a role in helping government provide social services.
"The Christian faith is all about serving. It’s all about serving the most vulnerable and disenfranchised and the poor," he said. "This is where we have a lot of our problems, and so I would want them to be part of that because that’s their ministry, that’s what their belief is."
But Aiona said he would not use his personal religious views to make decisions as governor.
"I have never, and I never will interject my own personal beliefs and my faith into my work," he said. "I keep that separate. But people should know that that’s my foundation. That’s my rock. That’s where I get my center from. That’s where I always go to, my faith and my beliefs."
Aiona believes the news media gives more scrutiny to conservatives about their faith than to liberals. Religion has become a political issue this year because religious conservatives have vowed to bring Christians to the polls to help elect candidates who oppose civil unions and physician-assisted suicide. Jonah Kaauwai, the state GOP chairman, has described Aiona as the "righteous" candidate and has urged pastors not to back Mufi Hannemann, a Mormon.
Aiona distanced himself from Kaauwai’s statement, calling it divisive. But he questions why the media, for example, has only recently asked Neil Abercrombie about his faith. Abercrombie, who has not listed a religion on many congressional biographies, has said he is a confirmed Episcopalian.
"So how come that didn’t come out, though?" Aiona asks. "How come somebody didn’t probe and say, ‘So how much of a factor is that in your life? Do you live it? Do you practice it? Do you believe in God?’"
CONTINUING LINGLE INITIATIVES
Aiona’s platform contains several initiatives started under the Lingle administration.
He would continue with the modernization of airports, harbors and highways. He would proceed with the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. He would promote science, technology, engineering and math at public schools.
He would, like Lingle, propose tax credits for private construction and renovation projects and to offset withholding taxes on new hires at local firms. He would back a state bond-financed program to encourage residents and business to convert to solar and other alternative energy.
Aiona would set a time limit on state permit reviews — and automatically grant permits when the limit is exceeded — to reduce the burden on businesses. He would restore a research and development tax credit for high technology that ended this year after a disagreement between Lingle and the Democrats.
He would reduce general excise tax exemptions, enforce tax laws on the cash economy and more aggressively pursue delinquent taxes. If those measures generate enough revenue, he would look to reduce corporate and individual income tax rates.
Aiona said he would not raise the general excise tax — the state’s largest source of revenue — but predicted a Democratic governor would, under pressure from labor unions and social-service providers to avoid further state budget cuts, furloughs or layoffs.
"I’m convinced," Aiona said. "I don’t care what Hannemann or Neil says, they’re not being fair. They’re not being honest with the public if they say, ‘No, I’m not going to raise the GE tax.’"
Aiona has called for an independent management and financial audit of the state Department of Education, which he believes is too top-heavy and wasteful. He would try to make public school principals more like chief executives and ensure that more state education spending reaches the classroom. He would expand charter schools and provide help for parents who home-school their children.
Like Lingle, he supports the concept of breaking up the DOE into local districts with locally elected school boards. He favors a constitutional amendment on the November ballot asking voters whether they want a statewide school board appointed by the governor. The school board has been elected by voters for the past four decades.
Democrats will color Aiona as a more conservative version of Lingle, a retread devoid of many new ideas or the political ability to advance proposals that have failed at the Legislature over the past eight years.
"That’s why you want balance, because good ideas can get suppressed by a majority," Aiona said. "And that’s exactly what happened with these good ideas. It’s not something where I’m just a clone and I’m moving forward. These are good ideas."