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Hawaii News

Ambition leads to Hawaii political turnover

Several longtime Hawaii politicians are out of work following the state’s primary election, but not because of widespread voter discontent seen in other parts of the country.

Instead, these ambitious officials essentially booted themselves by running for more powerful seats rather than keeping their safe jobs.

At least six state legislators and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann failed in their attempts to gain higher office, removing them from any elected position.

Voters kicked out only one incumbent legislator statewide in Saturday’s primary election.

"What I saw was a vote for the status quo all around," said Republican Adrienne King, a defeated tea party candidate for lieutenant governor. "If voters vote the same way, why would the people who get elected the same old way think that voters want a change?"

All of those departing from elected office following the primary are Democrats: three from the state Senate, four from the state House and Hannemann. In addition, Republican House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan and Democratic Senate President Colleen Hanabusa are giving up their current positions to seek lieutenant governor and congressional posts, respectively, in November’s general election.

Changes in the political landscape were created because so many positions are available in this year’s elections, said former Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, who finished in fourth place in the Democratic lieutenant governor’s race, which was won by former party state chairman Brian Schatz.

"Political opportunity doesn’t come along very often," Hooser said. "We had a lot of offices open, and everyone knew there would be major turnover."

The most significant job openings were for governor and lieutenant governor, because Republican Gov. Linda Lingle and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona are term-limited after serving eight years.

The governor’s race enticed former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Hannemann to quit their previous jobs midway through their terms, and the lieutenant governor’s race attracted six legislators.

The real test of voter sentiment against establishment candidates will come in the general election, when Republicans face Democrats, said Dylan Nonaka, executive director for the Hawaii Republican Party. Democrats currently control all but eight seats in the 76-member Legislature.

"We wanted the incumbents to win in the primary because they’re vulnerable now to the Republicans," Nonaka said. "We’ll find out in November whether people are still in office or not."

Candidates who identified with the populist tea party movement didn’t fare well besides 2nd Congressional District candidate John Willoughby, who held a 212-vote lead with all precincts reporting. Others like King and Joe Pandolfe, a state Senate candidate, lost to Republican rivals in their primaries.

The lone defeated incumbent was Democratic Rep. Roland Sagum, who lost to Kauai County parks and recreation employee Dee Morikawa.

"We haven’t had much happen out here, and we haven’t really had a voice in the Legislature," Morikawa said. "Voters were thinking, ‘We’ve been forgotten.’"

The other legislative casualties included Sen. Bobby Bunda, Sen. Norman Sakamoto, Rep. Lyla Berg and Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, all of whom ran for lieutenant governor.

Vice Speaker of the House Michael Magaoay lost his Democratic primary election for Bunda’s old Senate seat to Honolulu Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz.

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