With the elections of Neil Abercrombie as governor, Brian Schatz as lieutenant governor and Colleen Hanabusa to Congress by comfortable margins of victory, Democrats have succeeded in completely removing Republicans from all of Hawaii’s congressional and statewide offices.
It is therefore unsurprising that Republicans are perceived as having become an endangered species in Hawaii.
When Republican progress in state House races in 2010 is considered, however, this political street view of Republicans as irrelevant in Hawaii politics is debatable.
A review of the 2010 election results discloses that a number of House Democrats had substantially diminished totals compared with the votes they received in prior elections. Moreover, there were dramatic increases in the number of votes for Republican challengers.
For the 19 House Democrats who had triumphed handily over their 2008 opponents, 14 suffered significantly diminished vote totals (10 percent or more) in 2010. Four of these incumbents’ totals dropped precipitously compared with 2008 — by more than 30 percent!
A similar pattern holds when the 2010 results for House Democrats are contrasted with their 2006 totals. This is surprising, given that the Abercrombie-Schatz team heading the Democratic ticket in 2010 garnered more than 57 percent of the votes cast for governor and lieutenant governor, whereas the Iwase-Solomon Democrat combination in 2006 received less than 36 percent of the votes cast.
One would ordinarily expect that a 20-plus percent improvement at the top of the ticket would translate into significantly enhanced totals in down-ballot races for members of the same political party. Yet many House Democrats ended up with substantially fewer votes in contested elections in 2010 than they had received in contested elections in 2006.
For example, Roy Takumi received 16 percent fewer votes in 2010 than in 2006, Blake Oshiro 15.6 percent less, Maile Shimabukuro 13.9 percent less, Ryan Yamane 11.9 percent less, Pono Chong 11.3 percent less, Marilyn Lee 9.4 percent less, Marcus Oshiro and Joe Bertram 6.8 percent less, and Kyle Yamashita 6.6 percent less.
Even more impressive were the dramatic increases in vote totals for these Democrats’ 2010 Republican challengers in contrast to the totals for their 2006 GOP predecessors.
Reed Shiraki increased his total over his 2006 GOP predecessor by 112.2 percent , Sam Kong by 79.1 percent , Jadeen Myers by 114.3 percent, Beth Fukumoto by 94 percent, Joseph Aiona by 48.1 percent, Shaun Kawakami by 82.2 percent, Sam Curtis by 45.8 percent, George Fontaine by 49.3 percent, and Laurie Rinaldi by 51.2 percent. Ten of the Republicans challenging Democratic incumbents in 2010 garnered more than 40 percent of the votes cast in their races.
Although the tide lifting Republican challengers’ electoral boats was not quite high enough to carry most of them to victory in the election, Republicans did pick up a net total of two seats in the House. These new GOP representatives were elected from districts that have consistently elected Democrats.
At the same time, Republicans held on to all of the districts that had been represented by Republican House members. The GOP’s relative success in the 2010 House races should encourage even more Republican challengers to run against legislative Democrat incumbents in 2012.
If all eight House Republicans remain unified during the current legislative session while working to advance thoughtful proposals addressing fundamental issues facing broad segments of the electorate, Republicans should be in a strong position to build on their successful 2010 efforts during the 2012 election cycle.
Fred Rohlfing is a retired state senator and the author of "Island Son: The Life and Times of Hawaii’s Republican Reformer." Fritz Rohlfing, Fred Rohlfing’s son, is an attorney and was chairman of Hawaii Romney for President in 2008.