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More election upheaval as Kirk Caldwell exits governor’s race

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  • STAR-ADVERTISER 
                                Former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell during a press conference.

    STAR-ADVERTISER

    Former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell during a press conference.

  • STAR-ADVERTISER
                                <strong>Kai Kahele:</strong>
                                <em>Sources say the U.S. representative is considering giving up his congressional seat to make a run for Hawaii governor</em>

    STAR-ADVERTISER

    Kai Kahele:

    Sources say the U.S. representative is considering giving up his congressional seat to make a run for Hawaii governor

The 2022 Democratic Party races for governor, lieutenant governor — and possibly even for the nonpartisan City Council — were thrown into further disarray Wednesday when former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell ended his campaign for governor just 14 weeks before the primary election.

“After keeping a close watch on how the campaign was evolving, my gut, my mana‘o, was telling me this was not my time to seek the governorship,” Caldwell said in a statement. “… I’m excited about finding what that next role will be for me. I want to thank everyone who helped me and believed in me throughout my political career. It was a great honor, I loved the work, and I stand ready to serve the people of Hawai‘i in the future.”

Especially in a nonpresidential, midterm election year, voters can be expected to be confused when they cast ballots during the Aug. 13 party primaries, said Colin Moore, director of the University of Hawaii’s Public Policy Center.

“Over the last couple of decades, the stage has been very much set by now and there was no expectation that a major candidate would step out,” Moore said. “This may be fun for political observers because it’s exciting. But I’m worried that the public is getting fairly confused over who’s running for what.”

Moore laid responsibility for the sudden churn of candidates and uncertainty on U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele, who sources say continues to consider giving up his congressional seat for a run at governor instead.

Kahele is little more than a year into his freshman term in Congress and repeatedly has declined to comment on any gubernatorial aspirations.

“Congressman Kahele is the one who has led to a lot of the confusion because candidates keep reevaluating their chances if he runs for governor,” Moore said. “It’s just like moves on a chessboard. Every move is affecting everyone and even potentially destabilizing the Council if (Council Chair Tommy) Waters jumps in.

“This election year has been so unstable. I can’t remember a race this late in the game with one major (gubernatorial) candidate exiting and potentially another major candidate entering,” he said.

Several well-known isle politicians have filed federal election papers to run for Kahele’s seat, including Waters, state Rep. Patrick Branco (D, Kailua-Kaneohe) and former state Sen. Jill Tokuda.

Tokuda gave up her campaign for lieutenant governor to instead run in Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, which includes the neighbor islands and rural Oahu. Her decision leaves four lieutenant governor candidates in a race with no clear front-runner, some of whom could also decide to run for Kahele’s seat.

Waters told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser this week that he continues to explore the possibility of giving up his Council seat to run for Congress. Branco remained uncommitted.

State Sen. Jarrett Keoho­kalole (D, Kailua-­Kaneohe) also filed his intent to run for Kahele’s seat but told the Star-Advertiser that he instead will seek reelection to the Legislature, where he believes he can be more effective.

All 76 House and Senate seats are up for election this year, along with the governor and lieutenant governor’s offices.

Caldwell’s exit from what was a three-person Democratic primary contest for governor benefits first-time candidate Vicky Cayetano “at least for now,” Moore said.

Candidates need only a plurality of votes in the primary to advance to the Nov. 8 general election.

While Cayetano might see a bump in support from Caldwell voters, Moore said Lt. Gov. Josh Green’s front-runner status in terms of fundraising, endorsements, name recognition and approval ratings “make him a juggernaut.”

In a statement Wednesday, Cayetano said: “Kirk Caldwell and I have participated in gubernatorial events and I appreciated his contribution to the much needed discussions on the challenges facing Hawai‘i. I entered this race with one focus — to provide the ideas and leadership Hawai‘i desperately needs to address our pressing challenges such as the high cost of living. I left my company to campaign full-time and our team is working harder than ever to reach as many people across the state as possible.”

Green also issued a statement on Caldwell’s withdrawal. “I wish Mayor Caldwell and his family the very best, and I appreciate the tough decisions he had to make for the health and well-being of Oahu’s people at the beginning of the pandemic,” Green said.

Caldwell served two terms and eight years as mayor following a career in the state Legislature.

In his run to become Hawaii’s next governor, Caldwell called himself “the underdog.”

He also had history against him: No Honolulu mayor has ever been elected governor.

Caldwell’s gubernatorial campaign never gained traction, even as he unveiled a series of newspaper ads that provided details of what he would do as governor on critical issues facing Hawaii.

His candidacy was haunted by what he called the “tough decisions” he made while in office, especially his divisive support for the city’s troubled rail project and a policy of “compassionate disruption” in dealing with Oahu’s homeless — two issues he inherited from the previous administration.

More recently, Caldwell has been criticized for his unwavering support of his former Managing Director Roy Amemiya, former Corporation Counsel Donna Leong and former Honolulu Police Commission Chair Max Sword. The three have pleaded not guilty to federal charges surrounding the $250,000 retirement settlement for former Honolulu Police Chief Louis Kealoha, who was later convicted of federal crimes and is now in prison.

In his statement Wednesday, Caldwell cited “lack of funding” and “lack of momentum” as reasons for dropping out of the gubernatorial race.

He came from behind to win each of his two mayoral terms, “however, in this race, I’m not sensing the kind of momentum I know I need in the time we have left to continue to be viable.”

Moore said he would not be surprised to see Caldwell reemerge as a candidate for some other office, even as the former mayor approaches his 70th birthday.

“It doesn’t mean that he can’t come back,” Moore said. “Kirk Caldwell has the one thing that all politicians want: name recognition. People know who he is and he absolutely wants to get back into public office. He loved being mayor.”

 

Kirk Caldwell withdraws fro… by Honolulu Star-Advertiser

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