Iwase known for quiet thoughtfulness
Once described as "combative," he lately has had a low profile
At the start of his political career in the early 1980s, Randy Iwase was known as feisty and outspoken.
He got onto the City Council with a special election and, after only 10 months, in the 1986 election, was running with the confidence of a veteran incumbent.
Personal: Born Dec. 1, 1947; married with three children
Profession: Lawyer; currently chairman of state Labor Appeals Board; executive director of the Aloha Tower Development Corp., 1988-90; deputy and supervising attorney with the state attorney general's office, 1974-1985
Political: Honolulu City Council, 1984-1988; failed mayoral run, 1988; state Senate, 1990-2000
Education: University of San Francisco School of Law, University of Florida (majored in history), Kaimuki High School
One Star-Bulletin article on his City Council re-election called Iwase, whose seat extended from Waipahu to Kahuku, "abrupt, energetic and sometimes combative."
As budget chairman he often sharply criticized former Mayor Frank Fasi's spending. He also sparred with the administration over a proposed housing project at Waiola, where his brainchild -- Central Oahu Regional Park -- is now located.
But when Iwase got into the state Senate in 1990, he mellowed, quieted and started to think before he spoke, former colleagues said. He took a public lead on few issues, rarely stepping into the spotlight. In 2000 he further slipped onto the sidelines of the Democratic Party when he resigned from the state Senate to take an appointment on the state Labor Appeals Board.
Iwase's announcement that he will run for governor provides the Democrats with a challenger to Republican Gov. Linda Lingle but has some asking what sort of record he will run on and how his laid-back, soft-spoken style -- acquired, many say, while a state senator -- will be able to garner attention and votes in a campaign.
Former colleagues and constituents could think of few initiatives he spearheaded while in the state Senate.
Republican state Sen. Sam Slom did say Iwase gained prominence in 1997 when he led a coalition of seven Democrats and two Republicans to topple former Gov. Ben Cayetano's proposed increase of the general excise tax. Slom also said Iwase's leadership style was not on display Friday, when the candidate railed against Lingle's "record of promises unfulfilled" after announcing his intention to run.
"That's not Randy Iwase, quite frankly," Slom said. "Usually, he'd be very careful and very deliberative."
Democratic senators agreed Iwase is usually more reserved. But they also said Iwase needs to be in attack mode -- like he was on the City Council as a political newcomer -- to square off against Lingle, who has name recognition and a formidable war chest.
"I think Miss Linda is on third base and Mr. Randy is on home plate, so he has a long way to go," said state Sen. Norman Sakamoto, who served alongside Iwase. "His challenge," Sakamoto added, is to show Lingle's "misstatements as she continues to splatter mud on herself."
Sakamoto said Iwase is known, perhaps thanks to his roots as an attorney, for thinking long and hard before he speaks. "He looks at the various sides of an issue," Sakamoto said, "and anticipates the sequence of events before jumping in."
When Iwase was in the Senate, former state Sen. Cal Kawamoto said, the 58-year-old could often be found in his state Capitol offices, smoking a pipe and ruminating over issues. "I think he's a smart guy. He thinks before he talks," Kawamoto said, adding that Iwase's campaign strategy will be "well thought out."
Iwase went to the University of San Francisco law school and worked at Legal Aid in San Francisco before returning to the islands to join the state attorney general's office in 1974. Ten years later, Iwase won a City Council seat, and held onto his position until 1988.
While on the City Council, he spearheaded a controversial measure to halt the construction of group homes for the mentally ill, handicapped, former prisoners or drug users in Waipahu and Kalihi. He argued too many of the homes were concentrated in low-income neighborhoods.
As City Council budget chairman, Iwase emphasized programs "that provide services to the public," he told the Star-Bulletin at the time. In 1986 he proposed cutting Fasi's budget by more than $28 million. He also resisted the former mayor's pushes to increase property tax rates and user fees at public golf courses.
After three years on the City Council, Iwase resigned to run for mayor. He lost in the primary to Marilyn Bornhorst, who declined comment Saturday.
After a stint as executive director of the Aloha Tower Development Corp., Iwase ran for the state Senate seat vacated by state Sen. Ron Menor. In a Star-Bulletin article after his 1990 win, Iwase said he entered public office because of his "political heroes," John and Robert Kennedy. "People I greatly admired were in politics," he said, "and told us to make a contribution."
Richard Poirier, a longtime member and now chairman of the Mililani/Waipio/Melemanu Neighborhood Board, said Iwase was accessible when he was in the Senate. "When he wanted to get something done," Poirier said, "he got it done." But Poirier said he could not remember any specific bills Iwase championed. He did say Iwase was well regarded in Mililani for laying out the groundwork to create Central Oahu Regional Park.
State Sen. Rosalyn Baker, who served with Iwase, also could not remember any issues he undertook. Instead, she remembered the candidate as "being very willing to work with other colleagues." She added, "He was always pretty methodical, wanting the evidence, wanting the information."