Surprise and ambition propel politics in Hawaii
HONOLULU Mayor Mufi Hannemann shows broad support among Hawaii insiders and could be Hawaii's next Democratic governor.
The Honolulu Star-Bulletin's survey of political insiders, composed of Republican and Democratic legislators, lobbyists and Neighborhood Board chairpersons, shows Hannemann getting the most notice. Hannemann had 31 votes, putting him in offices ranging from governor to mayor and the U.S. Senate.
The group was asked who they thought would be Hawaii's governor, U.S. senator, 1st and 2nd congressional representative and who would be Honolulu's mayor after the 2010 election.
That election is expected to be a pivot point in local politics because, if Republican Gov. Linda Lingle wins re-election, she will be precluded from a third term in 2010 and the office will be open. Also U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, 81, will be up for re-election. Hawaii's senior senator has already said he expects to run again in 2010.
The question was posed to 75 local insiders, and 40 responded. They were told their answers would be anonymous.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie tallied the second-highest number of votes, with 29 in different races, but nearly all the insiders expect Abercrombie to keep his 1st District congressional seat, although four said he would be in the Senate in 2010.
One legislative insider said that in Hawaii politics "age will play a big factor in 2010."
"Politicians currently in their sixties can't claim that they will acquire enough seniority to help Hawaii before they get too old," the lawmaker said.
"Those now in their forties and fifties have the advantage in the seniority argument," the legislator added.
Some feel that Hawaii's congressional delegation, with Inouye and Sen. Dan Akaka both 81 and Abercrombie at 67, is a valuable asset.
"Call it wishful thinking, but I hope our two sitting senators are around for a long time to come," one Democratic labor leader said.
The survey respondents expect Inouye to be on the job after the 2010 election and also figure Akaka will win his battle against Democratic Rep. Ed Case this fall.
Nine insiders figured Case will win this fall and that Inouye will not run in 2010, so Case would become Hawaii's senior senator, and another four think Case will win in the fall and serve with Inouye as the junior senator.
Case interprets the results to show "recognition that there will be a transition in Congress over the next four years."
BECAUSE OF the make-up of the survey group, Case said any group of insiders is going to expect the status quo to be preserved.
"I believe there is a great disconnect between the insiders and everybody else. The insiders are rock solid defenders of the status quo and change scares them," Case said.
While Case has 13 insiders who think he will be in the Senate, another 14 think that by 2010, Lingle will be serving in the Senate.
Lingle, who has repeatedly said she would not run for anything but governor this year, declined to say what other future office might interest her. She said she didn't care for the survey, saying it "should be on a gossip page."
"Lingle won't run for Akaka's seat this time around but Akaka may need to leave office somewhere in the middle of his term. If that happens, Lingle will run and win," one lobbyist predicted.
Hannemann said the poll shows that despite the controversial issues of rising taxes and limited city services, the public approves of his administration.
"I like my job," Hannemann said, adding that he plans to run for re-election in 2008. He wouldn't say if he would leave the mayorship in 2010 to run for governor or Congress.
"I don't want to look at 2010 because you can't take 2008 for granted," Hannemann said.
In the race for the rural Oahu and neighbor island 2nd Congressional District, Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) garners the most support from insiders.
One lobbyist said "Colleen has distinguished herself by taking on the hard issues of her Judiciary committee -- she is the most organized legislator I have ever seen."
Hanabusa, the influential chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, predicts her support "will come first from my own base -- you can't win (Congress) without voters in my district. Also my support will come from supporters of legislation that I have passed."
One insider, Annelle Amaral, who lobbies for Planned Parenthood of Hawaii, said she hoped that Hanabusa would forget about Congress and run for governor this fall.
"Colleen is a given. She is a natural leader. I hope she comes to her senses and sees that staying in Hawaii is her strength," Amaral said.
THE STRONG reliance insiders place on incumbency shows that insiders don't like surprises, but Neal Milner, University Hawaii professor of political science, says surprise drives Hawaii politics.
"In the past few years surprise has been the most important thing in determining political futures," Milner says.
"One such surprise was Linda Lingle's 1998 loss. Another and of course tragic surprise was Patsy Mink's death. A third is Ed Case's 'jumping the line' to be U.S. senator.
"Death is not predictable. Neither is ambition. In this state these two factors have worked together in determining political careers," Milner said. "There is every reason to think that this will continue to be the case in Hawaii.
writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org