What's brewing behind gov's push to elect Coffee?
THERE IS MORE to the race for U.S. Senate than just this fall's campaign.
In July, former Vietnam veteran and prisoner of war Jerry Coffee used the backdrop of Hawaii's low-key Korean and Vietnam War memorial to announce his campaign for the U.S. Senate.
There was nothing low-key about those assembled on the state Capitol lawn to wish him godspeed. Coffee pulled in the local GOP's glitterati including Gov. Linda Lingle, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, Miriam Hellreich, national committee woman and top lieutenant in Lingle's campaign, plus Sam Aiona, GOP chairman, and a half-dozen GOP legislators.
ALTHOUGH the conservative Coffee almost beat incumbent Rep. Blake Oshiro, one of the strongest liberals in the Legislature, in a 2004 House race, Coffee had stayed out of politics until his surprise announcement to run against the winner of the Rep. Ed Case vs. Sen. Dan Akaka Democratic primary.
Then Coffee, 72, had a heart attack, needed emergency heart surgery and was out of the race. But his withdrawal was not in time to keep his name off the ballot.
State law provides for the party to pick a substitute candidate if the winner of the primary is unable to campaign.
Lingle now says "sick or not" she is voting for Coffee. The reason is pure pragmatic politics.
Lingle said she wants the GOP to be able to pick a new candidate to run against the winner of the Akaka-Case Democratic primary.
Now with the GOP firmly under her control, Lingle will be able to give the nod to a U.S. Senate candidate if she can get Republicans to vote for Coffee.
No one in the GOP is saying who gets the blessing. Lingle doesn't say and GOP leader Sam Aiona would only recite the party line about picking someone "better than Case or Akaka."
SO WHO would it be? Councilman Charles Djou is pounding out his campaign commercials with a stern reminder to "Remember the name, Charles Djou."
Djou, who is running for re-election without opposition, says he hasn't thought about the Senate or the Coffee vote, but acknowledges that if called upon by his party he would consider it.
If not Djou, the other high-profile Republican not already running is Micah Kane, the Hawaiian Home Lands department director and former chairman of the Hawaii GOP.
"I am very happy with the job I have ... running for elected office is not anything I would consider," Kane said.
If Coffee wins, and the GOP appoints a successor, it would make sense for Lingle to pick someone who would benefit from the statewide exposure that a Senate race would give. And that person would be known to voters in both a 2008 congressional race and a 2010 governor's contest. And that is why there is always more to the story.
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