GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Minoo Elison was comforted yesterday on disappointing election results as state Republicans gathered at their headquarters downtown for a unity lunch. Elison lost by 13 votes to Kurt D.H. Zuttermeister for state House.
Parties identify key races in musical chairs
Departing incumbents and internal power struggles have Republicans and Democrats keeping close tabs on several state House and Senate races in the general election.
"I think the key to winning a House race is knowing and working with your community. ... It's a personal relationship with the community, and I think our representatives have that -- and it's the same in the Senate," said Mike McCartney, chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party.
"We have a lot of good prospects out there, and it's going to be in their hands of how hard are they willing to run," said state House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan (R, Aiea-Lower Pearlridge).
Excitement is being generated in part by nearly a dozen vacancies created by incumbents choosing not to run again, running for other office or getting knocked off in the primary election.
"There are a lot of vacancies, and whenever you have an open race, you always go after those open races," Hawaii Republican Party Chairman Sam Aiona said.
That is the situation with some races in the state Senate and several contested House races, including two of three seats on Kauai.
Republican Keoki Leong is running for the Windward Oahu seat of his former boss, state Sen. Bob Hogue, against Jill Tokuda, a former aide to former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono.
"There will be die-hard Democrats, there will be die-hard Republicans, but I think I can bring crossover voters my way," said Leong, whose family's Windward roots go back several generations.
McCartney said, "Jill Tokuda was born and raised there, and ... she knows the community. It's a huge advantage."
In the House races, Downtown Neighborhood Board member Karl Rhoads defeated controversial Democratic state Rep. Bev Harbin, who was appointed to the 28th District seat by Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.
Rhoads will face Republican Collin Wong in the general election.
"It's going to be a tough race. I've known all along that the district leans a little bit Democratic, but not overwhelmingly by any stretch of the imagination," Rhoads said. "But I think we're very well positioned."
Rhoads said campaign funds would be important because one of the ways to reach residents of the district's many high-rises is through mailers, which are expensive.
"Collin Wong almost beat an incumbent (in a previous election). ... People in that district know him, like him, and so I think this year is going to do it," Aiona said. "That race is not going to be about Karl Rhoads. It is going to be about Collin Wong and the type of leader that he is."
McCartney said that with so many vacancies, the goal of the party is to maintain the Democrats' two-thirds majority in the House and Senate.
Lingle said the number of contested races shows the growth of the GOP in Hawaii.
"When you invite in more people, and more people feel a part of things, they're willing to run for office," Lingle said.
The leadership in the 51-member House and 25-member Senate could also depend on who gets elected.
Sens. Colleen Hanabusa and Donna Kim said the public can count on some change in leadership, currently under Senate President Robert Bunda, as a result of the elections, and the potential for more seats going to Democrats.
"We have factions in the Senate, and there's no secret that there's 10 of us who have concerns about leadership, and three more votes would make 13," said Kim, referring to the number needed to reorganize the Senate.
On the House side, the departure of many veteran Democratic lawmakers loyal to House Speaker Calvin Say, and possibly more House seats going GOP, could mean changes in leadership there as well. But Say said the first order of business will be to get re-elected.
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Here are some of the legislative races being closely followed for the general election:
District 19 (Kapolei, Makakilo, Waipahu)
» George Yamamoto (D) vs. Mike Gabbard (R): Winner will fill the seat being vacated by Democratic state Sen. Brian Kanno.
District 24 (Kaneohe, Kailua)
» Jill Tokuda (D) vs. Keoki Leong (R): Tokuda, a former aide to Mazie Hirono, meets Leong, Sen. Bob Hogue's former chief of staff, to fill the seat Hogue vacated to run to Congress.
District 4 (Lower Puna)
» Faye Hanohano (D) vs. Brian Jordan (R) and Aaron Anderson (L): No incumbent in this seat with the departure of Democratic Rep. Helene Hale, in a district with changing demographics.
District 10 (Lahaina, Kaanapali, Kapalua)
» Angus McKelvey (D) vs. Ben Azman (R): Incumbent Rep. Kam Tanaka lost to McKelvey in the primary. Before Tanaka, the seat was held by a Republican.
District 11 (Makena, Wailea, Kihei)
» Joe Bertram (D) vs. Tony Fisher (R): This seat has no incumbent after Rep. Chris Halford opted not to run again.
District 15 (Lihue, Koloa)
» James Tokioka (D) vs. Ron Agor (R): Rep. Ezra Kanoho decided against running again, so his seat is up for grabs between Councilman Tokioka and former Kauai Republican Chairman Agor.
District 16 (Niihau, Koloa, Waimea)
» Roland Sagum (D) vs. JoAnne S. Georgi (R): No incumbent with the departure of Rep. Bertha Kawakami.
District 23 (Waikiki)
» Tom Brower (D) vs. Anne V. Stevens (R): Stevens was appointed to this seat and is challenging the former Hawaii Democratic Party communications director.
District 24 (Tantalus, Makiki, McCully)
» Della Au Belatti (D) vs. Tracy Okubo (R): Democratic Rep. Brian Schatz decided against running for re-election to focus on his bid for Congress.
District 28 (Kakaako, Downtown)
» Karl Rhoads (D) vs. Collin Wong (R): Rhoads defeated Rep. Bev Harbin to open up the seat.
District 29 (Kalihi, Kapalama)
» Joey Manahan (D) vs. Ken Harding (R): Rep. Felipe Abinsay decided not to run again, leaving the seat vacant.
District 30 (Kalihi Valley, Kamehameha Heights)
» John Mizuno (D) vs. Rick Manayan (R): Longtime Rep. Dennis Arakaki did not seek another term, leaving his aide, Mizuno, and Manayan to battle for the seat.