Elections will lead news in ’08
Presidential politics will be of particular interest, along with the race for mayor
Hawaii should find out soon how well native son Barack Obama will fare in his bid for the White House, while Mayor Mufi Hannemann waits to see if he will face any challengers in his bid for a second term.
Other issues likely to grab headlines in 2008, including the fate of mass transit and the potential deployment to Kuwait of about 2,000 Hawaii National Guard and 600 Pacific Army Reserve soldiers, could take more time to develop.
Obama's staying power in the presidential race should come into focus on Thursday, when voters in Iowa cast their ballots in the earliest caucus vote in history.
"If he does OK there, he's got enough momentum to stay in the fight," said Neal Milner, a University of Hawaii political scientist. "If he doesn't do OK there, he's in trouble."
A poll released Friday in Iowa showed Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, in a statistical dead heat with New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. A poll in New Hampshire, which holds its primary next Tuesday, showed Obama and Clinton tied, with Edwards further back.
In local politics, Hannemann is running unopposed so far, and with a formidable supply of campaign money. As of the July 31 reporting deadline, Hannemann had about $1.5 million in cash available for the race.
Although rumors have swirled about potential challengers, Hannemann is the only declared candidate to date.
One of the central focuses of the Hannemann administration, mass transit, is likely to remain a hot topic in 2008.
Hannemann has said he wants to break ground on a mass transit system in 2009.
"It looks like things are on track for that," said Wayne Yoshioka, the city's acting transportation director. "We feel good about our chances with federal funding. The challenge is just getting (the project) done on time."
In addition to securing funds, a major obstacle in 2008 is selecting the technology of the $3.5 billion transit system.
Hannemann proposed creating a panel of five experts to decide, but political bickering has slowed the process, with several City Council members objecting to letting nonelected officials make the crucial decision. The Council is expected to vote on the mayor's proposal this month.
The technology is critical to the final environmental impact statement, which would allow the consultants to be more specific, Yoshioka said. If the City Council approves the measure, the technology panel is expected to have a decision by early summer.
A final environmental impact statement and preliminary engineering reports are expected by September, Yoshioka said, giving the public and other agencies enough time to comment before the anticipated groundbreaking.
About 600 Army Reserve soldiers and their families in Hawaii and the Pacific region are awaiting definitive word on whether they will be deploying to Kuwait. The Army Reserve soldiers were notified of the possibility on Dec. 21, while about 2,000 National Guard soldiers were given notice of a summertime deployment in Kuwait in October.
The 100th Battalion, 442nd Infantry expects to deploy with the Hawaii National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team, which is due to provide security for U.S. installations in Kuwait starting next summer. Army officials say the unit will increase the level of its training to prepare for the deployment.
The battalion returned to Hawaii in March 2006 after spending more than a year in Iraq with the 29th Brigade Combat Team. During that tour, soldiers conducted combat and security operations in the Saladin province of Iraq and received a meritorious unit commendation.
Soldiers who deploy are expected to be away from home for one year, unlike the last deployment of 18 to 20 months.
Star-Bulletin reporter Laurie Au and the Associated Press contributed to this report.