Monday, October 19, 1998

Campaign '98

Hawaii GOP
expands drive
for House seats

They plug $100,000 into
campaigns, seeing Democrats
as vulnerable in 25 races

By Mike Yuen


With the general election 15 days away, the Hawaii Republican Party is targeting 11 House Democrats, including Speaker Joe Souki.

Not only are those Democratic incumbents highly vulnerable, said Hawaii GOP Executive Director Jesse Yescalis, but the GOP believes it can win three open Senate seats as well as pick up two open Democratic House seats and hold onto two open Republican House seats.

As part of its strategy, the isle party is dispersing $100,000 total to its candidates in those races, with each of them getting between $3,000 and $7,000.

"We also have across-the-board programs to get out the vote and for mailers and for phone banks," Yescalis said.

"As the general election gets closer, races usually tighten and we scale back. But this time we're expanding our universe," he added.

Republicans could be competitive in as many as 25 of the 51 House races, Yescalis said.

Currently, there are 39 Democrats and 12 Republicans in the House. The GOP's goal is to gain at least six more seats. With 18 House Republicans, GOP gubernatorial nominee Linda Lingle would have a veto-proof Legislature if she is elected.

In the 25-member Senate, the chamber's two Republicans are not up for re-election.

State Democratic Party Chairman Walter Heen said Democrats are aware that Republicans, buoyed in part by primary-election results, are going on an offensive.

But Heen, who has no doubt the Legislature will remain controlled by Democrats, is skeptical that Republicans will make significant gains in those races.

Russell Okata, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state's largest public-workers union that has traditionally endorsed Democrats, also believes the GOP is overly optimistic.

Souki, for example, won't fall to salesman Kalani Tassill, who is "damaged goods" because his criminal record has been disclosed, Okata said. "Despite controversy, Joe has delivered for Maui," he added.

Earlier this month, Tassill revealed his convictions for assault, spouse abuse and capturing an endangered green sea turtle after Gary Rodrigues, state director of the United Public Workers union and a Souki supporter, queried him about the convictions.

Okata also said Reps. Ron Menor, Alex Santiago and David Stegmaier, who are also GOP targets, should be able to hang onto their seats.

Reps. Kenny Goodenow and David Tarnas, Okata conceded, are two Democratic incumbents facing difficult re-election battles.

"He's working hard," Okata said of Goodenow. "We're providing whatever assistance we can. So are other unions. We have hope. But it's a tough race."

Tarnas faces an "uphill fight" against former Big Island Councilman Jim Rath, Okata said. "We have small (HGEA) numbers there."

In the Hawaii Kai House race to replace Republican Gene Ward, who is vacating the seat to run for Congress, Republican Realtor Bertha Leong appears to have the edge over Democrat Jon Ishimi, a telecommunications company president, Okata said.

Other open House races include attorney Sylvia Luke (D) facing Christopher Dawson (R), president of an environmental engineering company, in District 26 (Nuuanu-Punchbowl); and attorney Iris Ikeda Catalani (D) against lawyer Charles Kong Djou (R) in District 47 (Kaneohe-Kahaluu).

The Senate's open races include former Big Island Mayor Lorraine Inouye (D) against former state Sen. John Carroll (R) in District 1 (North Hilo-Kohala); Jan Yagi Buen (D), an employee relations specialist, facing John Corboy (R), chief executive officer of Hawaiian Eye Center, in District 4 (Maui-Molokai); and former state Rep. Bob Nakata (D) against businessman Joe Pickard (R) in District 23 (Kaneohe-Kahuku).

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