Saturday, May 22, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Ouster of Bronster
may stir Senate

Seven who voted against the
former attorney general may be
vulnerable next year

By Mike Yuen
Star Bulletin


In the aftermath of the Senate's ouster of Margery Bronster as attorney general, several of Rep. Ken Ito's colleagues began referring to him as "Sen. Ito."

Ito happens to live in the Senate district of another Kaneohe Democrat, Marshall Ige, one of the 14 senators -- all Democrats except for one Republican -- who voted against confirming Bronster. Only 11 supported her.

While Ito's ascension to the Senate was mentioned only in jest, the humor reflects a widespread political perception: The seven senators who voted against Bronster and who are up for re-election next year could be vulnerable because of the vehement public disapproval of their action.

While the general election is a year and a half away, and other factors may come into play, many Democrats and Republicans, including delegates to this weekend's state GOP convention in Poipu, Kauai, see the Bronster vote as a golden opportunity to put new faces in the Senate.

For Republicans, it is a chance to increase their meager representation in the Senate, which now stands at two. But they also acknowledge that they may lose Senate Minority Leader Whitney Anderson of Kailua, who voted against Bronster.

For the Hawaii Democratic Party, whose central, or executive, committee, condemned the Bronster vote, there is the danger of being perceived as encouraging Democrats to challenge incumbent Democrats.

But, says Democratic National Committeewoman Amy Agbayani, who voted for the resolution condemning the Senate's rejection of Bronster, "We're not supposed to be no-brains and just blindly supporting Democratic officials. We have the responsibility to praise Democrats when they're doing very well and to disagree violently when they do something wrong. In that way, we're being responsive to Democrats and independents."

The central committee resolution may damage Democratic Senate incumbents, Agbayani concedes. But it is also a signal to Republicans that they won't have "a free ride" to capitalize on the Bronster vote, she adds. "It may hurt. (Senate Democrats who voted against Bronster) will have to explain themselves and point out positive things they've done. There is a burden placed on them," Agbayani says.

In addition to Ige and Anderson, five other anti-Bronster senators, all Democrats, up for re-election are Senate President Norman Mizuguchi (Aiea) and Sens. Carol Fukunaga (Makiki), Brian Kanno (Ewa Beach), David Matsuura (Hilo) and Joe Tanaka (Kahului).

Here's an early look at the races of the anti-Bronster senators most frequently mentioned in discussions in political circles:

Bullet Ige: Both Democrats and Republicans see Ige as the senator most vulnerable to voter backlash. But he may not have to face the electorate next year. If Ige, a target in the Bishop Estate investigation that Bronster launched when she was attorney general, is indicted and convicted before voters go to the polls, he will be removed from office automatically. That would mean Gov. Ben Cayetano could appoint Ito to Ige's seat.

Ige allegedly received $18,300 in illegal campaign contributions from the Bishop Estate, a powerful and influential institution in the isles and one of the nation's largest charitable trusts. He had no qualms on voting on whether Bronster should be reconfirmed.

Among Republicans, Board of Education member Noemi Pendleton, wife of state Rep. David Pendleton (R, Kailua), has been mentioned as a possible challenger to Ige if he runs.

David Pendleton says Ige was damaged by not recusing himself from the Bronster vote. "There's no question that what he did was technically aboveboard. But it violated the spirit of ethics and common sense.

You don't have people under investigation deciding if the investigator can continue in the job," he says.

If she does take on Ige, says Noemi Pendleton, she won't be attacking Ige on just the Bronster issue. What, if anything, Ige has done to improve the economy and lower taxes also will come into question, she says.

Bullet Mizuguchi: House Human Services Chairman Dennis Arakaki (D, Kalihi Valley), who lives in Mizuguchi's Senate district, confirms that he's been urged to challenge the Senate president, and that those appeals became more intense after the Bronster vote.

"I tell people I'm just focusing on my work in the House," Arakaki says. "I don't want to be used for someone else's agenda or for what someone else did."

If he were a senator, Arakaki says, he would have voted for Bronster. But he adds, "I have nothing against Norman."

His observation, says Arakaki, is that no one in the isles is taking a leadership role in sustaining and directing the backlash from the Senate's anti-Bronster vote into a political movement that will still be alive next year.

Mizuguchi, who has been criticized for allowing Ige to vote on Bronster, also is seen as vulnerable because he was nearly defeated in the Democratic primary in 1996 by Diane Ho Kurtz. She has been described by many as "a political nobody," a first-time candidate who damaged Mizuguchi with a single issue -- her opposition to same-sex marriage.

Bullet Fukunaga: Veteran Ways and Means Co-Chairwoman Fukunaga may be able to avoid voter wrath because, at this early stage, no strong challenger is on the horizon. Former House Assistant Minority Leader Sam Aiona says he is more inclined to try to get his seat back from freshman Rep. Brian Schatz (D, Makiki) than to oppose Fukunaga. Schatz says he won't run against Fukunaga because he considers her a friend. She helped Schatz with his campaign.

Fukunaga has also been criticized for the manner in which she has handled the state budget -- publicly by Gov. Ben Cayetano and Republicans, and privately by some of her Democratic colleagues. Even before the Bronster vote, Rep. Galen Fox (R, Waikiki), an economist, described Fukunaga's proposal for the biennium budget as "intellectually dishonest" because it pushed most of the Senate's proposed budget cuts into the biennium's second year. In budget negotiations, Senate positions could not be defended and Fukunaga ended up agreeing with most of the House proposals.

Cayetano once said the Senate's budget plan was so incomprehensible, he doubted that Fukunaga could explain it.

Bullet Anderson: Rep. Kenny Goodenow (D, Waimanalo) acknowledges that Democrats, including one high-profile official whom he refused to identify publicly, and at least one Republican active in his district have asked him to run against Anderson.

If Democrats don't criticize other Democrats whose actions they find questionable, "the Republicans will end up doing it for us," Goodenow says. "We (Democrats) could be thrown out."

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