Monday, June 4, 2001

Crowded race

The field of candidates
for lieutenant governor is
filling up quickly

By Richard Borreca

The road to the governor's office goes straight through the lieutenant governor's office.

In Hawaii, being lieutenant governor makes you a likely candidate to win the governorship someday.

The numbers make a compelling case: Three out of Hawaii's five elected governors were second in command before getting the top job in local state politics.

With those odds it is easy to see why an office that pays $90,041 and is responsible for only legal name changes and certifying documents for foreign nations is drawing so much attention.

Although the race for governor and lieutenant governor is more than a year away, the lists are already filling.

According to the state Constitution, candidates for lieutenant governor run independently in the primary, but in the general election, the winning candidates run together with the winning gubernatorial nominees from the same parties.

Already the Democrats have six veterans mulling over the race, with the Republicans looking at another three potential candidates.

At the recent GOP state convention, state Sen. Bob Hogue (R, Kaneohe-Enchanted Lake) and Reps. Charles Djou (R, Kaneohe-Kahaluu) and David Pendleton (R, Maunawili-Kaneohe) were all mulling over races for second in command.

The Democrats have not been campaigning publicly, but they are starting to plan their strategy.

"I don't think anyone runs to be lieutenant governor," says Clayton Hee, a former legislator and now trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Hee says the "desire to be an addition to state government" is what makes him a candidate.

Because nearly all the major offices in Hawaii will be up for election, and there will be no incumbents for the offices of governor, mayor of Honolulu and Kauai or the Honolulu City Council, 2002 is a year of opportunity.

"The next year will be the transition year. It will form the new generation of leaders for some time to come," says Sen. Avery Chumbley (D, East Maui-North Kauai) and one of the potential lieutenant governor candidates.

Some of the six candidates have already started planning their campaigns. Unlike their House or Senate district races, candidates for lieutenant governor must have a statewide campaign.

Sen. Ron Menor (D, Mililani), 45, says his unsuccessful race for Congress a decade ago helped him make neighbor island contacts, and he has spent time since then building a network.

"Also, I was born and raised in Hilo," Menor, son of former state Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Menor, says.

Also, Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura, 42, who was first elected to the Council in 1994, has been working on his statewide campaign.

"I've been doing all the groundwork -- putting together an organization and focusing on the race, although you should never rule out other options," Yoshimura said.

Fellow Councilman and former Chairman John DeSoto, 53, is also eyeing options.

Today, he says he is going for the lieutenant governor's race, but if Waianae Sen. Colleen Hanabusa decides to run for Congress, he says, then he will run for the state Senate.

"Other people have been encouraging me," DeSoto says of the lieutenant governor bid. "I could be an effective lieutenant governor."

Finally, Sen. Matt Matsunaga (D, Waialae), 42, who, like Yoshimura and Menor, is an attorney, is also mulling over the race.

"I'm leaning in that direction, and I think I can be effective in the executive branch, serving as the No. 2 person," he says.

Matsunaga, who has been in the Senate nine years, says after being in Senate leadership (he and Chumbley used to co-chair the Judiciary Committee), he is ready to move on to the executive branch.

All the candidates must also start to fit their campaigns into the overriding race for governor.

On the Republican side, Linda Lingle, the GOP chairwoman who plans to run for governor next year, says she wants to have a say in who will be her running mate, although she says she will not dictate who runs for what office.

On the Democratic side, Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono has stayed away from making any endorsements. Her opponent, Jeremy Harris, however, is already being linked to the Yoshimura candidacy.

DeSoto, for instance, said Harris favors Yoshimura.

"Knowing the mayor is supporting Yoshimura ... I could work with Jeremy," DeSoto said.

A spokesman for Harris, Rick Tsujimura, the Harris campaign co-chairman, denied that Harris is supporting Yoshimura.

"At this point the mayor is not endorsing anyone," Tsujimura said.

"Whether John (DeSoto) perceives us as being more supportive, that is his personal reflections.

"To say we are singularly supporting Yoshimura would not be accurate."

For his part, Yoshimura agrees, saying Harris supports him and other candidates, too.

But Yoshimura does add that "Jeremy and I have shown we can work together and produce good results."

"For the first time in the state's history since statehood, you would have a ticket with people who have worked closely together and have a record of service.

"In the past, other tickets have been forced marriages," Yoshimura said.

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