Attention focuses
on Legislative ousters

By Crystal Kua

"Hey senator," a fellow called over to the state Senate's newest member. "Very good for you, sir."

Senator-elect Willie Espero was a bit giddy this morning from either a lack of sleep or the excitement of claiming the 20th Senatorial District seat that includes Ewa and Ewa Beach in a winner-take-all Democratic primary against community leader Tesha Malama.

"I haven't even seen the final numbers," Espero said just before the Democratic Party's unity breakfast.

Espero received 2,705 votes to Malama's 1,945 votes,

But most of the talk at the breakfast centered around the ouster of four Democratic incumbents - all of whom were politically aligned with state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, the Senate vice president.

"It was a shock to me, but I think there were some issues that arose in some of these races that were very challenging for the incumbents," Senate President Robert Bunda said.

Sens. Jonathan Chun of Kauai, David Matsuura of Hilo, Jan Yagi Buen of Maui and Bob Nakata of Windward Oahu lost their re-election bids against fellow Democrats.

Hanabusa said it wasn't one factor that did them in.

"It's just that when you have a whole bunch of these different issues and it's cumulating one on top of each other, it can have an adverse effect," Hanabusa said.

Hanabusa and her four colleagues entered the state Senate after the 1998 election, ironically all beating incumbents at the time.

Seen as reasons for their ouster were the votes by all four against the reappointment of former Attorney General Margery Bronster, public employee union opposition to Hanabusa's group and the "death with dignity" bill that would have legalized physician assisted suicide.

All four voted against Bronster's confirmation for a second term as attorney general in 1999. Bronster campaigned on the side of Matsuura's and Nakata's opponents

Hanabusa, a labor attorney, said union opposition was likely a key factor in Buen's defeat. Unions were unhappy with Hanabusa's position civil service and health fund reforms.

The Hawaii Government Employee's Association endorsed the challengers of Buen, Matsuura and Chun.

"I think that there's no question that there was targeting from the public employees union," said Republican state Sen. Sam Slom. "From my standpoint it makes it really hard for Democrats to continue to talk about change. They are resisting change in every step of the way."

Kauai Councilman Gary Hooser trounced Chun with 7,960 votes vs. Chun's 4,608 votes.

Sen. Lorraine Inouye beat Matsuura 6,002 to 4,341. Both were thrown together because of redistricting.

Buen lost to small-business man Shan Tsutsui, who received 4,255 votes compared with Buen's 2,921 for the 4th Senate District on Maui. He wins the seat outright.

Nakata lost by 300 votes to Melodie Aduja in the 23rd Senate District that runs from Kaneohe to Kahaku. Aduja now faces Republican Lacene Terri in the general, a closely watched race.

Republicans are looking to make gains in both the state House and Senate.

State Rep. Michael Magaoay (D, North Shore), who faces a general-election challenge from Republican Carol Anne Philips, said he senses a re-energized Democratic Party focused on unity.

"I think its coming together," he said.

Star-Bulletin reporter Pat Omandam
contributed to this report.

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