Governor’s race hinges
on balance of forces


The strength of public worker unions prevailed -- barely -- in the primary.

Voters delivered a mixed message in Saturday's primary election: that public worker unions still have enough power to decide political fates, while, in the Republican and Democratic governors' races, the combined majority picked candidates who stressed the need to break away from the power structure of the past.

Mazie Hirono's victory over maverick Ed Case for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and the turning out of four state senators shows that unions still hold great sway. At the same time, Case's near-win -- only 2,603 votes behind Hirono -- indicates that the unions' lock on party politics has loosened as discontented Democrats and independents pushed their way into the arena.

As Hirono gears up for the general election against Republican Linda Lingle, the lieutenant governor must find a way to integrate that group of voters without disturbing those who brought her to the party. It will not be enough for her to rely purely on the unions' leverage to get her to the governor's office.

Lingle's task will be to overcome four decades of Democratic rule. Her mantra of change and equating Democrats with corruption will be insufficient to win those who have long viewed Republicans with wariness. Now she must get specific about the changes she will make and how she will achieve them with a Legislature largely controlled by Democrats.

The low turnout -- only 40 percent of eligible voters -- worked to Hirono's and the unions' advantage. Even with her late-starting campaign -- she dropped out and then jumped back in after front-runner Jeremy Harris quit the race -- the unions' mobilized behind the candidate they felt least threatens their stability.

The unions also worked to oust four senators -- David Matsuura, Jonathan Chun, Jan Yagi Buen and Bob Nakata -- who had provoked their ire by voting to privatize some state services and to reform the public employees' health fund. Their departure shakes up the balance of power in the Senate, leaving the ambitious Sen. Colleen Hanabusa without key members of her faction. The senators were forewarned when the 42,000-member Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state's largest public worker union, and the Hawaii State Teachers Association withheld their endorsements.

Meanwhile, the HGEA, in endorsing both Hirono and Republican-turned-Democrat D.G. "Andy" Anderson, were clearly sending a message: Anybody but Case. However, Case sent his own message. Although hampered by lack of name recognition and money, Case demonstrated how dogged campaigning and an intelligent platform can attract a spectrum of voters. Had he been better financed, Case likely would be facing Lingle in November.

The lesson should not be lost on Lingle, who has amassed more than $3 million to fund her campaign. Money is important, but it isn't everything. Lingle has acknowledged the sway unions have in Hawaii, pledging that she will not cut jobs and will increase services without raising taxes. She also must convince Democratic-leaning and liberal independents that her party has room for them.

Hirono will have to overcome her image as the candidate of the status quo. She will have to embrace younger Democrats lured by Case's blend of fiscal conservatism and social and environmental advocacy and simultaneously keep the unions in her fold.

It's difficult to say which candidate has the tougher job: Lingle, attempting to convince public workers that she isn't their enemy -- or Hirono, trying to persuade disenchanted voters that she can lead her party and the state in a new direction.


Council races offer lively
blend of old and new

WITH only three of the seats on the City Council taken, the musical chairs competition for the other six promises a lively general election and new dynamics for city governance. In the weeks to come, voters should carefully examine candidates' agendas, for these people will chart the course for government at its most fundamental level.

Although a number of former state legislators with name recognition advanced to the November ballot, newcomers gathered enough votes to present credible challenges. Among the familiar faces are Bob Fishman, whose list of "former" titles includes head of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and city managing director.

Other familiar faces come from the world of television news. Barbara Marshall, a former KHON reporter, and Nestor Garcia, more recently a Central Oahu state representative, have made the primary cut. Meanwhile, former state senator Stan Koki, who will face Marshall, and Mike Gabbard, who led the fight against same-sex marriage, bring conservative elements to the races. Gabbard's opponent, Pam Witty-Oakland, worked behind the scene in city government as an aide to outgoing Honolulu City Councilman John DeSoto. Other newbies include first-time candidates Donovan Dela Cruz and John Steelquist.

Because almost all elective offices in the state are up for grabs this year, Council campaigns have not received the kind of attention they usually draw. Now that the slate of candidates has been winnowed, voters may more easily make their choices.


Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, Publisher

Frank Bridgewater, Editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
Assistant Editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, Assistant Editor 529-4762;

Mary Poole, Editorial Page Editor, 529-4790;
John Flanagan, Contributing Editor 294-3533;

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