Election 2002


Chaos and conflict
rule historic contest

The 2 women vying for the state's
top office are waging a bitter battle

Governor, lieutenant governor candidates

By Richard Borreca

One of Hawaii's most contentious and chaotic elections ends Nov. 5, with Hawaii selecting its first woman governor.

That historic move aside, the race for governor has become a bitter grudge match between Republican Linda Lingle and Democratic Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono.

At the same time, it has been overshadowed by the sudden emergence of a contested race for Congress.

After the death of U.S. Rep Patsy Mink, Democrats, led by Gov. Ben Cayetano, tried to have Mink's name taken off the Nov. 5 ballot and replaced by someone named by the party, but the state Supreme Court ruled against the request.

The general election contest will be between the Republican, state Rep. Bob McDermott; Mink; and two third-party candidates. If Mink wins the election, a special election will be held Jan. 4 to fill her term. Meanwhile, another election will be held Nov. 30 to fill out the remainder of Mink's current term. That election has already drawn the interest of state Rep. Ed Case, who failed in an attempt to win the Democratic nomination for governor, and John Mink, Patsy Mink's husband.

Linda Lingle, left, lost the governor's race four years ago but revived the state's Republican Party and raised $3 million to make her current bid, while Mazie Hirono, right, hopes to continue the Democratic tradition of lieutenant governors moving up to the top office but is also trying to project an image of change.

Now in the race for governor, Democrats are facing Round 2 of a drive by Lingle, who, after losing four years ago, reorganized the state's moribund GOP, recruited candidates for the Legislature and raised nearly $3 million to topple the longest-standing statewide Democratic political organization in U.S. history.

For Hirono the election would be a continuation of the Democratic tradition of lieutenant governors moving up to the top office. Hawaii has been run for 28 years by lieutenant governors who have succeeded their bosses.

Despite that powerful tradition, Hirono's pollster Don Clegg says Hirono must move her candidacy forward and project a new image to win.

"There is an image of change that the voters are looking for, and it is up to Mazie to capture those votes by showing she is that change," Clegg said.

"The issue of change is actually even more important than the issues of education and the environment," Clegg said.

A small group of Hirono supporters were waving signs last week outside the state Capitol.

At the start of the race for governor this year, the change issue was literally a changing of the candidates. First, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris was the front-running Democratic candidate, showing the most money raised and the best chance of beating Lingle in the general election. But then Harris, whose campaign fund-raising practices are under investigation by police and federal officials, pulled out of the race.

Hirono, who initially said she was running for governor, then for mayor, switched back to the governor's race and eked out a victory over Case, a maverick Democrat who raised his profile in the Legislature by urging civil service reform in the face of heavy public union pressure.

Political analysts are seeing another unusual twist in this race for governor, that is, the GOP may actually have the most extensive grass-roots help in the campaign.

Long the strong point of a Democratic campaign, grass-roots involvement of friends and neighbors in a campaign has become part of Lingle's strategy this year.

Tom Coffman, political author and election analyst, says Lingle's community forums and rallies, which have become almost a nightly event somewhere in the state, will help her in the closing days.

Duke Aiona (center) waves with supporters Koko (left) and Rae Santos near Castle Medical Center.

"Something that I haven't seen before is this endless series of grass-roots forums," Coffman said.

"No Republican has been able to do this before. ... I think she has a stronger base than Republicans have had before," Coffman added.

But, he concluded, Lingle, by the simple fact of running for the last four years, "has developed some baggage" by making promises and campaign pitches at almost every forum.

Hirono, meanwhile, had to fight her way through a three-way primary election and then see her hopes for a unified general election campaign split as her primary opponent, Case, took up a race for Congress, thereby moving his supporters to another race and not giving Hirono the expected boost. Hirono also trails Lingle in the ability to raise money for a statewide campaign, with Lingle enjoying a nearly 3-to-1 advantage in donations.

The gubernatorial race will take center stage in the general election on Nov. 5. Democratic candidate Mazie Hirono, left, shook hands with Republican candidate Linda Lingle, right, earlier this month after a debate held at the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

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