An unusual alliance is targeting Hawaii House Majority Leader Pono Chong in the District 48 race, arguing that the candidate has distorted his record and is misleading voters.

The alliance — the Hawaii chapter of the Sierra Club, the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly — on Friday launched NotPono.org to highlight a slew of mailers paid for by the Chong campaign.

But NotPono.org says the mailers are really funded by “special interests such as Hawaiian Electric, Tesoro, and developers in an effort to disguise his real record.” Those are contributors to his campaign.

In reality, according to the alliance, he has not been friendly to the environment, education and the economy. The Sierra Club’s Robert Harris, for example, said Chong tried to gut incentives that could destroy the solar industry in the islands.

Chong said the charges “are not true at all” and defended his voting record, including trying to close loopholes on solar tax credits that he said were costing the state millions of dollars.

It’s unusual to have three groups that, as they acknowledged at the Iolani Palace press conference, don’t always see eye to eye. Harris referred to the “historic nature” of the alliance.

And, while it’s not unheard of for groups of this magnitude to get publicly involved in individual legislative races, the singling out of a key member of House leadership is not common. HGEA and UHPA, for example, are solid backers of Democrats.

So, what’s really involved here?

Possibly the leadership of House Speaker Calvin Say.

Say Versus the Dissidents

It’s commonly known in political circles that groups like the Sierra Club would like to see Say deposed as speaker.

Harris denied that NotPono.org is after Say, who upset many progressive Democrats last session for supporting legislation that they said favored job growth over environmental protections.

“We try not to get involved in leadership battles,” he said.

So-called House dissidents have been trying for some time to nudge Say off his perch. But the Speaker has always managed to scrape enough votes together to keep the gig, even if it has meant reaching out to the minority Republicans.

Chong said he hoped the Say-dissidents battle is not a factor in the NotPono.org campaign, which supporters described as a voter education effort. Chong said he is focused on the needs of his district.

The challenge for Chong, though, is that his district changed because of reapportionment this year. He and another Democrat incumbent, Jessica Wooley, were thrown into the same district, one that Pono says is roughly 60 percent Wooley’s former district.

Wooley is one of the dissidents. Should she lose the primary Aug. 11, the group’s numbers will dwindle further. But if Chong should lose, Say will have lost a top lieutenant, one who has carried the Speaker’s water by the bucketful.

The Sierra Club, HGEA and UHPA have endorsed Wooley, and the Sierra Club’s PAC has spent $8,000 on mailers) in support of her candidacy.

Wooley agreed with Chong that slightly more of her old district may be in her new district — “or maybe even 50-50,” she added. Like Chong, she said she is focused on winning her district and did not want to discuss the dispute between Say and the dissidents.

Asked about the NotPono.org launch, she said, “I think it’s great to see organizations taking the initiative to look at people’s votes and make their records clear. I think that’s something that hasn’t been done historically in legislaitve races. And in this race, it’s especially important, because we are really different and our voting record shows that.”

Where The Money Comes From

In recent campaign finance reports, Wooley reported having about $21,000 cash on hand for the July reporting period. She has spent about $40,000 on her campaign this election cycle. Wooley’s donors include a lot of unions and attorneys, as well as a few lobbyists and business interests.

Chong, according to his latest report, is $5,000 in the red. He has spent $61,000 during the election cycle, including a good chunk of it on printing and posting those mailers. He has some union support, too, as well as support from top business interests and major lobbyists.

In 2011, Chong received $2,000 from Citizens for Responsive Government — the PAC associated with Speaker Calvin Say.

Because there is no other candidate running in District 48, even a Republican, the winner of the primary wins the seat.

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