James “Duke” Aiona

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James “Duke” Aiona was the lieutenant governor of Hawaii under Gov. Linda Lingle from 2002 to 2010. Together they formed the first Republican administration elected in Hawaii since statehood in 1959. The lieutenant governorship was Aiona’s first political office after more than 20 years as a city prosecutor, city attorney and state judge. Aiona ran for governor against Democrat Neil Abercrombie but was defeated in the 2010 general election 58-41 percent.

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Following the 2010 election, Aiona was named executive vice president for development and recruitment at Saint Louis School in Honolulu. He currently has no plans to run for office in 2012 but has said he may again run for governor in 2014.


Aiona was born on June 8, 1955, in Pearl City, Hawaii. Aiona has Hawaiian, Chinese and Portuguese roots. Had he been elected in 2010, he would have been only the second Native Hawaiian governor, after John D. Waihee III.

Aiona went to Saint Louis School in Honolulu and, after graduating, earned a degree in political science from the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. In 1977, Aiona returned to Honolulu where he attended the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He graduated with a law degree in 1981.

After graduation, Aiona took a clerkship with Circuit Court Judge Wendell K. Huddy. He then entered the public sector as an attorney for the city of Honolulu. Aiona’s first position was as a deputy prosecuting attorney. He would go on to serve as a deputy corporation councel and a chief litigator. In 1990, Gov. Waihee appointed Aiona to the Hawaii judiciary, where he presided in the state’s Family Court.

Aiona was a key player in establishing Hawaii’s first Drug Court in 1996. Drug Court is considered one of the state’s more successful prison-deterrent programs. Aiona left the bench in 1998.

Between 2000 and 2001, the Hawaii Republican Party approached Aiona to run for lieutenant governor with Lingle. When he decided to run for public office, he told Hawaii411.com that his decision stemmed from a spirit to serve and a call to duty. He said, “It is something that has evolved over time. You may laugh, but I also believe that I’ve been pulled in this direction by a higher power … by God. I believe that this is a calling that I need to answer.”

Aiona, a Catholic, is public about his faith. In 2005, he took some criticism for saying “Hawaii belongs to Jesus” at a rally for the group Transformation Hawaii. In response, former Gov. Ben Cayetano told the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that, “As for his ardent Christian beliefs, pretty obvious that he is an evangelical Christian who has a tough time separating church and state.” Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Kauai Mayor Brian Baptiste also attended the rally.

Aiona is married to Vivian Aiona, whom he met at law school. They have four children.


During his two terms as lieutenant governor, Aiona took a firm stance on substance abuse. He credits coordinated efforts by state and local officials with reducing the number of discovered methamphetamine labs from 19 in 2003 to three in 2007.

Aiona held a Drug Control Strategy Summit in 2003 where he organized a private and public partnership to help curb drug use in Hawaii. He also served on the advisory council for the Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In 2006, Aiona was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the Advisory Commission on Drug-Free Communities.

Aiona also co-chaired the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free, a national coalition, in an effort to reduce underage drinking in the United States.

The 2010 Election

In his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, largely drew support from Hawaii state executives, churches and local businesses.

Aiona made use of social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter to gain support for his candidacy. According to his campaign blog, he has amassed more than 10,000 “friends” and “supporters” on his Facebook page. “We invested early in expanding our online campaign, and it’s continuing to pay off,” Aiona said on his blog.

Aiona also took a stance against House Bill 444, legalizing civil unions. In a written statement, he said, “If the Legislature wanted to establish the equivalent of same-sex marriage, they should have put it on the ballot for the people to decide. This bill should not be allowed to become law.”

Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed the bill that July 6.

Response to Civil Beat’s 10 Questions

Civil Beat asked each of the leading candidates in the 2010 governor’s race to respond to 10 questions.

1) Do you believe that Hawaii’s tax structure is fair and equitable? Would you want to change it in any way? If so, how?

Hawaii’s residents and businesses suffer from one of the highest overall tax rates in the nation, especially after the State Legislature’s recent tax increases.

I believe there are taxes for which the marginal rates can be reduced. However, rates can be reduced only after we have a fair and transparent tax system. I believe a fair and transparent tax system, coupled with fiscally responsible policies, will enable government to provide all its services more efficiently and within its means, thereby reducing the tax burden on all businesses and residents.

By “fair,” I mean that everyone should pay his or her legal share of taxes. I will step up pursuit of those who do not pay taxes, either by failing to report and file or because they are part of the “cash economy.” I will pursue delinquent tax filers. I will make sure that offshore businesses doing business in Hawaii pay their legal and fair share of taxes, such as the general excise tax (GET).

By “transparent,” I mean that we must give a full accounting of all tax exemptions and tax credits, analyze their purpose, relevance and usefulness and plug all unnecessary and unfair loopholes. Having compared Hawaii’s tax system with other states, I believe that a broad-based GET tax system has the potential to be a fair and transparent system. The problem in Hawaii is that, over the years, we have riddled the GET with a myriad of exemptions and credits, all sought and now protected by special interests. This not only creates reduced tax revenues and unfairly increases the tax burden for the rest of our citizens, it creates the perception of unfairness as well.

2) Would you support business development programs that offer 100 percent tax credits, the way Act 221 did? If so, why? If not, why not?

We have learned from the results of Act 221, and I do not foresee any business development programs that would justify a 100 percent tax credit.

I believe we must create a globally competitive tax environment based on fair and equal treatment in order to encourage innovation and diversification of our economy.

We need to move beyond Act 221 and be more targeted in our approach. I will work to expand technology in Hawaii by developing new economic sectors in areas where we have a natural advantage, such as clean energy, aerospace and astronomy, marine science and aquaculture, digital media and other creative industries.

I will support capital formation through appropriate, transparent and fiscally responsible measures, including government-backed and funded venture capital fund-of-funds.

I will also propose legislation to extend the refundable R&D tax credit under Act 221/215, which should have never been included in the same bill as language that would have prematurely ended the high tech tax credit.

And I will work to enter into public-private partnerships to develop and manage incubation and commercialization facilities.

I envision a Hawaii where we develop and keep local talent right here in these islands, and entrepreneurs, start-ups and innovation grow and flourish.

But to get there, we must invest in Hawaii’s citizens — by improving education for our children and providing job training for adults in emerging fields like clean energy.

3) Do you favor the Big Wind project? If so, why? If not, why not?

We have some of the best sites for wind in the world, and it is incumbent upon us to take advantage of this clean, renewable resource.

In 2008, this Administration took the bold step to commit Hawaii’s resources to become less reliant on fossil fuels and move Hawaii towards utilizing more clean energy sources. At that time, the State and the U.S. Department of Energy signed an unprecedented agreement to establish the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, which establishes a 70 percent clean energy goal by 2030.

The Big Wind project is one component of ensuring a clean energy future, which includes the expansion of wind farms, the development of an undersea cable, and the utility infrastructure upgrades that would allow the integration of a renewable energy electrical grid. By providing a statewide electrical grid and a more flexible and secure system, an undersea interisland cable will help our state move toward a clean energy future. The cable, and the Big Wind project, will help improve our energy security by reducing Hawaii’s dependence on the volatile global petroleum market.

AECOM is in the process of preparing the Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed undersea interisland cable connecting the islands of Lanai, Molokai, Oahu and Maui. It is important for all of our residents to be a part of the public involvement process, which will help shape a clean energy future for our state.

4) How would you address the crisis in affordable housing in Hawaii?

Reforming our education system is critical to addressing lasting issues in Hawaii, including affordable housing.

Many people do not know this, but the livable wage in Hawaii is approximately $30 an hour, which means many of our residents and families are priced out of owning a home.

Providing affordable housing and teaching the skills and tools needed for high-paying jobs are important for ensuring a bright and prosperous future for Hawaii.

Over the past four years, since the opening of the Next Step transitional shelter, we have added or are in the process of adding 2,463 housing units, including 1,983 affordable rentals and 480 affordable for-sale units.

In addition, the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has awarded more leases over the past seven years than in the trust’s previous 80-year history.

We have also consistently opposed increases in the conveyance tax because we know this tax increases the cost of housing for our homebuyers. We have also opposed proposals to allow private assessments that convey with the property and place a continuing lien against a home many years into the future.

We have also recommended changes in land use policies and approvals by the Land Use Commission that would facilitate the development of additional housing stock in Hawaii. We believe that excessive approval conditions, such as excessive school impact fees, make it harder for new home construction to occur.

Additionally, we have continued to work on improvements to the Bureau of Conveyance and I pledge to continue to automate that office so that land recordation can proceed on a timely basis.

5) Hawaii receives very low ratings as a business-friendly state. What, if anything, would you change about state policies or regulations to help grow small businesses in Hawaii?

It’s important to work toward a business-friendly environment by reducing the tax burden on our residents and small businesses, reducing government barriers and restoring trust and confidence in the government through prudent fiscal management of the state’s finances.

That’s why I will work to keep down the financial burden on our working families and small businesses, preserve open markets, increase competition and cut red tape.

Recently I met with more than 120 small business owners over 100 days. As I listened to these entrepreneurs, it is clear that we must ensure a friendly business climate in Hawaii.

First, we have the highest tax burden in the nation. The average resident paid out more than $1,000 in state taxes in the first quarter of the year — the most of any state.

This affects every one, every household, and has a particularly negative impact on small businesses.

Instead of making it harder for businesses to grow, we ought to make it easier. Government, by itself, can’t create the jobs that fuel our economy over the long term, but as governor, I can make it easier for those who do.

6) What is the state’s role when it comes to addressing homelessness and what is the county’s role? What would you do differently from Gov. Linda Lingle to address homelessness?

Solving the homeless issue must be a collaborative effort.

As Governor, I will look to address the “gates” of homelessness, whereby our homeless citizens pass into their current situation, such as following incarceration.

We have been focused not only on providing shelter, but also on transitioning homeless families and individuals to get back on their feet and break the cycle of homelessness.

Over the past four years, the State, working with our numerous partners in the community, has opened six emergency shelters and transitional facilities on Oahu, including the Onelauena transitional shelter in Kalaeloa, Waipahu Lighthouse Outreach shelter, Paiolu Kaiulu transitional facility at the old Waianae Civic Center, ahikolu Ohana Hale O Waianae transitional and affordable housing rental apartment project, Kumuhonua transitional housing, Kalaeloa, and Ulu Ke Kukui transitional housing. We also assisted the Counties of Kauai and Hawaii Island in opening shelters.

While offering shelter, these facilities also provide critical support services to help families and individuals overcome barriers needed to break the cycle of homelessness. Real solutions, not rhetoric.

7) Why would you make a better governor than either your primary opponent or your possible general election opponent?

I am the only candidate who will ensure balance, integrity and good judgment in leading state government, while reducing the financial burden on our working families and small businesses, creating jobs and investing in the quality of education so all of Hawaii’s children have a brighter future.

Hawaii can’t afford either of my potential opponents. They are two peas in the same pod.

I look forward to putting my support for Hawaii’s working families and small businesses against my potential opponents’ records of raising taxes and increasing the cost of living for our residents.

8) What is the best thing Gov. Linda Lingle did as governor? Why? What is the worst thing that she did? Why?

It’s difficult for any elected official to look back upon his or her public service for just one accomplishment because every day brings new opportunities to serve the people of Hawaii. Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments of Governor Lingle, and what will be a part of her legacy, is the unprecedented formation of the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative (HCEI). This innovative partnership between the State of Hawaii and the U.S. Department of Energy matched bold vision to decisive action to begin the transformation of Hawai`i from the most oil-dependent state in the nation to a worldwide model of clean energy.

Remaining dependent on the volatile oil market threatens our environment and our energy and economic security. My goal is to make Hawai`i the greenest state in the nation in a way that is affordable for all of our residents. By 2030, my vision is for more than 70 percent of our energy to be generated through energy efficiency and clean, renewable resources. My potential opponents may attack each other and try to divide our people, but “worst” and “failure” are not a part of my vocabulary. Let’s focus on steps we can take right now to bring people together and cultivate a brighter future.

9) Both Gov. Linda Lingle and Gov. Ben Cayetano had contentious relationships with the state Legislature. What would you do to foster a productive working relationship between the two branches?

There is no question that we need to bring people together to confront the many challenges and opportunities our state faces. My experience as a state judge and a mediator provides me with a unique skill set that will be invaluable as Governor. I have brought people together, under difficult circumstances, to resolve conflicts and make tough decisions. In Hawaii, one party overwhelmingly controls both houses of the State Legislature. Without an independent voice in the Governor’s office, one party will be given free reign of our government. A balancing voice to the State Legislature will lead to better decisions and more effective government, and I am the only candidate who will bring this level of balance to the people of Hawaii.

10) Who was the greatest governor in Hawaii history and why?

I respect and admire anyone who steps forward to run for public office, especially Governor of the State of Hawai`i. All of our Governors faced big challenges and opportunities, and each brought a unique skill set to the job. “Who’s best” is really up to the people to decide, and ultimately the history books. However, having served alongside Governor Lingle, she gets my vote.


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James “Duke” Aiona
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