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.
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.
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.