State Sen. Clayton Hee announced his candidacy for lieutenant governor May 11. Some three weeks later, the guy Hee wants to replace took his campaign to the airwaves.

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, a Democrat, has spent nearly $40,000 to run two ads nearly 100 times in the past two weeks, according to Civil Beat research. Both ads aim to remind voters who he is.

After all, Tsutsui has only been on the job for a year and a half, having become lieutenant governor in December 2012 when Brian Schatz left the position open after Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Schatz to the U.S. Senate.

Tsutsui, who was state Senate president at the time, had to be persuaded to take the LG gig. While the Hawaii Constitution states that the Senate president is next in line to the lieutenant governor, it is not a mandated elevation; Tsutsui could have said no.

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui at Democratic Party convention

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui at the Democratic Party of Hawaii convention, Sheraton Waikiki, May 24, 2014.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

But he took the job, and Abercrombie sweetened the deal by allowing Tsutsui to work out of an office in Wailuku rather than be stuck at the fifth floor of the Hawaii State Capitol.

The arrangement allows Tsutsui, who will turn 43 on primary day Aug. 9, to be close to his wife and their three young daughters. But it also means he’s often not on Oahu and perhaps not as visible a presence. Hence the need to introduce himself.

Tsutsui’s 30-second commercials are similar.

Both state in big letters on the screen the words “Lieutenant Governor Shan Tsutsui.” Both place a priority on education. Both feature kids. (As best I can tell, they include his own.) Both show Tsutsui in four different aloha shirts. And none include his boss, Abercrombie.

That may be intentional. After all, Abercrombie has his own primary challenger in state Sen. David Ige, and voters may choose Abercrombie-Tsutsui, Abercrombie-Hee, Ige-Tsutsui or Ige-Hee.

(Voters might also pick someone else: There is one other Democrat running for governor and three other Democrats running for LG. None are well known, with the possible exception of LG candidate Mary Zanakis, a former television reporter.)

The first Tsutsui commercial is titled Reach LG and was posted on YouTube May 27.

Viewers learn that Tsutsui’s great-grandfather arrived on Maui in 1907. There are vintage black and white photos of his ancestors and of a 4-year-old Shan. We also see Tsutsui all grown up and wearing suits at the Legislature.

The second commercial is titled Backyard Tsutsui and was posted to YouTube June 2.

Viewers hear that Tsutsui supports an education program called R.E.A.C.H., but they don’t hear much about it. The Resources for Enrichment, Athletics, Culture, and Health pilot project was launched by Tsutsui’s office this year and has helped channel more than $260,000 to nine public intermediate and middle schools.

That’s great, but R.E.A.C.H. pales in comparison to Hee’s recent accomplishments such as guiding legislation on same-sex marriage, increasing the minimum wage and protecting Turtle Bay.

The ads are paid for by “Shan’s friends,” which gives a Wailuku address. This helps emphasize that Tsutsui is from the neighbor islands, which may help him against Hee, who is from Oahu (though Hee previously served in the state House representing Molokai, Lanai and West Maui). Though most of the state’s population resides on Oahu, garnering support in Hawaii, Maui and Kauai counties is critical in a gubernatorial  contest.

Also emphasized is that Tsutsui’s campaign is playing up his first rather than his last name. Indeed, the URL for his campaign website is

That’s not unusual. Folks in Hawaii like to feel they know a candidate on a personal level. Because of our small population and land base, many actually do.

What Tsutsui needs to do soon, however, is to let voters know more about what he has done for Hawaii, and what he wants to do if given a new four-year term.

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