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I’ve seen this parade before.
Dozens of hopeful candidates from diverse walks of life, hopeful, excited, sporting banners and signs and buttons and T-shirts and stickers and websites, all believing this will be the election year that Hawaii elects more than a token representation of Republicans.
I saw this parade just two years ago, when Linda Lingle and Charles Djou went down to defeat in runs for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.
I saw it as well in 2010, when Djou lost his re-election bid for the 1st Congressional District, Cam Cavasso was beat by the unbeatable U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye and Duke Aiona was felled in a gubernatorial landslide caused by Democrat Neil Abercrombie.
Some of the very same Republican candidates crowded the Kapiolani Park Bandstand on Saturday afternoon at a party unity rally, including Aiona, Djou and Cavasso again running for the same top seats.
Same goes for state House of Representatives candidates Julia Allen and Carole Kauhiwai Kaapu, who failed to depose Democrats Calvin Say and John Mizuno in 2010 and 2012 but are back at it again.
“A couple of weeks ago, friends, we had a hurricane here, and I’m not talking about the rain.” — Charles Djou
Indeed, Allen, who can be seen sign-waving most election-season mornings at the corner of Waialae Avenue and St. Louis Drive, also ran against Say in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Say is no longer House speaker, but he still holds the same Palolo-Kaimuki seat that he has filled since 1976 .
The year 1976!
Shan Tsutsui, the current lieutenant governor, was just 5 years old. It’s when Hiram Fong, Hawaii’s only Republican U.S. senator, decided to retire. And Pat Saiki was in her first term as a state senator, having already logged eight years in the state House.
I mention Saiki because she was the only other Republican Hawaii had sent to Congress (1987-1991) until 2010, when Djou won a special election to replace Abercrombie but was ousted later that same year by Democrat Colleen Hanabusa.
Meantime, the Hawaii Legislature has been dominated by Democrats since territorial days and only Lingle and Bill Quinn have managed to capture the governorship for the GOP. Saiki herself failed at runs for the Senate (1990) and governor (1994).
“Voters are tired of the same people running the state for the longest time with no change at all.” — Elwin Ahu
And yet, Hawaii’s Republicans, like children who keep touching a stove burner even though they know it’s hot, never stop hoping they’ll finally win big. And they feel this may be the year.
The reasons are twofold.
First, they really believe that Hawaii has been led far astray by Democrats who have controlled the state since 1954. Exorbitant housing costs. Small businesses strangled by red tape. An education system continually challenged to improve. Families forced to live in the streets. Island youth chasing jobs to the mainland.
Aiona, the former lieutenant governor, sees a “disconnect” between elected officials and average people.
“It’s because we don’t have enough trust, respect and balance in government,” he told party members Saturday.
Ahu, a New Hope Church pastor and Aiona’s running mate, said the reason voter turnout is so low is not because of apathy.
“They are tired of the same people running the state for the longest time with no change at all,” he said, holding up a broom and pledging to “clean house.”
The second thing giving Republicans hope this year is the conviction something historic happened Aug. 9 — the day Abercrombie was blown out of office in an unprecedented primary defeat and Hanabusa and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz were forced into a makeup primary a week later in two Big Island precincts damaged by Tropical Storm Iselle.
“A couple of weeks ago, friends, we had a hurricane here, and I’m not talking about the rain,” said Djou. “I’m not talking about what happened over there in Puna. We had a hurricane in an election. It was statement by the people of Hawaii that the status quo and voting as usual isn’t working.”
Saiki told me that the sense of optimism in her party is real, fueled by a sense that Democrats are a fractured party. Nationally, Republicans may soon control both chambers of Congress and President Obama is suffering his lowest approval ratings.
“We don’t have enough trust, respect and balance in government.” — Duke Aiona
Saiki also pointed to national political observers like Charlie Cook and Larry Sabato describing Hawaii’s three-way governor’s race as a toss-up rather than the usual “leans Democrat.” She wonders whether David Ige, the state senator who knocked off Abercrombie, might keep many Democrats at home come Nov. 4.
Some, like the Cook Political Report’s Jennifer Duffy, have speculated that former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann might take enough Democrat votes to give the race to Aiona.
And then there is Djou. He faces Mark Takai in the CD1 contest, and the Democrat himself has said he has a very tough race ahead of him. For one thing, Takai spent a half-million bucks to best six Democrats in the primary while Djou has a growing campaign war chest.
Abercrombie spent $5 million while Schatz and Hanabusa raised and spent several million dollars as well. Coupled with a competitive LG race between Tsutsui and Clayton Hee, donor fatigue is a real problem for the Democrats.
The GOP may not be as burdened by fundraising woes.
Miriam Hellreich, the national committeewoman for Hawaii’s Republicans, said she just returned from a Republican National Committee meeting in Chicago, and her colleagues were excited that Hawaii might actually elect some Republicans. Hellreich promised that money would flow through the party to all Hawaii candidates.
But Republicans like Cavasso said another takeaway from the primary is that even candidates without the most money — like Ige — can still win.
The key, Cavasso said, is targeting voters statewide who might vote GOP, a goal he said the party has made progress toward, even though much works remains.
I didn’t hear much talk about same-sex marriage at the unity rally, an issue motivating some GOP candidates. While several mentioned the importance of “values,” most candidates I spoke with said they are not single-issue pols.
The issues important to them include fiscal restraint and a better environment for small business, said Dennis Kim, who is running against Sen. Michelle Kidani in the Mililani-Waikele area. Or education, a priority for Victoria Mathieu, challenging Rep. Bert Kobayashi representing Kaimuki, Diamond Head and Kapahulu.
For Janet Grace, who wants to topple Rep. Tom Brower in his Waikiki-Ala Moana district, the homeless crisis has inspired her run for office. She thinks constituents are fed up and want to vote for someone besides Brower, whose biggest claim to fame, she contends, is taking a sledgehammer to shopping carts.
Republicans called their gathering Saturday a “Lokahi Rally.” Another rally is set for this Thursday at Aloha Stadium.
Meanwhile, party-building and outreach continues.
“Lokahi means unity, and believe me, we are a unified party,” Saiki said. “And we are going to see very great success come Nov. 4.”