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Two of Hawaii’s biggest Republican players held their cards close right up until Tuesday’s deadline to file candidacies for county, state and federal offices.
Charles Djou, ex-congressman and City Council member, announced that he is running for mayor of Honolulu. He’ll face former Mayor Peter Carlisle and incumbent Mayor Kirk Caldwell in the Aug. 13 primary in the nonpartisan race.
Meanwhile, Djou’s fellow Republican Duke Aiona, the former lieutenant governor, decided that he is not going to seek any office. He had been considering bids for mayor, Congress and the state Senate.
He made the announcement late Tuesday afternoon on his “808 State Update” talk radio show on AM 940, which he’s hosted since January 2015, two months after he lost his second bid for governor.
Aiona spent 30 minutes explaining his decision to not seek elected office this year. Djou’s decision to run for mayor played a major role.
He said he spoke to Djou at length about the races. Aiona said he thought Djou would have made a fine congressional candidate, but when it became clear that Djou’s heart was in the mayor’s race — which Aiona said most of his radio-show listeners had wanted him to seek — he decided to bow out.
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Aiona said the mayor’s race initially attracted him because he feels Caldwell has done a terrible job handling the homelessness problem and the rail project, now estimated at $1.7 billion to $2.9 billion over budget.
“We need to make sure that elections have consequences,” Aiona said.
Djou, who has never voted for a tax increase, vowed to not raise taxes to finish the rail project. He also said stopping it short at Middle Street instead of running it all the way to Ala Moana as planned was not a good option. The line starts in Kapolei.
As a City Council member, Djou opposed the rail project. He picked up an early endorsement from former Gov. Ben Cayetano, one of the project’s strongest critics. But now Djou believes it’s unreasonable to tear the project down.
“I believe that $7 billion ought to be enough to construct a $5.5 billion rail system,” he said in an interview. The project was initially estimated to cost $5.2 billion, but the latest city estimate is $6.9 billion.
“I don’t believe the city should be giving a blank check to all the developers and contractors,” he said.
Djou said the decision to run for office again was tough.
”I can make the biggest difference in our community and this is where the greatest need is,” he said when asked why he decided to seek the mayor’s seat rather than Congress.
With Aiona and Djou opting to not run for Congress, Colleen Hanabusa has no major Republican challenger. Shirlene Ostrov was the only GOP candidate to file.
Hanabusa, a former member of Congress and the Legislature, announced her bid to represent urban Oahu in the U.S. House on Thursday. The decision kept other top Democrats out of the race, save for Lei Ahu Isa, a state Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee.
The 1st Congressional District seat is open because U.S. Rep. Mark Takai, a first-term Democrat, is not seeking re-election due to pancreatic cancer.
Aiona said one of the reasons he became interested in the congressional race was the way Hanabusa portrayed herself as the “anointed” one to replace Takai, who had called her before his May 19 decision to not seek another term and threw his support behind her.
“Is this really how we go about selecting our representatives in a democracy?” Aiona said. “Nothing is an entitlement.”
It was reminiscent of 2012 when the late Sen. Dan Inouye, on his death bed, wrote then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie a letter telling him to appoint Hanabusa to fill his seat when it became vacant.
Abercrombie instead chose his lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, who went on to edge out Hanabusa in 2014 in a special election to serve the remaining two years on Inouye’s term. Schatz won the general election that year against Republican Cam Cavasso in a landslide.
John Carroll is the top Republican trying to unseat Schatz this fall. He is a former state lawmaker who has lost two bids to be governor, one attempt for a U.S. House seat and two efforts for U.S. Senate.
In Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, which covers the neighbor islands and rural Oahu, Democrat Tulsi Gabbard is expected to easily win another two-year term, given her strong name recognition and campaign war chest.
She’ll face Democrat Shay Chan Hodges of Maui in the primary. Republicans Eric Hafner and Angela Kaaihue also filed to run, along with nonpartisan Richard Turner.
Aiona said he had also considered running against Gabbard’s father, state Sen. Mike Gabbard, in large part because of the “tremendous imbalance” in the Legislature. There is only one Republican, Sam Slom, in the 25-member Senate and only seven Republicans in the 51-member House.
“Those numbers are not right,” Aiona said. “It’s more than a lone voice in the forest.”
Sixteen members of the Legislature are completely unopposed, including the most influential.
He said he’s worried the state Senate could soon have no Republican voice if Slom is “not elected or something happens.” Slom, 74, missed the final weeks of the last legislative session because he was in the hospital for heart surgery.
Slom faces Democratic opposition for the Hawaii Kai seat he’s held since 1996. Former Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang is the top challenger, based on his prior experience in elected office, name recognition and ability to raise campaign cash.
There are 65 seats up for election this year in the Legislature, including the entire House and roughly half the Senate.
Republicans failed to field a candidate in 32 state legislative races, according to the final candidate filing report with the Hawaii Elections Office.
Sixteen members of the Legislature are completely unopposed, including some of the most influential, such as House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke, Majority Leader Scott Saiki and Senate Judiciary and Labor Chair Gil Keith-Agaran.
But some races are expected to be close, and some interesting names have resurfaced.
Rod Tam changed his party affiliation to run as a Republican for an open state Senate seat that represents downtown Honolulu, Liliha and Nuuanu. Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland decided to not seek re-election to the District 13 seat.
Tam pulled two sets of nomination papers — one to run as a Republican and one as a Democrat. He filed to run as a Republican on Monday.
Tam served 20 years in the Legislature and eight on the Honolulu City Council, but near the end of his time in office he wound up in jail for two nights, had to perform over 300 hours of community service and was fined thousands of dollars for stealing city funds and violating campaign spending laws.
He told Civil Beat in January that he was considering a comeback. He said he has kept busy taking care of his parents, doing consulting work and building contacts in Asia.
Hawaii Republican Party Chair Fritz Rohlfing welcomed Tam to the GOP in a statement Tuesday.
“Rod is a vocal proponent of the Republican values of liberty, limited government, individual responsibility, fiscal accountability, and equality of opportunity, all of which are highlighted in our Party’s 2016 platform,” he said. “Rod promises to wage a vigorous campaign to represent these values in the state Senate.”
Rohlfing said the Republican Party takes campaign spending and ethics laws seriously, and recognized that Tam pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges and no contest to campaign spending violations.
He went on to say that Tam has since had his record expunged and was given a “fresh start.”
“Rod’s change to the Republican Party took courage,” Rohlfing said. “I believe Rod will be a true constituent representative, one who will work hard for the people of his district.”
Tam will face Democrat Karl Rhoads, who is leaving his House seat to make a bid for the Senate. Rhoads, who has served in the Legislature since 2007, has been chair of the powerful House Judiciary Committee for the past few years.
Fellow Democrat Kim Coco Iwamoto, a former state Board of Education member, is also running for the District 13 seat, along with Democrat Keone Nakoa and Libertarian Harry Ozola.
Senate District 14 is also competitive this year. Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, the chamber’s former president, is running against fellow Democrat Carl Campagna, who has worked in the renewable energy industry for years and was Rep. Romy Cachola’s legislative aide in 2015. There is no Republican challenger.
Out on the west side of Oahu, Rep. Jo Jordan faces Democratic opposition in the primary from Cedric Gates, a young up-and-comer who interned with Congresswoman Gabbard and chairs the Waianae Coast Neighborhood Board. On the Republican side, Marcus Pa’aluhi is running against Tamiko Sequin.
In another west side race, former Democratic state Rep. Karen Awana is trying to unseat Republican Andria Tupola. Facing thousands of dollars in fines for breaking campaign finance laws, Awana resigned from her House leadership position in 2013 and then lost her bid for re-election in 2014 to Tupola by a 15-point margin.
In the election to represent Kalihi in the state House, Vice Speaker John Mizuno faces opposition in the Democratic primary from Ikaika Hussey, publisher of Summit magazine and The Hawaii Independent online news site.
Over on Maui, the House District 11 race between Rep. Kaniela Ing and Deidre Tegarden is shaping up to be a tough fight.
Tegarden, former Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s protocol chief, has been securing endorsements from labor unions. Ing, a second-term Democrat, has been outspoken in the fight for Native Hawaiian water rights and progressive issues. The winner will face Republican Daniel Pekus.
That’s not the only neighbor island race being closely watched.
Sen. Russell Ruderman, a Big Island businessman and environmentalist, will face Hawaii County Councilman Greggor Ilagan in the Democratic primary. Ilagan is getting help from Senate President Ron Kouchi. Ruderman did not support Kouchi becoming president last year in the coup that deposed Kim.
On Kauai, there’s a race to fill Rep. Derek Kawakami’s open House seat since he is running for Kauai County Council. Fern Anuenue Rosenstiel and Nadine Nakamura are vying for the Democratic nomination; the winner will face Republican Sandra Combs in the Nov. 8 general election.
At the county level on the Big Island, there are 13 people running for mayor including Harry Kim, who was mayor from 2000 to 2008.
He lost to Mayor Billy Kenoi in 2012. Kenoi is term-limited, but would have struggled to win re-election regardless after being was indicted in March on felony theft charges for using his county-issued credit card for personal expenses.
Anita Hofschneider contributed to this report.
See the full list of who’s running below.