Chad Blair: Aloha everybody and welcome to another installment of the Pod Squad. It is primary election season and Chad Blair, that’s me, excited as always to talk about the Honolulu mayor’s race Joining me today are University of Hawaii professor emeritus Neil Milner. Good morning Neal.
Neal Milner: Good morning Chad.
Blair: And UH associate professor Colin Moore. Hello Colin.
Colin Moore: Great to be here Chad.
Blair: OK guys we’ve had the polls we’ve had the debates. We are seeing the television and radio and print ads online as well, and we’re seeing some attacks. What’s your assessment of the Honolulu mayor’s race. Kirk Caldwell, Peter Carlisle and Charles Djou. Neal we’ll start with you.
Milner: Well I think that the assessment that I would use is based on the two polls that we’ve seen and I know two polls aren’t very much but my own sense of the race is fairly close to that, where Djou has a decent but not overwhelming lead on Caldwell and that Carlisle is really fading. I think that what it looks like right now going into the primary is that Djou has a bigger lead and is likely to hold on to it and probably not get the 50 percent plus one which would be final.
Blair: Although he should like to and what a major upset would be to have the sitting mayor knocked down in the primary, that would be Neil Abercrombie–David Ige-esque.
Colin your assessment?
Moore: Well it’s certainly true that that Caldwell seems a bit worried about Djou possibly getting to that threshold, I think it’s unlikely, I agree with Neal on that. But Caldwell’s burn rate in spending his money has been extraordinary.
Blair: Five hundred grand in July alone most of it for advertising.
Moore: So he’s obviously worried about that. I think he’s worried about it as Peter Carlisle support continues to decline, how many of those folks are going to go over to Djou. But I’m fairly confident we’re going to go into a runoff. And then the question is if we do get to a runoff can Caldwell begin to remind voters that hey this guy is really a Republican. You know maybe he’s going to go after your pensions and then you might begin to see people take another look at Charles Djou
Blair: We’re seeing some of that already. I’ve heard actually Caldwell mention the Republican tag. Is Charles vulnerable with this GOP label, his history?
Moore: Oh I think absolutely. If Trump continues to implode that may create some problems for sure in the general.
Blair: Trump Trump…can’t place the name…Donald Trump?
Moore: Yeah exactly. You’ve heard of that guy.
The other thing is, I think it was the PBS debate, I thought Djou kind of made an unforced error where he talked about possibly privatizing pensions and rethinking about city employment. Those are the kind of things that you could get a lot of voters who certainly are going to turn out to vote. These government union voters to really oppose him
Milner: And that’s the interesting thing. Another thing that happened in the last mayoral campaign is that Caldwell people made it much less about rail. Their goal was to make it as little about rail as they possibly could because there are lots of other things. Now it looks as if from the polls that rail is the most important issue, not surprising. But being the most important doesn’t mean the only issue. And when Djou started talking about this other stuff, as Colin just said you know deep down that’s what Charles believes in, that’s his kind of stuff. But that’s not necessarily a way to get votes.
Blair: All right speaking of rail you know what Peter Carlisle and Kirk Caldwell want to do. They want to build the line all the way to Ala Moana. Everybody knows this. The question is where is the money coming from. Caldwell in particular has criticized Charles Djou for, in his words, not having a plan, not having solutions as to what he would do if he got in the office vis–à–vis rail. Is that sticking, is that a fair attack Colin?
Moore: Well I mean it’s a fair attack. I mean this was one of Caldwell’s best lines against Djou and Djou’s deflected it. I don’t think he’s deflected it very skillfully. He says he wants new leadership you might get rid of Dan Grabauskas. He’s going to evaluate all of these ideas.
Blair: Go at-grade perhaps.
Moore: Go at-grade, bring in a bus system. But he could simply say, look voters have been lied to in the past, I’m going to look at all the options on the table and choose the best one. But for some reason he doesn’t want to do that, he wants to sort of insist that he does have a plan, but he doesn’t really have a clear plan for exactly what he’s going to do with rail. And I think he needs to develop a better response to that question and maybe it is to develop some sort of real plan for rail.
Milner: Let me just talk about the big picture rail for a second. Here’s how it plays out. We need, I don’t know, billion, billion and a half, pick your number. We need that much money. There is no clear feasible source of revenue right now. We know that people don’t want to raise taxes necessarily. We know that Djou said I won’t raise taxes. So think about that. We have every every person who’s running for mayor has to figure out how to get a billion bucks, start there. There is no clear sign of political support for them. So essentially as a voter you’re acting on the basis of faith. Nobody here has a plan unless you have such a low bar for the plan that you say here are some feasible things out there like transit oriented development, tapping into developers. Really? You’re thinking about that.
Blair: That’s what Caldwell has said.
Milner: Well you know what, that makes a lot of sense 10 years ago. Right? Or maybe 15 years ago when you could do this kind of planning and when in fact you had already begun to move toward more transit oriented development, which is very far behind you.
All I’m saying is that as a voter, I’m speaking personally here, I can’t look at any of these people and say there is a plan, not because they’re necessarily being disingenuous, although they are all far more optimistic than I think they should be, but because how are you going to have a plan if you need all this money and there isn’t any revenue source that’s at all convincing as a feasible revenue source right now.
Blair: Except possibly the general excise tax, but the legislature has said, wait a minute.
Moore: Well in the Civil Beat poll you observe this interesting phenomenon that you see in a lot of spending questions for voters, which is that you want to see it go all the way to Ala Moana, they don’t want it ripped up, they don’t want it to stop but Middle Street. But how we’re going to pay for it is also unpopular. And I mean I know you highlighted that possibly raising the the GET again is the most popular option but I’m not sure voters know exactly what they want either, it’s not just the candidates. I mean voters want this finished but they also don’t want their taxes to go up.
Blair: I was thinking it’s a rail rail rail and then homelessness and affordable housing and ethics. But then it’s really rail. It reminds me of that guy that ran in New York a couple of years ago on one one sole platform; The rent is too damn high!
What would the chances be for success if a candidate ran on this platform; There’s too much damn traffic in Honolulu! Would that be appealing to the electorate?
Milner: Well the problem would be that he or she couldn’t get around in the traffic to have road signs. So you can you can forget about that.
Listen what one issue candidates are always very compelling. It’s very hard for them to win. And even here these mayoral candidates understand that as important as rail.
But yeah, it is one way to express grievances. The rental thing, why don’t you have here? Housing costs are too damn high or affordable housing doesn’t exist. I think you could probably find a lot of homeless people, if you got them active in politics we would certainly want to think along those lines.
Blair: If they’re registered to vote yes.
Moore: You know what it sure would be fun to have some sort of populist insurgent candidate who really did run on a rent control platform. I bet you could you know could probably pick up 10 percent of the vote with that.
Blair: OK, a couple of more questions here. I got to ask you, I mentioned that I sometimes Marco Rubio comes in my mind when I hear Charles Djou saying the same things over and over again. The rail plan is a fairy tale. It’s going to be bring Honolulu to its financial knees or financial ruin. It’s a mess, it’s a disaster. Well even even curt Caldwell has his talking points; there’s six reasons I’m running, sewer, roads, homelessness, housing and yes rail (and I’m probably missing another one right there). Does that stuff work with people that are listening in the ads on the debates. Or is it just they recognize what I recognize, or am I just too heavily into politics that my sensor already goes up goes, man I’m tired of hearing this stuff.
Moore: So I think folks like you have heard them say this many times because you’ve watched all the debates. I think however I will say that I mean these talking points do help them keep on message which is important. I think the danger in these debates is they get into the weeds like you’ve seen them do in every single debate when they start talking about these obscure city policies that no one fully understands, certainly not the folks watching. But our politicians running for mayor, they’re not exactly in the major leagues. This isn’t Bill Clinton style communication. So they’re not as skillful about using those talking points as for example somebody who’s just a level above would be. So you hear them say the same lines in the same debate again and again and I think Charles Djou has a particular problem with that.
Blair: Parks’s the other one for the mayor.
Go ahead Neal.
Milner: I think what we have to understand is that people use cues to decide how to vote. Now a nonpartisan election it’s a little bit different, but that’s why party identification is such a strong source of regular stable support. And in this one when, Charles Djou talks about some of these Marco Rubio stuff. In fairness to Charles, that’s what he believes. I mean I’ve always found that he is about the best Republican that this state has put forward in a long time. He is very much like Marco Rubio in terms of his notions about what conservativism is.
Blair: OK. Last last question for you here, what have we not talked about? What are we not hearing in this rail…excuse me, I said “rail”…this mayoral contest. Immediately I equate mayor with rail, but I think that has obscured that there might be other issues out there that we have not talked about. Is there something on your mind that you think, how come nobody is talking about this in the mayor’s race? Colin I’m going to throw that out to you. This is our last question.
Moore: Well so they have talked about cost of living, but I think it’s been crowded out a bit by rail in part because they don’t really know what to do about it.
Blair: What can a mayor do about cost?
Moore: Yeah. Not much I guess.
Blair: Lower your property taxes? I doubt it.
Moore: Maybe that wouldn’t help that many people. You probably couldn’t really institute some form of rent control.
But I’ve wondered why voters see Honolulu going in the wrong direction and the only thing I can think of is that people just feel under such financial pressure and I think that’s why you see younger people actually answering that question in the affirmative more than older people.
Blair: They’re particularly pessimistic.
Moore: Yeah, they’re particularly pessimistic. And I think that’s the only thing driving it because otherwise I mean this is a relatively crime free place. Pretty good economy although the jobs don’t pay enough.
Blair: The sun is shining.
Moore: The sun is shining it’s you know the usual paradise lines. But you know they they have addressed it superficially in part, but there’s not much they can do about it. But I do think that’s kind of the burning question that is driving this pessimism.
Blair: Ok last word to you Neal.
Milner: The issue that I think is important and it’s very difficult to talk about at least in policy terms is what this place is starting to look like as a city. I think that some of this dissatisfaction has to do with the sum of a lot of these issues that have been coming up – traffic for example, affordable housing and then more.
There’s not a policy that you can use to address it, but there isn’t that kind of vision. There isn’t the kind of education that goes on with mayors when they tend to talk, and Caldwell is very good at something to talking about infrastructure and so on, but this kind of broader vision of a city. Now I as I said understand that I’m not so sure how much votes that would get. But I don’t think we really have, what we as that kind of culture as a place, have a decent understanding of what we want this place to look like 20, 30 years from now and how it’s starting to look and talk about that.
Blair: Yeah no inspirational aspirational pitch
Milner: No there here isn’t. Not even educational right.
Blair: Ok well we have fodder for many more things to talk about after the primary is over.
Neil Milner thank you as always.
Milner: You’re welcome.
Blair: And Colin Moore.
Moore: Thank you.
Blair: Chad Blair for Honolulu Civil Beat and the Pod Squad, take care and aloha.