Welcome to Ad Watch, a Civil Beat series in which we analyze campaign messages from Hawaii candidates and national spots aimed at Hawaii voters.

UPDATED: Don’t worry. All those campaign commercials blanketing local airwaves will come to a halt Saturday, primary election day.

Until then, however, we are assessing what’s out there, what’s working (or not) and why.

First up, the latest political ads from Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

Who better to vouch for a man’s integrity than his wife?

In a 30-second spot for television, Donna Tanoue, Caldwell’s wife of 34 years, says she wishes every voter could meet him.

If so, no doubt they would encounter the same person she knows: a good man, honest and compassionate, full of integrity. (The TV spot is titled “Integrity.”)

Tanoue, whose eyes appear to mist up when talking about her husband, closes by saying that both were raised to conduct themselves in a way “that brought honor to our families.”

Bringing honor to families is a message that will resonate with many Hawaii residents, as respect for elders and ancestors is of prime importance.

Indeed, this Caldwell TV spot directly confronts the criticism that challenger Charles Djou has leveled against the mayor: that he simply can’t be trusted.

View the ad:

A second ad, this one 60 seconds, titled “Kirk” and also starring Tanoue, focuses on how Caldwell was supportive of Tanoue taking an important job in Washington: heading the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Tanoue praises her husband for taking the lead in raising their daughter, Maya, during that time, and reminds viewers that the late Sen. Dan Inouye recommended she take the job. The word “integrity” is mentioned again.

Kirk Caldwell, devoted family man? Check. Kirk Caldwell, connected to Dan Inouye? Check.

A third TV ad from the Caldwell campaign is less effective.

Titled “Endorsement,” it features excerpts of text from a July 24 endorsement of the mayor by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

With a headline reading “Keep Caldwell at city’s helm,” the ad praises the mayor for his actions on roads, homelessness and infrastructure.

The endorsement also reads, “Of the contenders, only Mayor Kirk Caldwell has developed the foundations of a workable plan to navigate the 20-mile system’s difficult fiscal future.”

And then it says this: “The same can’t be said about Djou’s plan.”

‘Build Rail Better’

It’s a coup for Caldwell that the state’s main newspaper is backing his re-election, and it is right for the mayor to remind folks.

But the ad’s presentation is one-dimensional and does not bounce off the screen and into living rooms. It doesn’t even include a photograph of the candidate.

What many viewer’s may be unaware of is that the Star-Advertiser endorsement also agreed with Djou’s criticism of Caldwell that he “stood on the sidelines and did not sufficiently fact-check cost projections and other project concerns. He said the incumbent, who once campaigned as the one who could ‘build rail better,’ is accountable for what’s gone wrong. Djou has a point, and Caldwell knows it.”

Of course, there is no way the Caldwell team is going to include that in a TV commercial.

View the ad:

In a 30-second radio spot, the Djou campaign accuses Caldwell of threatening to raise property taxes to pay for rail cost overruns.

It then cuts to audio of the mayor himself saying “to raise the money to pay and operate this system, we’re talking about raising real property taxes in the 30 percent to 43 percent range.”

The problem is that the quote appears to be taken out of context.

What? Property Taxes?

As Civil Beat reported in January 2015, the mayor appeared before a joint House and Senate panel at the Hawaii Legislature where Caldwell pushed to let the City and County of Honolulu continue charging a half-percent surcharge on the general excise tax to fund the rail project.

Legislators had asked why county property taxes could not be used. Caldwell insisted that only the GET and federal money could be used to pay for rail, although he did not explain what law requires that.

“He added that the county would have to raise property taxes 33 percent to 43 percent to raise enough money for the rail project,” the story explained.

So, Caldwell did not specifically call for increasing property taxes to pay for rail.

Hawaii Elections Guide 2016

The radio spot goes on to insinuate that Caldwell wants to raise property taxes not only to pay for rail but also because he “has received over $700,000 from rail contractors” and “because Caldwell has two jobs, one as mayor and one for over $200,000 at a bank.”

It’s true that Caldwell has received campaign contributions from rail contractors. They include HDR Engineering, RM Towill Corporation and CH2M Hill, for example, which contributed over the past 12 months.

As Civil Beat reported in February 2015, Caldwell received $271,250 from contractors making more than $1 million at that time from rail. But many of those same contractors also gave to a lot of other politicians, including Neil Abercrombie, David Ige, Mufi Hannemann and Ernie Martin.

Caldwell = Contractors

It’s quite possible that Caldwell has received much more money from rail contractors. The Djou ad does not disclose its source.

Update: A mailer from the Djou campaign cites the state Campaign Spending Commission but does not provide any detail.

But Caldwell does not award rail contracts. That’s the job of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation.

As for the $200,000 job at a bank, Caldwell does indeed earn that much in annual compensation from Territorial Savings Bank as a member of its board of directors.

Bottom line: Djou is trying to paint a picture that Caldwell’s pockets are lined with money from businesses profiting from an expensive rail project, and is playing on concerns that taxpayers will eventually have to pony up more dough to pay for it all.

Listen to the ad:


Speaking of rail, the latest TV ad from Djou is titled “Rail Fairy Tale,” for that is what the candidate has been calling the mayor’s plan for the train.

The ad’s narrator states that the mayor said rail would be “fully paid for” and “on time and on budget.” Of course, it is not currently fully paid for, let alone on budget or on time.

It’s unclear whether Caldwell said rail would be on time and on budget. HART Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Dan Grabauskas did say that, in a May 2012 letter to the City Council: “HART will continue to look for additional ways to be fiscally prudent and to deliver Oahu’s rail system on time and on budget.”

Still, while HART is responsible for the planning and building of rail, many voters rightly hold the mayor ultimately responsible for the project. In that regard, Djou’s ad hurts Caldwell where he is most vulnerable.

And even though the ad does not feature Djou’s mug, it does plant a Djou campaign sticker at the end of the spot, along with what appears to be a little fairy dust.

View the ad:

In spite of recent success in raising money for his campaign, Djou still trails Caldwell by a lot in terms of overall campaign contributions. The mayor has also been spending a ton of money on advertising, and it shows.

Two more 60-second radio spots from the Caldwell campaign take aim at Djou’s record in office and his own plans for rail.

“In Congress, he voted with Republican leadership nearly 90 percent of the time,” the first ad states.

It then ticks off a list of votes — including against Wall Street reforms, opposing extending jobless benefits and in favor of continuing tax cuts for the wealthiest. The Caldwell campaign provided Civil Beat links to news stories to back up the claims.

Djou = GOP

What the ad does not explain is that, in the case of the tax cuts legislation, many Democrats voted in favor of it and President Obama signed it into law. Nor does it explain that Democrats controlled the House during Djou’s brief tenure in D.C.

But then, the goal of the ad is to stick Djou with the Republican label, which is anathema in Hawaii. In that regard, it succeeds.

Listen to the ad:


The other radio spot from Caldwell takes on what it calls Djou’s “crazy” plans for rail.

Djou, that ad posits, favors a Bus Rapid Transit system, light rail (or “at grade”) and forgoing the heavy rail line under construction in favor of buses replacing the train on the elevated guideway.

The narrator then waxes humorously, saying maybe Djou supports a fleet of 50-foot “super Ubers” and a giant catapult to launch commuters from Middle Street to a giant net in Kakaako.

“Charles Djou’s plans aren’t serious, and that’s a fact,” the ad concludes.

It’s true that Djou has said he is open to alternatives to the present rail system, but he has not committed to any of them (which itself is something his critics have pointed out).

The Caldwell ad scores, however, in raising doubts about whether Djou really has a plan when it comes to rail.

Listen to the ad:

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