Despite 65 seats up for election Nov. 8 in the Hawaii Legislature, only a handful of races are expected to be even remotely competitive in this Democrat-dominated state.

Twenty-five candidates are unopposed and six Democrats have no Republican challenger, making them likely shoo-ins given that the Libertarian and Green parties have never won a state legislative seat.

In other races, incumbents are facing first-time candidates who lack campaign funds and name recognition.

There are a few contests worth watching, however.

Rep Beth Fukumoto Chang presser with HECO intervenors Presser at the Capitol. 19 july 2016
Republican Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang, seen here at a July press conference, is being challenged by Marilyn Lee, a former Democratic state lawmaker, for the third consecutive election. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2016

Republican Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang is trying to fend off a challenge from former Democratic state Rep. Marilyn Lee — again.

It’ll be the third time they’ve battled each other to represent Mililani in the Legislature.

Lee held the seat from 1996 until she lost to Fukumoto Chang in 2012 by less than 5 percentage points. Fukumoto Chang was re-elected in 2014 by a 2-1 margin.

Marilyn Lee
Marilyn Lee wants to return to the Legislature. 

Fukumoto Chang, the House minority leader, has shown herself to be a moderate Republican who works well with the Democratic majority — something her fellow Republicans have not always welcomed.

She caught significant flak in May during Hawaii’s Republican state convention for not supporting Donald Trump. She said she was concerned about his racist and sexist remarks.

Some called on her to resign or switch parties as former House Minority Leader Aaron Ling Johanson did shortly after he was elected as a Republican in 2014. But Fukumoto Chang has said she’s staying put for now.

She is one of just seven Republicans in the 51-member House, and not the only one whose seat could change hands.

Rep. Andria Tupola, pursuing her second two-year term representing District 43 on Oahu’s west side, is up against Democrat Stacelynn Eli, who defeated former Rep. Karen Awana in the August primary.

Tupola won the seat in 2014 against Awana, who resigned from her House leadership position a year earlier while facing thousands of dollars in fines for campaign-finance violations.

Senator Sam Slom questions Jeff Kissell, Executive Director of the Hawaii Health Connector at hearing at the Capitol. 29 dec 2014. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Sen. Sam Slom, seen here during a legislative hearing, is the chamber’s lone Republican. He faces a formidable opponent in Democrat Stanley Chang. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In the Senate, Republican Sam Slom is fighting to fend off Democrat Stanley Chang, a former Honolulu City Council member who is hoping to unseat the longtime Hawaii Kai lawmaker.

If Slom loses, the 25-member Senate would become the first one-party chamber in the nation since 1980, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Slom, who has held the District 9 seat since 1996, has often provided the lone conservative voice in the Senate. While different views exist among the Democrats, they are debated less publicly than when Slom dissents on a bill or other matter before the chamber.

Honolulu Councilman Stanley Chang at the Democratic Party of Hawaii convention, May 24, 2014.
Former Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang, seen here at the state Democratic convention, is trying to unseat longtime Republican state Sen. Sam Slom. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The district’s voters have two distinct choices for who they want to represent them the next four years.

Slom has long pushed for limited government and lower taxes while Chang has promoted progressive values ranging from increased funding for public schools to equal rights for gay couples.

Rod Tam, after three decades as a Democrat, is running for the State Senate as a GOP candidate.
Rod Tam, after three decades as a Democrat, is running for the state Senate as a GOP candidate against Democrat Karl Rhoads, who served in the House the past 10 years. Denby Fawcett/Civil Beat

In another interesting Senate race, Democrat-turned-Republican Rod Tam is running for an open seat against Democratic Rep. Karl Rhoads and Libertarian Harry Ozols.

Tam served two days in jail in 2011 for stealing city funds and violating campaign finance laws as a Honolulu City Council member, but state Republican Party officials welcomed him as their candidate nonetheless and say he deserves a fresh start.

The District 13 seat opened up when Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, who’d represented the downtown Honolulu area since 1990, announced in May that she would not be seeking another term.

Rhoads later announced his intent to leave the House after 10 years, where he chaired the powerful Judiciary Committee, for a chance to move over to the Senate. He bested two Democratic opponents in the primary.

House Rep.Karl Rhoads meets with Chamber of Commerce members in his office. 1.16.14
Rep. Karl Rhoads is running for a rare open Senate seat against Rod Tam this fall. PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The Legislature is guaranteed to see at least three new faces after this election.

Democrat Daniel Holt or Republican Kaiwiola Coakley will be representing House District 29, the downtown seat Rhoads gave up to run for Senate.

And it will be either Democrat Cedric Gates or Republican Marc Pa’aluhi in the District 44 position representing Waianae and west Oahu. Democratic Rep. Jo Jordan was the only incumbent to lose in the August primary.

Gates’ candidacy was subsequently challenged because he was not technically a formal member of the Democratic Party, having run as a Green Party candidate in 2014. But Democratic Party officials, while acknowledging “procedural or bureaucratic errors,” ultimately offered him membership earlier this month.

Also in the House, Democrat Nadine Nakamura or Republican Sandi Combs will fill the District  14 seat covering east Kauai. Rep. Derek Kawakami opted to run for the County Council instead of seeking another term.

Stay plugged in to campaigns and candidates this election season with Civil Beat’s Hawaii Elections Guide 2016, your source for information on federal, state and local elections.

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