State Sen. Josh Green held on to a modest lead to win the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, fending off four strong challengers.

State Sen. Jill Tokuda conceded late Saturday.

In final results, Green, a Hawaii Island doctor, had 30.2 percent of the vote compared to Tokuda’s 27.5 percent, according to the state Office of Elections.

“It is surreal,” Green said after winning. “I can’t imagine any better job.”

Green said he would be moving to Oahu full time if he and Gov. David Ige prevail in the Nov. 6 general election.

“I won’t be living out of a suitcase like I have the last 14 years,” he said.

Josh Green waves to supporters at headquarters Saturday night, August 11, 2018. (Civilbeat photo by Ronen Zilberman)
Sen. Josh Green maintained a narrow lead all night and defeated his Senate rival, Jill Tokuda, in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat

With a few dozen die-hard supporters looking on, and her husband and children by her side, Tokuda gave an upbeat concession speech that focused on the achievement of landing more than 55,000 votes.

Tokuda had campaigned on the theme of being a champion for working families, and she reprised that theme in her speech as she urged her supporters to keep fighting.

“We have to keep standing, and we have to keep being that champion,” she said.

She also touched on the accomplishment of mounting a strong showing despite Green’s massive support from Be Change Now. The campaign, she said, was a lesson in perseverance.

“Even if life does throw you a million-dollar plus challenge,” she said, “you just keep going.”

Tokuda was aided by the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which spent heavily on her behalf.

Among other Democratic candidates, after the fourth round of results were released, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho had 18.5 percent of the vote, former Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto had 13.8 percent, and longtime legislator Will Espero, who left his state Senate seat earlier this year to run for lieutenant governor, had 6.2 percent.

In the Republican primary, Marissa Kerns narrowly won the nomination, getting 29.9 percent. Steve Lipscomb had 29.3 percent and Jeremy Low had 25.2 percent.

Jill Tokuda getting hug from supporters at headquarters Saturday night, August 11, 2018. (Civilbeat photo by Ronen Zilberman)
Though initially hopeful, Sen. Jill Tokuda, eventually conceded the lieutenant governor’s race to Sen. Josh Green on Saturday. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat

But most of the outsized spending in this year’s lieutenant governor race — all to fill a seat vacated earlier this year by the previous person elected to that office — gravitated toward Green and Tokuda.

During a televised debate in July, all five Democratic candidates expressed an interest in taking the lieutenant governor’s post — an office with little power in state government — and revamping it to their interests and strengths.

Tokuda, for example, proposed making the lieutenant governor the chair of the state’s Board of Education, while Green proposed using the office to focus on the state’s homeless crisis and opioid-addiction problems.

All five Democratic candidates said they could serve with either David Ige or Colleen Hanabusa as governor.  The last person elected lieutenant governor, Shan Tsutsui, left office earlier to work for a private consulting firm. The former state Senate president from Maui later endorsed Hanabusa.

As a state senator, Green had already spent the past few election cycles amassing a hefty campaign war chest. By the end of 2014, for example, he reported $500,000 on hand, state reports show, fueling speculation that he was preparing run for higher office. Green’s campaign reported raising more than $1 million this election cycle.

Meanwhile, Tokuda reported raising more than $800,000 for her lieutenant governor bid. The former chairwoman of the Senate’s powerful Ways and Means Committee also benefited from more than $264,000 in outside support from the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly PAC, records show.

Nonetheless, Green’s financial support from outside groups dwarfed Tokuda’s. Be Change Now, the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters’ influential super PAC, spent a stunning  $1.18 millionat least – to support Green’s bid.

The outside spending seen this year is a remarkable reversal from the 2014 election, when super PACs didn’t invest any cash at all in the lieutenant governor race, Campaign Spending Commission reports show.

(That was the first year super PACs could play a role in Hawaii lieutenant governor’s race, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s pivotal Citizens United decision in 2010.)

Insiders say the massive support for Green was largely payback against Tokuda for the tough stance she took as Ways and Means chair against extending Honolulu’s rail tax.

Her decision had already cost her the Senate Ways and Means chairmanship.

“I am really excited about the opportunities on my horizon, and where my sun will rise next,” she told her Senate colleagues during a tearful May 2017 address shortly after she was ousted from the chair by her peers at the end of the Legislative session.

“This isn’t the end. It’s clearly just the beginning,” she added. Three months later, Tokuda announced she would run for lieutenant governor.

Kim Coco Iwamoto, meanwhile, proposed using the LG office as a “people’s office” and she vocally rejected support from outside groups such as super PACs. Instead, Iwamoto, an heiress to the family business – Roberts Hawaii – relied heavily on loans to her own campaign, totaling some $442,000.

Neither Iwamoto nor Carvalho nor Espero benefitted from any outside money in the race, according to Campaign Spending Commission figures.

None of the Republican candidates received super PAC spending either during the primary.

Civil Beat reporter Stewart Yerton contributed to this report.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

Support Civil Beat during the season of giving.

As a small nonprofit newsroom, our mission is powered by readers like you. But did you know that less than 1% of readers donate to Civil Beat?

Give today and support local journalism that helps to inform, empower and connect.

About the Author