While it is common to see former Hawaii leaders active in current political campaigns — making endorsements, for example, or appearing at rallies and in print and online advertising — it is not often that residents see well-known figures starring in television commercials together.

But that is the case with “Phone Tree,” a 30-second spot from a local political action committee spending heavily to defeat the constitutional amendment ballot question on using property taxes to help public education.

Remember these guys? A screen shot from the Affordable Hawaii Coalition’s most recent TV ad opposing the ConAm. 

The ad begins with former Gov. John Waihee calling former Gov. Neil Abercrombie on the telephone. Former Govs. Ben Cayetano and George Ariyoshi are soon on the line in an apparent conference call. All four are Democrats, and all four are voting “no” on the ConAm question.

“You know, if you’re a renter, you’re going to get smashed,” Abercrombie tells Waihee. “In fact, everybody’s going to get hurt.”

“It’s a blank check for raising taxes,” Cayetano chimes in. “That’s why every sitting mayor opposes ConAm.”

All four ex-govs are wearing aloha shirts. Three use landlines. Only Cayetano wields a smart phone. Only former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, is missing from the lineup.

Watch the ad here:

“Phone Tree” is the third constitutional amendment TV spot by the Affordable Hawaii Coalition, and it’s set to begin airing Monday. The PAC as of Friday had spent $128,000 for ads running on KHON, KFVE, KGMB, KHNL, KITV and KIKU, according to filings with the Federal Communications Commission.

Formed just this year, the Affordable Hawaii Coalition is focused on only one issue this fall: the ConAm ballot question on a real property tax surcharge. It received more than $155,000 in contributions and spent about half that amount as of Sept. 26. More than $48,000 has been paid to CommPac, a prominent local communications and marketing company.

Contributors to the Affordable Hawaii Coalition, according to the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, include the Building Industry Association of Hawaii, Lanai Resorts, Hawaii Petroleum, Watumull Properties, WC Maui Coast Hotel, Shidler Pacific Advisors, Dowling Co., Russell Hata of Y Hata Co., R HK REIT Investors, Duane Kurisu of WFK Inc., Alison Ueoka of the Hawaii Insurers Council, Colliers International Real Estate Management Services, Evolution West Management Services, Hawaii-based real estate investment firm Fergus & Co., Park Hotels and Resorts of McLean, Virginia, and several executives with local automotive dealerships.

Not reflected in the the PAC’s most recent campaign spending filing is $600,000 from the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.

Former Adversaries

The “Phone Tree” ad illustrates that politics, by necessity, sometimes makes for strange bedfellows.

Ariyoshi and Cayetano, for example, supported David Ige when he beat Abercrombie in the 2014 Democratic primary. Waihee at the time backed Abercrombie. In the 2018 primary, Waihee supported Ige while Ariyoshi and Cayetano were behind U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s unsuccessful bid to unseat Ige. Ige supports the ConAm question.

The spot’s main message: If these guys can agree on something, maybe voters should, too.

To date, FCC filings show no spending for TV airtime by the HSTA Schools Our Keiki Deserve PAC. The Hawaii State Teachers Association is the top advocate for the ConAm question.

The PAC had a $519,000 cash surplus as of Sept. 26 and had spent only about $27,000 since Aug. 12. Contributions came from the HSTA and the National Education Association.

The HSTA Schools Our Keiki Deserve PAC does have a 30-second clip in support of the ConAm running on YouTube:

Civil Beat reporting fellow Blaze Lovell contributed to this report.

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