House Speaker Scott Saiki fended off a well-financed challenge from Kim Coco Iwamoto in one of the hardest-fought Democratic primaries of the year, while lawyer Ernesto “Sonny” Ganaden defeated longtime political figure Rep. Romy Cachola in the race to represent Kalihi and Halawa in the House.

Final returns from the Saturday election returns show Saiki won re-election by a modest margin, with almost 47% of the vote to Iwamoto’s tally of more that 44%.

Ganaden had more than 59% of the vote in the final returns, while Cachola had less than 34%. Cachola, a former Honolulu City Council member, defeated Ganaden by just 51 votes in 2018. Ganaden will now face Republican Tess Quilingking in the general election.

House Speaker Scott Saiki faced his first primary election challenge in eight years. Blaze Lovell/CivilBeat

Saiki’s race with Iwamoto is the first time since 2012 he has been challenged in a Democratic primary. Iwamoto, a former elected member of the state Board of Education, has faulted Saiki for failing to do enough to advance the agenda of the progressive wing of the party, citing the Legislature’s failure to increase the state minimum wage to $15 an hour, and to mandate paid family leave.

But Saiki, whose position as House speaker makes him one of the most powerful Democrats in the state, counters that the Legislature advanced an array of progressive legislation during his time as a top leader in the House. That includes legalizing same-sex marriage in 2013, and passing a first-in-the-nation law in 2015 requiring Hawaii’s utilities to generate 100% of their electricity sales from renewable energy sources by 2045.

He also introduced the bill that created Hawaii’s statewide system of mail-in balloting, which took effect for the first time this year. Saiki has served in the state House for 26 years, and represents urban Honolulu District 20 that includes McCully, Kaheka, Kakaako and downtown.

Ernesto “Sonny” Ganaden 

Jackson Sayama won the four-way race among Democrats to replace Rep. Calvin Say in the House district that includes Kaimuki, Palolo and St. Louis Heights. Sayama had 30% of the vote, while Derek Turbin had nearly 28%.

Sayama is a member of the St. Louis Heights Neighborhood Board. Turbin is the son of prominent Honolulu attorney Richard Turbin, and benefited from significant campaign contributions from the Honolulu legal community. Becky Gardner had nearly 24% of the vote in the Democratic primary, while Jay Ishibashi had more than 11%.

Sayama will now compete with Republican Julia E. Allen in the Nov. 3 general election.

Rep. Tom Brower lost to challenger Adrian Tam in a close race to represent Waikiki and Ala Moana in the House. Tam, a real estate agent and former state Senate staffer, had nearly 46 percent of the vote or 1,956 votes, while Brower had 1,813 votes or 42% of the vote. Tam now faces Republican Nicholas Ochs in the general election.

Meanwhile, Reps. Joy San Buenaventura and Rida Arakawa Cabanilla both coasted to easy wins in the Democratic primary tonight as they seek to move up to the state Senate in separate districts.

San Buenaventura is seeking the District 2 Senate seat in Puna and Kau that is being vacated by Sen. Russell Ruderman. She had more than 67% of the vote, while her opponent Smiley Burrows had less than 19%. San Buenaventura will face Aloha Aina Party candidate Ron Ka-ipo in the general election.

Rep Romy Cachola WAM meeting1. 22 feb 2017
Rep. Romy Cachola lost his seat Saturday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Cabanilla, who is running for the District 19 Senate district that includes Ewa Beach, Iroquois Point and part of Ewa Villages, had about 54% of the vote, while neighborhood board member John Clark had 32%. Cabanilla will now advance to the general election, where she hopes to unseat Sen. Kurt Fevella, the only Republican in the 25-member state Senate.

In a particularly close neighbor island contest that may trigger a recount, state Rep. Lynn DeCoite defeated longtime activist Walter Ritte Jr. in a closely watched neighbor island House race.

DeCoite, a Molokai sweet potato farmer and a supporter of the genetically modified seed crop industry, had 3,243 votes in the final returns compared with 3,152 for Ritte, who is a longtime GMO opponent. A new state law requires that any race with a margin of victory that is less than 0.25% of turnout or 100 votes automatically triggers a recount.

Walter Ritte, left, is in a close House race against Rep. Lynn DeCoite. 

DeCoite now advances to compete with Republican Robin Vanderpool and Aloha Aina candidate Theresa Kapaku in the Nov. 3 general election.

Meanwhile, comeback attempts by two former Oahu lawmakers had mixed results.

The campaign of former state Rep. Marilyn Lee fizzled. Lee, who represented the Mililani area from 1996 to 2012, lost to Trish La Chica, with Lee earning less than 38% of the votes while La Chica had more than 54%. La Chica is the policy and advocacy director for the Hawaii Public Health Institute, and will face Republican Rep. Val Okimoto in the general election.

Former state Rep. Matt LoPresti fared better, and won the three-way Democratic primary race to represent Ewa, Ewa Beach, Ewa Gentry and Ocean Pointe, which is LoPresti’s old District 41 state House seat.

LoPresti won nearly 55% of the votes, giving him a sizable edge over fellow Democrats Mokihana Maldonado with 27%, and Amanda Rathbun with less than 9%. LoPresti will now compete with GOP candidate David “Bradda” Alcos in the general election.

Windward Oahu will get two new state representatives this year with the retirement of longtime state Rep. Cynthia Thielen and the departure of state Rep. Chris Lee to run for the state Senate, and the Democratic primaries for those seats each attracted a full slate of candidates.

Former U.S. Foreign Service diplomat Patrick Branco defeated Micah Pregitzer in the Democratic primary race to replace Thielen as the District 50 House member representing Kailua and Kaneohe Bay. Branco received nearly 46%, while Pregitzer had more than 39%. Branco now advanced to the general election, where he will compete with Kanani Souza.

In the four-way primary for the adjoining House District 51 that includes Kailua and Waimanalo, Lisa Marten bested Democrats Scott Grimmer, Coby Chock and Alan Akao.

Marten, who holds a doctorate in public health from Columbia University and has run public health programs in Guatemala and Asia, took more than 40% of the vote, while Chock had less than 25%, Grimmer had more than 18% and Akao had nearly 10%.

Marten now advances to a general election race with Republican Kukana Kama-Toth and Aloha Aina candidate Erik Ho.

Windward Oahu is the site of another hard-fought Democratic primary, with state Rep. Lisa Kitagawa winning a second term in House District 48 representing Kaneohe, Kahaluu and Waiahole.

Representative Lisa Kitagawa during joint WAM FInance info meeting.
Rep. Lisa Kitagawa is seeking a second term in the House. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Kitagawa had the backing of an array of public worker and construction craft unions, as well as the support of the Democratic House leadership, while challenger Kau’i Pratt-Aquino was endorsed by the ILWU, Hawaii State Teachers Association and Sierra Club of Hawaii, among others.

Both raised substantial sums of money to finance their campaigns, with Kitagawa receiving financial support from some of the state’s most prominent lobbyists as well as the Hawaii House Democratic political action committee.

Kitagawa won by a convincing margin in that race with more than 57% to Pratt-Aquino’s 29%.

Here is how the other legislative races shaped up.

State House Races

District 3 (Hilo, Keaau, Kurtistown, Volcano) — Incumbent Richard Onishi won his Democratic primary with more than 49% of the vote to Shannon Matson’s 31%.  Former Libertarian Party activist Fred Fogel, who is running as a Democrat this year, had 7%. Onishi now advances to a general election race with Republican Susan Hughes.

District 4 (Puna) — Former Hawaii County Councilman Greggor Ilagan defeated former Councilwoman Eileen O’hara. Ilagan had nearly 56% to O’hara’s 35%. Ilagan will now face Republican Alohalani Cermelj in the general election.

District 5 (Naalehu, Ocean View Kealakekua) — Jeanne Kapela, a sexual violence prevention education coordinator for Imua Alliance bested Colehour Bondera, with 54% for Kapela, and less than 24% for Bondera in the Democratic primary.

Kapela will now advance to a general election race with Libertarian Mike Last and Aloha Aina candidate Citlalli Johanna Decker.

Candidate Greggor Ilagan from Hawaii island. 15 july 2016
Greggor Ilagan in the 2016 campaign. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

District 8 (Waihee, Waiehu, Wailuku) — Incumbent Troy Hashimoto also won re-election in a three-way Democratic primary, with nearly 71% of the vote for Hashimoto, less than 18% for Ka’apuni Aiwohi, and 7% for Robert Hill.

District 10 (West Maui, Maalaea, North Kihei) — Incumbent Angus McKelvey won the Democratic primary by defeating challenger Leonard Nakoa, with nearly 56% of the vote for McKelvey, and less than 29% for Nakoa. McKelvey now advances to a race with Republican Kanamu Balinbin and Aloha Aina candidate Travis Gyldstrand in the general election.

District 11 (Kihei, Wailea, Makena)  — Incumbent Democrat Tina Wildberger also won her primary race with nearly 59% of the vote, while challenger Don Couch took 30%. Wildberger will now compete with Aloha Aina candidate Howard Greenberg in the general election.

District 12 (Spreckelsville, Pukalani, Makawao, Kula, Keokea, Ulupalakua, Kahului) — Longtime lawmaker Kyle Yamashita also won another term with nearly 54%, while Simon Russell’s had less than 38% of the vote.

District 18 (Hahaione, Kuliouou, Niu Valley, Aina Haina, Waialae, Kahala) — Rep. Mark Hashem had a commanding vote total of more than 68%, giving him an easy victory over challenger Tommy Driskill with less than 12%. Hashem now faces Republican Lori Ford in the general election.

District 29 (Kalihi, Palama, Iwilei, Chinatown) Incumbent Daniel Holt won re-election, taking nearly 57% of the vote, giving him an edge over James Logue with nearly about 31%.

District 30 (Kalihi Kai, Sand Island, Hickam, Pearl Harbor, Ford Island, Halawa Valley Estate) — In one of only two competitive GOP House primary races this year, Pualani Azinga had 205 votes to 236 votes for Tess Quilingking. Quilingking will now face Ganaden.

District 33 (Aiea) — Rep. Sam Kong had more than 52% of the vote, which was more than enough to defeat challenger Tracy Arakaki, who had less than 34%. Kong will now compete with Republican Jenny Boyette in the general election.

District 42 (Kapolei, Makakilo) Incumbent Rep. Sharon Har won re-election with than 69% of the vote, an easy victory over Vickie Kam who received less than 19%.

District 43 (Ewa Villages, Kalaeloa, Honokai Hale, Nanakai Gardens, Ko Olina, Kahe Point, Nanakuli, Lualualei, Maili) — Rep. Stacelynn Eli, who is seeking a second term in the House, had nearly 68% of the vote in what turned out to be a decisive Democratic primary win over Mike Kahikina with 17%.

Eli will now face Republican Diamond Garcia and Aloha Aina candidate Shaena Dela Cruz Hoohuli in the general election.

District 44 (Waianae, Makaha, Makua, Maili) — Rep. Cedric Gates, another first-term lawmaker, took more than 67% of the vote in a rematch with former Rep. Jo Jordan, who had less than 24%.

Gates now advances to the general election, where he will compete with Republican Maysana Aldeguer and Aloha Aina candidate Joseph Simpliciano.

District 46 (Wahiawa, Whitmore Village, Launani Valley) — Incumbent Amy Perruso won re-election with more than 50% of the vote, giving her a victory over Aaron Agsalda with less than 41%.

District 51 (Kailua, Waimanalo) — Republican Kukana Kama-Toth had 53% in this windward Oahu district GOP primary, while Doni Chong had 32%. Kama-Toth will face Democrat Lisa Marten in the general election.

State Senate Races

District 10 (Kaimuki, Kapahulu, Palolo, Maunalani Heights, St. Louis Heights, Mo‘ili‘ili, Ala Wai) — Incumbent Sen. Les Ihara won re-election comfortably with nearly 55% of the vote in a three-way Democratic primary race, while Vicki Higgins had nearly 17% and legislative staffer Jesus Arriola nearly 9%.

District 13 (Dowsett Highlands, Pu‘unui, Nu‘uanu, Pacific Heights, Pauoa, Punchbowl, Palama, Liliha, Iwilei, Chinatown, and Downtown) Incumbent Sen. Karl Rhoads also won re-election with nearly 70% of the vote, a decisive win over neighborhood board member Kevin McDonald who had less than 11%.

District 22 (Mililani Mauka, Waipi‘o Acres, Wheeler, Wahiawa, Whitmore Village, portion of Poamoho) Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz seized nearly 78% of the vote in his primary race, while Thora-Jean Cuaresma took 13%. Dela Cruz will now compete with Republican John Miller in the general election.

Democratic Sens. Gil Keith-Agaran, Stanley Chang, Mike Gabbard and Rep. Chris Lee, who is making a run at the Senate District 25 seat, all advanced to face opponents in the general election in November.

Notably, former Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom is running again. He’ll take on Chang in the general election race for District 9.

In the Senate, four incumbent senators have no opponents at all this election season and will go on to serve four more years. They include Sens. Glenn Wakai, Donna Mercado Kim, Brian Taniguchi and Senate President Ron Kouchi.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author