Steve Alm has the edge over Megan Kau to become Honolulu’s next prosecuting attorney.

Alm, a former judge, prosecutor and U.S. attorney, leads Kau, a defense attorney and former deputy prosecutor, 43% to 31% in the latest Civil Beat/HNN poll. More than one-fifth of those surveyed (21%) have not decided who to vote for, while 5% don’t care for either candidate.

A clear majority of voters also want term limits for prosecuting attorney — 71%. Just 11% said they will vote no on that idea.

A charter amendment question on the City and County of Honolulu general election ballot this fall asks whether the prosecutor should be capped to two four-year terms, as is the case for Honolulu mayor and City Council members. There is currently no limit to the number of terms a prosecutor may serve.

Steve Alm candidate for Honolulu Prosecutor.
Steve Alm leads Megan Kau in the race to be the next prosecutor of Honolulu. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

“Everybody always wants term limits, so that was expected,” said Matthew Fitch, managing partner of MRG Research, which conducted the Civil Beat Poll with media partner HNN.

As for the race for prosecutor, Fitch said, “It’s closer than the mayor’s race, but you have to assume that Alm is in a fine position.”

Alm does better than Kau among most voter demographics — age, ancestry, income and education. He is also more popular among female voters.

But one of the biggest differences is political ideology: Alm holds a 2-to-1 advantage among Democrats, liberals, progressives and moderates, while Republicans and conservatives along with independents prefer Kau by double digits.

The prosecutor’s race is nonpartisan. But, generally speaking, more liberal candidates tend to favor reforming the criminal justice system while more conservative candidates tend to favor law and order.

Kau, a prominent criminal defense attorney, is pitching a strict by-the-book approach, according to a Civil Beat analysis. “If a drug is illegal, she says she’s bound to prosecute its possession, even if she disagrees with the law. Kau says a prosecutor lobbying for policy changes is tantamount to ‘corruption.’”

Alm says he is a combination of progressive and practical. He is the founder of HOPE Probation, which stands for Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement.

The program uses a tough-love approach to supervising drug offenders and others at high risk of recidivism and cracks down hard on folks who violate the terms of their probation.

Alm finished first in the Aug. 8 primary with 35% of the vote, forcing him and second-place finisher Kau (21%) into a Nov. 3 runoff. More than 50% of the vote was needed to win the primary outright. There were seven candidates total in that race.

Alm, according to the Civil Beat/HNN poll, has attracted more than twice as many supporters (45%) of third-place finisher Jacquie Esser, as compared to Kau (20%). Esser, a public defender, campaigned promoting a “public health approach” to substance abuse and “unresolved traumatic experiences in a person’s life.”

‘Tired Of Corruption’

Hank Warrington of Kahaluu is supporting Alm.

“It’s basically on name recognition,” he said. “I know he’s been a judge forever. I assume that, compared to his opponent, that he has more experience and has seen more.”

An airline industry worker, Warrington also likes term limits for the prosecutor’s job.

“I support that for almost every elected position,” he said, although he sometimes feels up in the air over the issue. “If we get a good one, I want to keep them on the job. Maybe you can run again after a four-year break?”

Alm is also the favored candidate of Sandii Kamaunu of Kalihi Valley.

“I like the fact that he was not tied to Katherine Kealoha,” said Kamaunu, who used to run the Military HQ surplus store, first in Sand Island and then in Mapunapuna.

“He was his own man. I am so tired of the corruption. I have lived here 50 years and I feel like I am banging my head against the wall.”

Kamaunu is referring to the former deputy prosecutor now awaiting sentencing on conspiracy and obstruction convictions. Kealoha’s husband, Louis, the former Honolulu police chief, was also found guilty.

“These people are supposed to represent the people of Hawaii, but they are all in it for themselves,” said Kamaunu. “It’s all about how they can best feather their nest. Well, I am tired of providing feathers.”

But Katharine Nohr, an attorney who lives in Kaneohe, is backing Kau.

Nohr is impressed that Kau was giving up a lucrative private practice to run for prosecutor — quite a drop in pay — and that she was very devoted to the job of prosecutor.

Nohr also watched a recent television debate between Kau and Alm and, while impressed with both candidates, was impressed by the fact that Kau had survived domestic abuse.

“I feel like she understands women in that position,” she said. “That brings something interesting to the mix.”

And, Nohr added, it’s “about time” that a woman be elected prosecutor.

“I don’t want to be sexist, but she is totally competent, capable, bright, well-spoken and has a lot of experience that she brings to the table,” she said. “So does Alm, but let’s try something new.”

Like Warrington and Kamaunu, Nohr also supports term limits. The same goes for Rupert Corpuz, a retired Army veteran and educator who lives in Ewa Beach.

“The people who are getting into office initially, they have good intent,” he said. “But then they kind of fall to the wayside and start looking after themselves. And that’s not right.”

The poll, taken Oct. 2-7, surveyed 699 Oahu voters. The poll’s margin of error is 3.7 percentage points.

Civil Beat conducted its poll — a representative sample of registered voters in Hawaii — with MRG Research using a combination of interactive voice response technology (touch-tone polling) and a survey administered online.

The touch-tone version was conducted by contacting landline telephones. The online version was conducted by texting cellphones and linking poll participants to an online survey optimized for smartphones.

Coming Thursday: How voters view Gov. David Ige, Lt. Gov. Josh Green, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, the Hawaii Legislature and the COVID-19 stay-at-home and quarantine orders.

Read the full results of Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now poll on the Honolulu prosecutor’s race here:

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