Chad Blair: Here's How Hawaii's Top 2022 Political Races Are Shaking Out - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Is it too soon to talk about 2022? Not at all.

In less than a year Hawaii voters will go to the polls to select candidates in the primary (which is Saturday, Aug. 13), an election that often proves to be more important than the general because our state is dominated by one political party.

The job openings include the state’s top two elective offices, governor and lieutenant governor.

After talking with a lot of smart politico types around the state and beyond — some on the record, some off, so they could talk freely — a field is beginning to emerge. Here’s the latest.

Governor

Is there anybody in Hawaii that does not know Josh Green wants to be governor?

Just in the past 10 days our very ambitious lieutenant governor was featured in a big Honolulu Star-Advertiser story with a headline stating that he is “unapologetic” in his quest to distance himself from and to ultimately succeed the term-limited, unpopular incumbent Gov. David Ige.

Josh Green, COVID-19, coronavirus, vaccine, pfizer, moderna, pandemic, shot, immunization
Lt. Gov. Josh Green administered about 50 COVID-19 vaccines to health care workers in Windward Oahu in December. Courtesy: Lieutenant Governor’s Office

The lead photo showed a masked, empathetic Green kneeling to listen to a man with a walker at a hygiene center for homeless people. It looks like a campaign advertisement.

Green, who has raised the most money in the 2022 gubernatorial race so far, is the obvious frontrunner, even though he has not officially declared he is running. (He is.)

Kirk Caldwell, the former Honolulu mayor, badly trails Green in the hunt for cash and is banking on Green somehow self-imploding before election day.

It’s possible. By his own admission, Green shoots from the hip, which could get him in trouble. But Green, a medical doctor — is there anyone in Hawaii who has not seen Josh Green in his hospital scrubs? — is a leading voice in the Covid-19 fight.

(For months the Department of Health has been announcing the latest Covid case count at noon. At some point Green began publicly sharing the case numbers at 10:30 a.m., generating him breaking news and tons of social media. Now the DOH is announcing the results at 9 a.m. No word yet whether Green will be tweeting and instagramming case counts at 7:30 a.m. going forward.)

Mayor Kirk Caldwell announces Honolulu reopens at Tier 2 during a press conference held at the Waikiki Shell.
Then-Mayor Kirk Caldwell announcing Honolulu’s Tier 2 status at a press conference held at the Waikiki Shell in October. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Green was also recently featured in a flattering profile in The Washington Post as well as in The Hill, where he warned of another possible lockdown due to the delta variant. Generally speaking, lieutenant governors don’t often receive such national press unless their governor is in trouble.

Does Caldwell stand a chance?

Yes. He is an experienced pol, he is equally ambitious, he knows how to raise money (albeit something not demonstrated thus far this campaign), he has strong name recognition and he believes that his leadership on Honolulu’s response to Covid was effective. I’ve even heard some folks longing wistfully for Caldwell and the color-coded reopening tier system that Mayor Rick Blangiardi moved away from once in office.

Unlike Green, Caldwell has actually managed a large government, and he has had his share of real accomplishments in office. His main challenge is rail, the project that he has long championed but that is out of his control, and other baggage that always accrues to jobs like mayor — like the ill-advised playground at Ala Moana Beach Park and the construction of a ball field at Waimanalo Bay Beach Park.

The only other candidate to emerge (so far) in the gubernatorial contest is Vicky Cayetano, a businesswoman and the wife of former Gov. Ben Cayetano.

Former Hawaii First Lady Vicky Cayetano and former Hawaii Governor Ben Cayetano in the 100th King Kamehameha Parade in Honolulu in 2016. Daniel Ramirez/Wikimedia

She’s hired experienced PR maven Lynne Waters to handle her media, which included issuing a press release last week in which Cayetano urged Ige to require vaccinations for customers of restaurants, bars, spas, gyms, performing arts and outdoor sporting events.

Waters says Cayetano is expected to formally announce her campaign later this month “or thereabouts.”

One big upshot for Cayetano is she is the only woman of color in a race featuring two white guys running to lead the most ethnically diverse state in the nation. She’s never run for office — neither had Blangiardi — and it was interesting that her organizational report filed with the state Campaign Spending Commission initially did not indicate her party affiliation, as the same reports for Green and Caldwell did. (They are both Democrats. Duh.)

Cayetano’s report was amended Wednesday, however, to say that she is in fact a Democrat. (Of note: Cayetano’s campaign chair is Loretta Sheehan, formerly of the Honolulu Police Commission.)

Wild card: Will Colleen Hanabusa, who is again leading the rail authority, run for governor again? I’d say it depends on what happens with the other three candidates and whether they stay in the race.

And what about the Republicans? Andria Tupola, the GOP nominee three years ago, is now on the Honolulu City Council and is not running for gov. I have no idea who in the party possibly could.

Lieutenant Governor

Here’s a little news: Jill Tokuda, the former state senator, is expected to run to replace Green, to whom she lost in 2018.

“I’ve been talking with a lot of supporters and individuals in my campaign, and it’s really become clear to me that I can’t sit on the sidelines any more — that there is a lot of good that I can do for this state,” she told me Wednesday. “I am working on filing my organizational papers by Labor Day so we can be off and running.”

Tokuda will join former City Councilmen Ikaika Anderson and Ron Menor, who have already filed their organizational paperwork. On Wednesday, Menor told me he is “still exploring a run” while Anderson said, “Yes, I am looking at running.”

Jill Tokuda at the party headquarters Saturday night August 11, 2018. (Civilbeat photo by Ronen Zilberman)
Jill Tokuda at party headquarters on primary night in August 2018. She lost the race for LG but is running again in 2022. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat

Another former City Council member, Kym Pine, says she has not made a decision about 2022 but that she, too, has been approached by supporters and that the LG office is a possibility.

Keith Amemiya, the runner up in the race for Honolulu mayor last year, said “no comment” about the race. But I am hearing his name a lot.

Same goes for state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, House Speaker Scott Saiki (who is already reported to be weighing a run — thanks for reading Civil Beat!) and Sherry Menor-McNamara, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.

The downside for Saiki and Dela Cruz is that they would have to give up their powerful perches in the Legislature — Saiki because House seats are up every two years and Dela Cruz because the decennial reapportionment will mean every state Senate seat is up next year.

Wild card: Tulsi Gabbard. Really.

Republicans: Beats me.


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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Latest Comments (0)

Green is done he's very disliked Read social media comments as he went out on a weak limb on Covid and now delta and he flip flops and it's clear he's just another everyday run of the mill politician who will act anyway he needs to and say and promise the world I see Tulsi and Trevor Ozawa A x congresswomen and a x city councilman with a Japanese last name Will crush anyone Caldwell can't be elected dog catcherVicky and Tulsi or Trevor are excellent tickets I like a new face or someone who is not a puppet for wealthy land barons Time to shake this state upNo greenNo CaldwellChange friends Change this town 

Davemoskowitz · 2 months ago

All media and public interest groups must open the doors wide for ALL Candidates to have the opportunity to be heard. The voters must have the choice to listen to ALL candidates, and not be onlysteered to those already picked by the media and public interest groups.It's illogical to simply promote candidates with mega fundraising but lament for new blood and new ideas. Money and moneyed interests must not continue control our elections.

ChoonJamesHI · 2 months ago

The only thing that Gabbard's opponents have to do is to make sure voters know that he supports rail and he wants to increase taxes to pay for it.  Half the voters will vote for someone else.

sleepingdog · 2 months ago

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