A longtime state legislator who currently controls the purse strings in the Hawaii House of Representatives is planning to run for higher office.

Rep. Sylvia Luke said she would formally launch her campaign for the state’s No. 2 job in coming weeks.

“I have had the honor of serving as chair of the House Finance Committee for the last decade. That experience has given me insight into the wide-ranging needs of the state, and has allowed me to work with many individuals and agencies to create laws that lay the foundation for significant progress in several important areas,” she said in a statement to Civil Beat late Sunday.

“As lieutenant governor, I’d be able to partner with the next governor to implement laws I helped to pass to increase our stock of affordable housing, ensure that all 3-4-year olds have access to preschool, increase broadband capacity and use unused school lands for teacher housing,” she added.

Representative Sylvia Luke during 2020 joint press conference.
House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke at the Hawaii State Capitol in 2020. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

“I am ready for this challenge and look forward to formally launching my campaign in the coming weeks,” Luke said.

Luke would face former state Sen. Jill Tokuda and former Honolulu City Council Chair Ikaika Anderson, who already have officially declared their intentions to run in the Aug. 13 primary.

Several other Democrats also are said to be considering campaigns for LG. But Luke’s announcement could change that, given her name recognition, her reputation as a fiscal hawk and the fact that she had $423,600 in cash on hand in her House campaign coffers as of June 30, money that can be transferred to a race for LG.

Luke, who represents House District 25 (Makiki, Punchbowl, Nuuanu, Dowsett Highlands, Pacific Heights and Pauoa), was first elected to the House in 1998. She is an attorney in private practice.

A campaign for lieutenant governor means she will be leaving the House along with her position as chair of the House Finance Committee. The job is among the most consequential in the Legislature, and her departure will set off a scramble for her replacement.

She also has worked closely with House Speaker Scott Saiki, whom she has known since their college days at University of Hawaii Manoa. She received a B.A. from UH in 1989 and received her J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 1995.

Lt. Gov. Josh Green is widely expected to run for governor as the incumbent David Ige will complete his second and final term in office in December 2022. Vicky Cayetano is also a declared Democrat running for governor.

Hawaii lieutenant governors have few official duties. Besides filling in for the governor when he or she is out of state or indisposed, the LG also serves as the secretary of state, meaning they are responsible for the following:

  • issuing orders granting legal name changes
  • certifying U.S. documents for recognition abroad
  • processing documents that convey state lands inter-departmentally
  • serving as the repository for various types of official documentation for public review and consumption.

But the LG job is often a stepping stone in Hawaii to the governorship or the U.S. Congress. Green, a medical doctor, has also elevated the profile of the position during the Covid-19 pandemic.

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