Chad Blair: A Jill Tokuda Candidacy Could Upend A Race For Congress - Honolulu Civil Beat

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Chad Blair

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

A half-dozen political folks tell me that a new candidate has emerged to run for Congress should Rep. Kai Kahele announce a run for governor early next month.

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Jill Tokuda, the former chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is said to be seriously considering jumping into the 2nd Congressional District race. On Monday, she also dropped out of a lieutenant governor debate featuring her and other top Democrats running to replace Josh Green.

As of Tuesday the Hawaii State Office of Elections showed that Tokuda was still looking to the LG race while nothing had been filed in her name with the Federal Election Commission website.

But, Hawaii Pacific University Professor John Hart, who was to moderate the debate at the Aloha Tower Marketplace campus Friday night, said a Tokuda run for Congress seems likely.

“Certainly the political chatter is that many of the unions are unhappy with Tommy Waters considering a CD2 run, because they would rather have him stay at home,” said Hart. “He is more valuable to them as chair of City Council and possibly one day running for mayor rather than be in D.C.”

If Kahele bails on CD2, there is concern among top Democrats that Hawaii will lose clout in D.C. There is a need for Hawaii to have long-term representation in Washington, something that Waters reiterated Monday in a news forum.

Jill Tokuda and her family.
A screenshot from Jill Tokuda’s lieutenant governor website showing the candidate and her family. She now appears ready to abandon that race to run for Congress. Screenshot

Related to that is the need to build up seniority and have experienced members of Congress to perhaps succeed Sen. Mazie Hirono when she leaves office (she is next up in 2024). Kahele was said to be being groomed for the job, and even if he does not run for governor it’s difficult for many to imagine him running for a second term, as he has already stated his desire to come home.

It’s also not certain that Waters will run. Still, when asked about possible disappointment among labor groups should he leave the Council, he texted me Tuesday saying, “I can’t please everyone all the time — it is bound to happen that a union will not be happy with me.”

Waters added:

“I have tried to find a balance and apply fairness to all sides, always treating people with respect, and courtesy. I’ve tried to have an open mind to all sides and listen before I talk. If I’ve ruffled feathers here and there, that is to be expected. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask the tough questions and expect clear answers.”

Regardless of what Waters and Tokuda do, state Sen. Jarrett Keohokalole is no longer in the CD2 hunt. He is now saying he will run for reelection. State Rep. Angus McKelvey says he’s going to run for Roz Baker’s state Senate seat, as the veteran Maui lawmaker is retiring this year.

But state Rep. Pat Branco is still considering running for Congress.

Should Tokuda run she may have a powerful advantage if she is able to attract the support of EMILY’s List, a political action committee that strives to elect Democratic pro-choice women to office.

The PAC did not return an inquiry Tuesday, but it has in the past backed Hirono, Patsy Mink, Tulsi Gabbard and Colleen Hanabusa for federal office, and Tokuda for state and local races.

Tokuda also has struggled to raise money for the LG race and saw union endorsements go primarily to Sylvia Luke, another LG candidate.

Do You Need To Live In CD2?

Tokuda, currently the co-director of CyberHawaii, is a founding member and organizer of the Patsy T. Mink Political Action Committee who also represented Kaneohe and Kailua in the state Senate for 12 years.

As a Windward resident, she lives in CD2 — as does McKelvey, Keohokalole and Branco while Waters has previously represented Waimanalo in the Legislature.

In Hawaii, a resident of CD1 who wants to run for CD2 — and vice versa — is allowed. CD1 is greater urban Honolulu while CD2 is the rest of Oahu (including the North Shore and the Windward Side) and all the other islands.

I talked to Ed Case, the only person from Hawaii who has represented both offices. When he was elected to CD2 in 2002 Case lived in CD1, moving into the district the following year. He still lives in Kaneohe today, where he now represents CD1.

Ed Case Congress
Hawaii Congressman Ed Case soon after he was sworn in for his CD1 seat in 2019. He says it is important for members to understand their districts even if they don’t live in them. Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2019

“I think the simple fact of whether you do or don’t live in the district in Hawaii is not particularly relevant,” said Case, a Democrat running for reelection. “There are definitely similarities between the two but differences also. Functionally, in Hawaii there is a lot of at-large representation in our delegation in the House.”

Case points out that Hawaii had a single House seat after statehood, represented by two at-large representatives. In 1970 Hawaii switched to the district model and has had two House seats since then. Over the years there have been several examples of Hawaii’s Reps living in a district where they don’t actually reside, including Hirono, a former CD2 representative.

The important thing, Case said, is for the representative to understand and respect Hawaii, and to have the right temperament and knowledge.

“I don’t worry about whether an issue is on this side or that side of the Pali or whether it’s Maui or whatever,” he said. “I think that it is how the members have approached it by and large. It’s not as if you are from Philadelphia and trying to represent Pittsburgh, or from San Francisco and trying to represent Los Angeles.”

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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 or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Latest Comments (0)

I would be like to see Tokuda run for CD2, it would make for an interesting race and I think she would be a good candidate. However, what this article seems to spend time on is how the unions want to have politicians in their hands and dictate what office they need them in. Doesn't that seem corrupt from the get go? Unions represent a small fraction of the population, yet almost the entire state and county work force, plus all construction trades and the docks. So, pretty much we live in a union run state and pay for it through the highest taxation. Pretty depressing.

wailani1961 · 1 year ago

I just hope Ms Tokuda follows Mr. Case’s example. I received constant correspondence from Mr. Case (letters, texts, emails).Hope it works out.

Srft1 · 1 year ago

Wow, this whole story seems to be about career politicians and their jostling for spots in new political positions...where's the new blood? We're not going to get new ideas out of these tried and not true politicians that we have currently.

Scotty_Poppins · 1 year ago

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