Chad Blair: 4 Top Dems Are In A Close Race For Hawaii Lt. Gov. - 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.

I took part in a lieutenant governor candidate forum Friday sponsored by the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association. I came away with some thoughts on the various strengths of the LG contenders, and on how candidate forums are conducted in general.

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Held at the Waikiki Beach Marriott, the forum featured Keith Amemiya, Ikaika Anderson, Sylvia Luke and Sherry Menor-McNamara, who are seeking the Democratic Party nomination to serve as Hawaii’s 15th lieutenant governor. It was a wide-ranging discussion that addressed tourism, water resources, corruption and a host of other matters.

Here are my main takeaways.

First, it is nigh impossible to hold a candidate forum with more than a few candidates at a time, even though there are actually 11 people on the LG primary ballot Aug. 13 including other Dems, Republicans and independents. Civil Beat and other media outlets wrestle with the same issue every election — who to poll, who to interview, who to invite to debate — and candidates that don’t make the cut understandably feel resentful.

But there just isn’t time to question and hear from them all, and the HLTA — run by former elected official Mufi Hannemann — was right to limit it to what are arguably the top four Democrats in the running: Luke, a state representative; Anderson, a former Honolulu City Council chair; Amemiya, a business executive who finished second in the Honolulu mayor’s race two years ago (in which he bested Hannemann, Colleen Hanabusa and Kymberly Pine); and Menor-McNamara, head of the premier business advocacy group Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.

top Dem LG candidates at HLTA cand forum June 17, 2022
From left: Ikaika Anderson, Keith Amemiya, Sylvia Luke and Sherry Menor-McNamara. Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2022

Even then, the HLTA forum ran long and moderator Bill Brennan of KITV had to cut some of the questions. That was a good idea. My recommendation for future such forums is to allow only brief opening statements from the candidates but not duplicative closing statements — and to perhaps chuck the opening statements, too, as they invariably come across as boilerplate (“It is time for new leadership.”)

Second, let the candidates question each other, and at some length. As solid as the questions were that came from myself, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Allison Schaefers and Yunji de Nies of the newspaper’s “Spotlight Hawaii,” my favorite part was when the LG wannabes went after each other.

Anderson lambasted Luke for the Legislature’s passage of House Bill 862 last year, for example, which fundamentally altered the financing of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the formula for how counties get tourism tax dollars.

“As you know, as we all know, (the transient accommodations tax) funds counties’ must-have services like trash pickup, fire, police protection, ambulance and lifeguard services, to name a few,” Anderson said. “These actions actually left the counties with no choice but to levy a new tax. Please explain why this was a responsible decision.”

The answer from Luke was convoluted at best, and she ended up saying something about reassessing how the counties use the TAT for tourism-related expenses.

But she was also the best candidate in preaching directly to her audience, which was comprised of tourism executives.

“I feel you are anxious and frustrated about what’s going on,” she told them. “You hear the anti-tourism sentiment that’s going on.”

Luke promised, “I wanted to just tell you, I support you. We’re going to work together. We’re going to pull this thing through together.”

Political Insiders

Amemiya, executive director of the Central Pacific Bank Foundation and the former head of the Hawaii High School Athletic Association, put Menor-McNamara on the spot when he asked her why she had “consistently opposed increases in minimum wages, even opposed paid family medical leave that our working families so desperately need. You’re a lobbyist. You work for big business, and you hired former legislators as lobbyists.”

>> Register now to watch Civil Beat’s live interviews with all four Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor.

But Menor-McNamara parried that nicely by responding, “Well, let me correct you. The chamber is 80% small businesses, many less than 20 employees.”

She also rejected Amemiya’s contention that she is a political insider: “I am just an advocate that is trying to support our local businesses to survive, especially in the past couple of years.”

Another thought: voters like to learn more about the personal lives of those who wish to lead them. All four candidates were asked, “What in your life experience has challenged you the most and how does that enhance your leadership abilities?” Their responses were compelling.

Anderson said it was his recent divorce, the struggle to raise his four kids and the challenge of taking care of aging family members. Luke talked about her difficulties learning English as a young immigrant from South Korea. Amemiya was raised by another family because his parents divorced when he was young and his mother has long suffered from mental illness. And Menor-McNamara shared the story of her immigrant mother who ran her own business and sacrificed for her family.

Live, From Waikiki

This was the first time all four of them had appeared side by side in the same room together since the start of the election season, and there is just no substitute for that or for being in front of a live audience. Sorry, Zoom.

Amemiya is a much stronger candidate than when he ran for mayor. He seemed far more genuine — personable, funny, thoughtful, attentive — and not scripted by advisors, as I thought was sometimes the case in 2020.

He also repeatedly attacked what he sees as the failings of the Legislature, especially on political corruption. His target was Luke, who for her part acknowledged Amemiya’s aggressive approach as recognition that she is the nominal front runner, given all her campaign funds and union support.

It was Anderson who was the most impressive. He was tightly focused in his answers, as if he had given the run for LG a lot of thought. He argued that he is the only candidate in the field with executive experience in elected office, and that an LG must be prepared to take over should something happen to the governor.

Anderson also surprised me by commending Gov. David Ige for keeping Hawaii safe during the pandemic, even as many people disagreed with his mandates. How many politicians in Hawaii praise Ige these days?

Let the candidates question each other, and at some length.

The candidates were asked what they would do if they were elected LG and found themselves in strong disagreement with the governor, as has sometimes been the case with Ige and Lt. Gov. Josh Green. Wisely, all four said some version of the position that there can only be one quarterback, or else it confuses the public.

Finally, Amemiya, Anderson, Luke and Menor-McNamara are each likely to shake up the LG seat — as Green has — if elected and not simply stick to the boring official duties of legalizing name changes.

Voters would do well to pay attention to this race.

Read this next:

Neal Milner: Are You Really Willing To Throw The Rascals Out?

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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)

We need tough leadership, I've seen Ikaika Anderson on a couple of occasions speaking out and getting a little dirty, representing the general public's interest and I respect that.

elrod · 1 year ago

Hope this beauty pageant stays civil.

NoFreedomWithoutObligations · 1 year ago

Is there a way to watch the source meeting now?

drivewithbrains · 1 year ago

Join the conversation


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