Hawaii voters will soon decide who sets the policy agenda on affordable housing, homelessness, education, energy, the economy and the environment for years to come.

The change starts at the top this year, as Gov. David Ige has been in office since 2014 and can’t run for a third four-year term. Lt. Gov. Josh Green is among a number of candidates vying to succeed him.

It’s also a year in which all 76 seats in the Legislature are up for grabs because of reapportionment, a political reorganization of districts that occurs every 10 years. Most races will feature incumbents, though at least a dozen vacancies will feature newcomers to the House and Senate this year.

At stake in 2022 is also control of the mayoral offices on Maui and Kauai as well as open seats on all four county councils and on the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees.

By Tuesday’s filing deadline, nearly 400 candidates filed for 104 races. That’s more candidates than in 2018 and 2020.

You can read the full list here.

Green has held an early lead in the governor’s race, according to the latest publicly published polls. Long ambitious, he has prepared, building his experience while serving in the Legislature and positioning himself as heir-apparent to the governor while helping lead the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Green has also amassed a slew of union endorsements and campaign donations along the way.

Hawaii Pacific University communications professor John Hart said Green has a “functional incumbency,” where during the pandemic the public has become accustomed to seeing Green, a medical doctor, release Covid numbers ahead of time and detail the state’s strategy on a white board from his office.

Green faces two major opponents in the Aug. 13 Democratic primary. Congressman Kai Kahele is leaving his seat after having just been elected to represent the 2nd Congressional District in 2020. Kahele is running on a populist, grassroots, anti-corruption platform, eschewing political action committee money and only accepting donations of $100 or less.

Meanwhile, former First Lady Vicky Cayetano is leaning on her business acumen as owner of United Laundry Service to convince voters she is the right pick to be Hawaii’s chief executive.

The challenge for Cayetano and Kahele will be getting their message across without the financing Green has access to, University of Hawaii political science professor Colin Moore says.

There were no surprises in the Democratic field when the candidate lineup was finalized Tuesday. The big surprise for Democrats came last month, when former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced he was dropping out of the race.

The GOP

The late entrance of former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona in the governor’s race could shake up the GOP’s primary election. He won the Republican nomination in 2014 before losing in the general election with 36.7% of the vote to Ige’s 49%. Aiona also lost the 2010 general election to Neil Abercrombie.

Now, Aiona joins a crowded field of Republican hopefuls including Lynn Barry Mariano, Paul Morgan, Honolulu City Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi, local activist Gary Cordery and retired mixed-martial artist BJ Penn.

Retired political science professor Neal Milner said Morgan and Mariano’s platforms sound like those of Republicans from decades ago — highlighting good government, anti-corruption measures and lower taxes. But they lack name recognition compared to the other candidates, said Milner, who appeared alongside Moore on the “Spotlight Hawaii” online forum.

Duke Aiona speaks in support of Hawaii State Ethics Executive Director Les Kondo during meeting. 27 may 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Duke Aiona has thrown his hat into a crowded Republican primary race for governor. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2015

Moore said Tsuneyoshi and Aiona are likely to split the mainstream Republican vote. He thinks Penn has a chance at capitalizing on name recognition from his sports career to capture the GOP nomination and go on to the general election.

Still, Hart questions whether the GOP will be able to field candidates who can mount a serious challenge to the Democrats. Some of the party’s more viable candidates, particularly those in the Legislature, ditched the Republicans years ago and became Democrats.

But the GOP has worked to get more candidates. There are 104 Republican candidates this year compared to 66 in 2020.

The GOP has also fielded at least one candidate in 64 of the 76 legislative races this year. But Republicans could lose seats in the House with the departures of two representatives running for other offices; that would leave just two Republicans in the House and one in the Senate.

The LGs

Who becomes the state’s second-in-command may come down to who has the most money to spend to get their name, message and face across to voters.

Front-runners in the Democratic race for the LG spot include Rep. Sylvia Luke, former Honolulu City Councilman Ikaika Anderson, business executive Keith Amemiya, who ran for Honolulu mayor two years ago, and Sherry Menor-McNamara, president of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii.

While all are well known in political and business circles, the general public isn’t likely to know much about any of them, political experts say. Several of the candidates’ internal polling data even shows most voters are either undecided or don’t know any of the four names.

“It’s impossible to predict,” Moore said of the race’s outcome.

Luke, who is chair of the powerful House Finance Committee, had more than $800,000 in her campaign fund at the start of the year, putting her ahead of anyone else in the race. Luke is also coming out of a legislative session where she played a key role in directing billions of dollars in state funds to Native Hawaiian causes, affordable housing and other state programs.

Illustration of vote by mail
Illustration by Kalany Omengkar/Civil Beat 

But Hart notes money isn’t everything. He points to the 2014 primary that saw well-funded incumbent Abercrombie lose to Ige, at the time a little known state senator.

Amemiya benefits from name recognition from his mayor’s run and as a leader in high school sports. But the lieutenant governor position is a statewide race, and that means also winning votes on neighbor islands and contending with the other Democrats.

Anderson and Amemiya have also been airing TV ads. Menor-McNamara’s campaign has yet to air any ads on television, though her campaign trailed just behind Luke in terms of fundraising last year.

A wild card in the LG’s race is the construction industry and whom, if anyone, it decides to back. The industry, through its super PAC Be Change Now, gave Green a $1 million ad boost in 2018 to put him in his current office. The PAC reported having more than $7.8 million to spend this year.

Republicans in the LG’s race include Seaula Jr. Tupai, Rob Burns and Tae Kim.

The Congress

Congressman Ed Case will try to fend off Democratic challenger Sergio Alcubilla to represent the 1st Congressional District covering urban Oahu.

Case has drawn the ire of progressives for his initial reluctance to support President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan last year. A new super PAC has formed to oust him from office and is supporting candidates like Alcubilla.

Representative Kai Kahele speaks during a Red Hill Fuel tank rally held at the Capitol.
Kahele’s imminent departure from Congress opened up a race for CD 2. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Kahele’s imminent departure from Congress has drawn interest to his District 2 seat, which represents the rest of Oahu that’s not part of District 1 and all the neighbor islands.

State Rep. Patrick Branco, who was first elected to the House in 2020, is vying for the seat. Former Sen. Jill Tokuda, who lost to Green in the lieutenant governor’s race in 2018, is also in the running. Democrats Steven Sparks, Brendan Schultz and Kyle Yoshida have also filed papers for the CD 2 race.

The winner will face either Republican Joe Akana or Joe Webster in the general election. Michelle Tippens is representing the Libertarian party in the race.

Nine candidates have filed paperwork to challenge U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz for his seat. Among them is Republican Bob McDermott, who is retiring from the state House this year.

State House Shakeup?

Departures and retirements of key state lawmakers as well as a controversial redistricting process could mean the Legislature sees more churn than usual.

Luke’s departure to run for lieutenant governor will lead to a shuffle in House leadership. It’s yet to be seen whether Speaker Scott Saiki will retain his post or who will get the coveted position of House Finance chair after Luke leaves. Talk of any reorganization will likely wait until after the dust settles from the primary.

Saiki is also facing a primary challenge from Democrat Kim Coco Iwamoto who came close to unseating him two years ago. Iwamoto lost by 167 votes in the race to represent parts of Kakaako and McCully.

Luke’s district was dissolved as a result of reapportionment and combined with House districts in Nuuanu and Makiki. House District 27, which now includes Nuuanu and Pauoa, will see former Honolulu City Councilman Gary Gill face off against Jenna Takenouchi in the Democratic primary. The seat was held by Takashi Ohno, who is also leaving the House this year.

Opening Day Legislature 2022, House Speaker Scott Saiki speaks to the media duirng a press conference held at the Capitol.
One question lingering over legislative races this year: whether House Speaker Scott Saiki will maintain his position past the primary. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

The redistricting process also caused Rep. Roy Takumi to get sucked into a Pearl City district represented by Rep. Gregg Takayama. The two will be competing for House District 34 in the Democratic primary.

The Big Island has also gained an eighth House seat as a result of reapportionment. Rep. David Tarnas will face Makai Freitas in the Democratic primary race for that seat.

Meanwhile, the departure of Rep. Henry Aquino, who is seeking a Senate seat, means an open race in Waipahu. Democrats Cory Chun, Inam Rahman, Nathan Takeuchi and Jolyn Prieto will square off for House District 35.

Other departures in the House are also creating interesting races.

There’s a three-way race between Democrats to fill a seat in Kunia now held by Rep. Luella Costalles, who was appointed to replace Ty Cullen after he resigned amid federal bribery charges. Costalles is not seeking reelection.

Former teachers union president Corey Rosenlee is facing off against Democrats Kevin Wilson and Jamaica Cullen in the primary race for House District 39. The winner will face either Elijah Pierick or Austin Maglinti.

In House District 40, which covers much of Ewa Beach, Michael Starr and Janie Gueso are competing on the GOP ticket. The seat was held by McDermott, who is running for U.S. Senate. Democrats Julie Reyes Oda, Wayne Kaululaau and Rose Martinez are also facing off for the seat.

Big island Hilo Wainaku
There will be a competitive race among Democrats vying to represent a Hilo district in the Senate. Ku‘u Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2022

Races to watch in the Senate include a three-way race to represent Hilo in District 1. Due to reapportionment, Democratic Sens. Laura Acasio and Lorraine Inouye will face each other in the primary. Wil Okabe, former Mayor Harry Kim’s managing director, also is running in the primary.

Makiki Neighborhood Board Chairman Ian Ross and Honolulu City Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga will be competing for Senate District 11, a mostly Manoa district.

On Maui, there’s another three-way race between Democrats to fill a seat that stretches from Lahaina down to Kihei. Rep. Angus McKelvey, legislative staffer Tamara Goebbert and Shaina Forsyth are vying for a seat that was held by Roz Baker for nearly three decades.

Another Senate race to watch is in Pearl City and Aiea, where term-limited Honolulu City Councilman Brandon Elefante will face Sen. Bennette Misalucha. The incumbent senator just won a competitive race in 2020 when she defeated Republican Kelly Kitashima by about 1,100 votes.

The OHA Board

There are 18 candidates vying for six seats on the nine-member Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees. The trustees manage OHA’s assets, including $600 million held in trust for the Native Hawaiian people.

The elections come at a critical juncture for OHA. The semi-autonomous state agency is set to get more revenue from public lands than in years past under a new legislative measure awaiting Ige’s approval. Newly elected trustees and incumbents that retain their positions will have a say in how that money is spent.

The most crowded OHA races are for at-large seats on the board, with 11 candidates running for three seats. The top six vote-getters will advance to the general election on Nov. 8. Voters will then pick the top three candidates.

OHA Office of Hawaiian Affairs sign. Photograph made thru the glass entrance area.
The makeup of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees could change dramatically after this election season. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Incumbents John Waihee IV and Lei Ahu Isa are running for reelection. Keoni Souza, who narrowly lost to trustee Kelii Akina in 2020, is also running again. Thirty Meter Telescope supporter and local attorney Sam King is also seeking an OHA seat.

Grace Pacific Chief Operating Officer William Paik, retired Canadian Football League player Chad Owens, Kealii Makekau, former state Sen. Brickwood Galuteria, U’i Kahue-Cabanting, Zuri Aki and Julian Ako round out the ballot.

Brendon Kalei‘aina Lee also holds one of the at-large seats, but he is instead running for OHA’s Oahu seat. He’ll face incumbent Kalei Akaka and Robert Peters.

Board Chairwoman Carmen Hulu Lindsey is expected to cruise to reelection. She faces no challenges for her Maui seat.

Mayors And Councils

Maui Councilwoman Kelly King has added her name to what was already expected to be a tough race between Maui Mayor Mike Victorino and former judge Richard Bissen.

On Kauai, Mayor Derek Kawakami also faces challengers in Megeso-William Denis, Mitch McPeek and Michael Poai.

Each of the four county councils are expected to see some competitive races.

On Oahu, it’s yet to be seen if Republicans and other conservatives can tip the balance of power on the Honolulu City Council. Council races are nonpartisan, but the pandemic has highlighted political divides on the council.

One race to keep an eye on is in the newly redrawn District 7, which now stretches from Mililani to Waimalu in Pearl City. The race features five candidates. The top two vote-getters will advance to the general election if no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes in the race.

Former councilman Ron Menor, a Democrat, is running for the seat, as are Val Okimoto, a GOP legislator in the state House, and Keone Simon.

Councilwoman Andria Tupola, a Republican who is said to be eyeing the council chair’s position, recently introduced a city charter amendment proposal that would prevent Menor from keeping his seat even if he is elected in November.

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