Mail ballots for the Aug. 13 primary will soon be in the hands of Hawaii voters, and Civil Beat is racing to publish responses to its survey of candidates throughout the islands.

From the skyrocketing cost of living to the housing shortage to the need to diversify beyond a tourism-based economy, candidates are letting voters know what they think about our biggest challenges and what they can do to overcome them.

Or not.

We sent our questions to about 400 candidates and about half have responded so far. And while it’s true that some of them do not face contested primary races, it’s probably no coincidence that the most likely candidates to ignore our survey are the incumbents.

2020 mail in ballot officlal ballot drop box located in the Park and Ride, Mililani.
Primary voters can fill out and either mail back or drop off their ballots as soon as they get them, around July 26. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Secure with their campaign war chests and name familiarity, officeholders rarely lose their reelection bids. Civil Beat’s Q&As are an attempt to even the playing field, but not everybody wants to play.

There are 90 incumbents on the primary ballot statewide, and 49 of them have not yet responded to the surveys. The silence is especially deafening among state House incumbents — 28 of 40 are no-shows so far.

Incumbent state senators on the ballot have been a bit more forthcoming, but 11 of 21 have not responded.

Incumbent No Shows

State senators and representatives are Hawaii’s only elected officials who don’t have term limits. There’s a question about that in the survey that so many of them are avoiding, by the way.

The best-known officeholders we’re still waiting on don’t work at the Big Square Building on Beretania Street but rather at the U.S. Capitol. They are Congressman Ed Case, who is seeking reelection in District 1, and Congressman Kai Kahele, who is leaving his D.C. post to run for governor.

This could all change in the weeks ahead, of course, and candidates in some primary races have already stepped up in a big way — perhaps because they’re challengers instead of incumbents. For instance, we’ve published responses from 13 of 20 gubernatorial candidates, eight of 10 for lieutenant governor, and 15 of 17 for three Honolulu City Council seats.

The return rate has also been brisk for the Kauai County Council. We’ve published responses from 12 of the 19 candidates for seven at-large seats. Same goes for the three mayoral challengers, but we’ve yet to hear from incumbent Derek Kawakami.

There are eight candidates for Maui County mayor, and we’ve published responses from five of them, including incumbent Mike Victorino. For the Maui County Council, we’ve heard from seven of 18 candidates in contested primaries; for the Hawaii County Council, eight of 22.

All Hawaii voters get a say in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs elections, and there are two races on the primary ballot. We’ve received responses from six of 11 candidates for the three at-large trustee positions, and none of four for the Oahu-resident trustee.

The OHA Q&As are some of the most clicked on every election because voters are often unfamiliar with the candidates.

But the reader clicks pick up dramatically for all the surveys once the mail ballots start arriving, this year expected to be July 26. We will endeavor to publish all the responses from candidates in contested primary races before then.

Links to them can be found on Civil Beat’s Primary Ballot. This year you can search the Q&As by name, office sought or district.

We also attempt to treat all candidates equally and give them broad exposure to voters by encouraging them to write opinion pieces for our Candidate Forum.

There’s still time for candidates to submit their Q&A responses to In effect this article represents their third notice, because the surveys have been emailed to almost all of them twice already.

The first email asked that they be returned by June 19, and some candidates who submitted responses in a timely fashion aren’t happy that we continue accepting them from their opponents after that date. But we’re in this for the voters, who are best served by being able to learn about as many candidates as possible.

Even the incumbents.

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