Lee Cataluna: Thanks For Not Being A Chump This Election Season - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

At the top of the loser pile after Saturday’s primary election — losing even more ignominiously than Kai Kahele in his fumbled attempt at jumping from Congress to the governor’s office, even more than Heidi Tsuneyoshi’s similar faceplant on the Republican ticket — are the nastiest attack ads Hawaii has ever seen.

Those ads didn’t work.

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Not only that, they may have backfired. It’s possible that the ads in question could have driven voters to support the candidates they targeted. It’s possible voters wanted to send a message that spending all that money on media campaigns based on spurious accusations is an offense to the electorate.

The day after the election, I swear there was a palpable sense of pride in the community that we weren’t fooled by the ominous messages paid for by all that outside money. Those super PAC-funded ads were designed by people who thought Hawaii voters could be tricked into believing twisted insinuations about politicians with traceable track records and lots of time in the public eye. They took us for chumps. They tried to make us scared.

If there’s a resounding message to be received after the 2022 Hawaii primary, it is that all that outside money was wasted. The only lasting effect will be to forever taint the candidates who were meant to benefit from the attacks on their opponents. By law, a candidate cannot coordinate with a super PAC, but both Patrick Branco (who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for 2nd Congressional district) and Ikaika Anderson (who ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor) said nothing to denounce the horrible things being said about their opponents until the waning days of the campaign when it started to dawn on them that voters really hated the ads and, uh-oh, it might make them look bad if they stayed silent.

Negative campaigning is nothing new to Hawaii, but this year was a new low. There was so much of it everywhere. It made watching the local TV news an ordeal. It clogged up social media and mail boxes. It really isn’t the way Hawaii does political campaigns, and that’s not because Hawaii people are super sweet or because of that old “no talk stink” cudgel. It’s because when you live in a state made up of little islands, you know there’s no room for saying anything at all just to win an election. That stuff doesn’t blow out to sea. It lingers. It clings.

About the “no talk stink” ethos:

For generations, Hawaii people have been demeaned with the “no talk stink” label, referring to the scolding our grandparents and great grandparents used to give about complaining and gossiping. One interpretation of “no talk stink” is to keep silent about things that are wrong, to endure poor treatment, to tacitly allow things that are dysfunctional. In that light, the practice holds us back and keeps us docile.

But the more accurate meaning of “no talk stink” is to refrain from polluting the workplace or the organization or the community with unnecessary, potentially damaging antagonistic energy.

Sylvia Luke won the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor despite voters being pummeled by attack ads on TV and in their mailboxes, paid for by the carpenters union PAC, Be Change Now. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022

It is very possible to be a righteous fighter, a truth-teller, a take-no-guff community leader and still refrain from talking stink. You get more accomplished that way.

No matter how many times people try to make Hawaii seem like a tropical version of the rest of America with the same values, the same influences, the same political playbook, Hawaii has once again proven that things are different here.

The rejection of Anderson and Branco symbolized not just a rejection of the attack ads that, though not coordinated by the candidates, took aim at their opponents. Their losses represent the rejection of outside money pouring into Hawaii in blatant, big-footed attempts to influence a local election.

Also in the losing column was novelty candidate BJ Penn, former professional mixed martial arts brawler with a troubling arrest record for violence outside the ring. Mahalo to former Lt. Gov. “Uncle” Duke Aiona for stepping into the race late and winning the nomination, thus preventing the spectacle of such an unqualified candidate making it to the general election ballot. Turns out Hawaii Republicans didn’t buy Penn’s slogan of “huli da system.” If Republicans don’t want to huli the system, nobody does.

The system doesn’t need to be huli’d.

There has been way too much huli in the last two and a half years of the pandemic. Enough already. What people want is for the system to be put back together in a way that makes sense, is productive and makes everyone’s lives better.

Huli the attack ads. Huli the PAC spending. Huli the outside money trying to influence Hawaii elections. That stuff is garbage. Hawaii should be so proud that the garbage didn’t work.

Read this next:

Hawaii's Primary Sees Higher Republican Turnout Than Usual

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About the Author

Lee Cataluna

Lee Cataluna is a columnist for Civil Beat. You can reach her by email at lcataluna@civilbeat.org

Latest Comments (0)

We can be sure that they will learn to adjust their approach next time to meet the challenges Hawaii presents. They have money to spend, and a commitment to the money to make it work. We need to keep our guard up.

blankhi · 5 months ago

Negative campaigns do work in Hawaii, but you have to know how to do it to be effective. Patrick Branco didn't know how.A great negative ad has to be believable. Branco's ads (funded by outsiders, not under his name) tying Jill Tokuda to the NRA was believed by nobody. Also pathetic that Branco spent too much time focusing on outsiders who needed an introduction to words like keiki, kupuna or ohana. Jill Tokuda focused her campaign on those who already know what those words mean.

pablo_wegesend · 5 months ago

The front-runners from day one won their elections because absent any good choices, people vote based on name recognition and experience. They didn't win because of some backlash to negative ads.

Kakaako96814 · 5 months ago

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