Chad Blair: Danny Kaleikini's Little-Known Brush With Politics In Hawaii - 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 cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

When Danny Kaleikini died last week at the age of 85 he was widely remembered as one of Hawaii’s best-loved entertainers. What was overlooked in most of the news reports on the death of the Ambassador of Aloha was that Kaleikini once ran for lieutenant governor of Hawaii.

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He was Frank Fasi’s running mate in 1994 for the short-lived Best Party. The ticket managed to finish second with 30% of the vote, not far behind the winners — Democrats Ben Cayetano and Mazie Hirono — and just ahead of the third-place Republican ticket of Pat Saiki and Fred Hemmings.

“Kaleikini shared his concerns as a Native Hawaiian businessman,” the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported Sunday. “The unsuccessful campaign was his only foray into the political arena.”

Kaleikini’s run for office was well ahead of the recent spate of local celebrities throwing their proverbial hat in the ring. The trend suggests there will be more to come.

As Denby Fawcett wrote last year, contenders in the 2022 primary included “two former beauty queens, a former television news anchorman, a Hoku award-winning singer, a world champion big wave surfer and a retired mixed martial arts fighter.”

Several of those candidates are now elected officials.

State Sen. Slom with Danny Kaleikini on opening day of the Hawaii Legislature, Jan. 21, 2015.
State Sen. Slom with Danny Kaleikini on opening day of the Hawaii Legislature, Jan. 21, 2015. The photo at top right, from state Sen. Michelle Kidani via Flickr, shows Kaleikini giving the invocation at the opening of the 2012 legislative session. Flickr/Hawaii Senate Minority/2015

Danny Kaleikini’s bid was also fairly novel nationally at the time. Ronald Reagan was the rare celebrity to have succeeded so spectacularly in politics, and his career from union official to making speeches on the GOP rubber chicken circuit, to being governor and then president paved the way for many others.

What followed were the political careers of Sonny Bono (formerly with Cher), Arnold Schwarzenegger (the “Terminator”), Jesse Ventura (the “Body”), Steve Largent (from the NFL), Bill Bradley and Kevin Johnson (from the NBA), Fred Thompson (“Law & Order”), Fred Grandy (“The Love Boat”), Al Franken (“Saturday Night Live”), Cynthia Nixon (“Sex and the City”), Clay Aiken (“American Idol”) and Caitlyn Jenner (“Keeping Up With the Kardashians”), among others.

Some were serious candidates, some were elected, some were not. Stars like Clint Eastwood are still active in film and many may not recall his stint as mayor of Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, back in the 1980s.

Here at home, Honolulu City Councilman Augie Tulba first made it big locally as a comedian and media personality. And Brickwood Galuteria, a former radio host, musician and actor, served in the state Senate and is today a trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

But Danny Kaleikini was practically present at the beginning of the current trend, building on a line of other celebrity-politicians that dates back many decades.

‘One Smart Hawaiian’

The Best Party was the creation of Fasi, the longtime Honolulu mayor who ran several times unsuccessfully for governor and identified variously over the years as a Democrat, a Republican and an independent.

Kaleikini had no political experience, Honolulu Advertiser entertainment columnist Wayne Harada wrote way back in 1974, describing him then as a “straight-shooting figure in the entertainment world” who was also “close to the town’s politicos.”

He was also the wealthiest of the top six candidates running for gov and LG in 1994, according the Advertiser’s Jim Dooley. His holdings included more than $3 million in real estate.

“Repeated efforts to contact Kaleikini for comment were unsuccessful,” Dooley wrote in his Sept. 29 news story.

Kaleikini easily defeated a primary opponent and campaigned with Fasi, who together promised to “give government back to the people” and cut income taxes, according to the Wikipedia page on Kaleikini. (The footnote credits the “Encyclopedia of Third Parties in America.”)

As part of my graduate studies at UH Manoa I volunteered for Saiki’s campaign to get a front-row seat of the action.

Danny Kaleikini, who died Jan. 6, is remembered for his entertainment career. But he also had a brief career in politics.
Kaleikini, who died Jan. 6, is remembered for his entertainment career. But he also had a brief career in politics. Screenshot/2023

My research, which drew heavily from the Advertiser and the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, concluded that Fasi was flagrantly trying to win votes from Native Hawaiians. Fasi, who hand-picked Kaleikini, also cited the examples or Reagan, Bono and Eastwood as precedents.

Newspaper ads for Kaleikini described him as relating “to all people — bridging the gap between nationalities and cultures.” Fasi himself said, “Hey, let me tell you, he’s one smart Hawaiian.”

As for Kaleikini, who had been involved with Democratic campaigns from Jack Burns to John Waihee, he said at the time, “People are angry at the conditions in Hawaii, and anyone who thinks they can put sovereignty on the back burner has another guess coming because it’s for real. We must bring aloha back to government, we must bring aloha back to Hawaii.”

The final results of the 1994 Hawaii governor's race.
The final results of the 1994 Hawaii governor’s race, from the State Office of Elections. 

Kaleikini did not support secession of Hawaii from America, however, and said that he wanted to remain “an American of Hawaiian ancestry.”

But he did suggest he would push for “the return of all crown lands that were deeded over to the United States government by the illegally constituted Republic of Hawaii.” And he said he intended to “make homestead lots and home sites available to Hawaiians.”

I also learned that Kaleikini apparently joked that his own mother did not want him to run for office, telling him, “If anything goes wrong, everybody’s going to blame you because you’re Hawaiian.”

Name recognition, resources, charisma and entertainment chops were not enough to put Danny Kaleikini into high office. But it’s still a winning formula, from Donald Trump in America to Volodymyr Zelensky in Ukraine.


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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 cblair@civilbeat.org or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.


Latest Comments (0)

Precedents not precedence is the correct word to describe candidates that preceded Kaneala Danny Kalekini. Fasi was trying to win Hawaiian votes, and he already had the Samoan vote. They all voted Fasi Fomaya.

palakakanaka · 3 weeks ago

Boy! Fasi, Kaleikini would have been a winner!

Richard · 3 weeks ago

Color me old. I remember that 1994 election. I voted against the Fasi/Kaleikini ticket because Frank Fasi was pro rail and that was defeated by a close city council vote of 5 to 4 in 1992. That was to raise the GE tax to fund the Fasi train. He was mayor in 1992.Nothing against Kaleikini. He will forever be remembered as the Ambassador of Aloha and will be missed. R.I.P.

macprohawaii · 3 weeks ago

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