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Fewer Candidates Filed For Election In Hawaii This Year Than In The Past 10 Years

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Fewer Candidates Filed For Election In Hawaii This Year Than In The Past 10 Years

Jun 05, 2024 | 8:08 am ET
By Chad Blair/Civil Beat
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The Hawaii House of Representatives will have many new faces in the 2025 session. Will there also be a new speaker? (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2024)
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The Hawaii House of Representatives will have many new faces in the 2025 session. Will there also be a new speaker? (David Croxford/Civil Beat/2024)

The most significant race in Hawaii’s Aug. 10 primary may well influence who is the next speaker of the Hawaii House of Representatives — and thus directly impact the policies and laws of the entire state.

That speaker, Rep. Scott Saiki, is challenged in the Democratic primary by Kim Coco Iwamoto, who came within 161 votes of defeating him in 2022. Saiki’s margin of victory over Iwamoto was also slim in 2020 — just 167 votes out of more than 6,000 cast.

Like the Saiki-Iwamoto rematch, a few of the most competitive primary races can be found in the Legislature. All 51 House seats and 13 of the Senate seats are up for grabs this year.

But the 2024 primary is also distinguished by the fact that dozens of Democratic and Republican House and Senate incumbents have no primary fight and will automatically advance to the Nov. 5 general election.

Also, three of the five sitting Honolulu City Council members up for reelection in 2024 did not attract any competition. That’s remarkable, given all the public outrage over unusually large pay raises last year.

This year also represents the lowest number of candidate filings in a decade. Only 279 candidates had filed by the end of day Tuesday, the deadline for submitting final paperwork.

That compares to 2020, the last presidential election year and most comparable to this year, when 467 candidates filed for office in Hawaii.

Fewer candidates could reduce voter turnout, given the lack of options for voters, while the lack of high-profile races will lead to far less political advertising and perhaps no televised debates.

Elections officials were still examining the paperwork on Tuesday and could still be withdrawals or objections to a nomination that could result in further changes in the total number of candidates.

Read the full 2024 Candidate Report.

Major Races Lack Serious Challengers

The Saiki-Iwamoto rematch is the marque contest in the 2024 primary where incumbents in the state’s top elective offices face little if any opposition.

Unlike four years ago, for example, when Rick Blangiardi faced a field of well-known candidates, the Honolulu mayor has drawn only three minor challengers this year, including community advocate Choon James.

Meantime, Steve Alm — who, like Blangiardi, garnered the most primary votes in his 2020 race but was forced into a runoff in the nonpartisan election — is unopposed in his bid to serve another four years as Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney.

Two other county attorneys up for reelection this year — Kelden Waltjen on the Big Island and Rebecca Like on Maui — also have no opposition.

And the three members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation — Sen. Mazie Hirono and Reps. Ed Case and Jill Tokuda — are either unopposed or have drawn relatively unknown contenders or ones who ran for office before but failed to gain much traction.

There are only a scattering for candidates representing the Green or Libertarian parties in legislative races, where Democrats have long enjoyed large majorities and the GOP has struggled to elect more senators and representatives.

Still, while it may seem to be a quiet primary season overall, that’s not the case in Hawaii County. Mayor Mitch Roth has no less than six competitors, including Kimo Alameda, who is mounting a credible campaign. The primary winner must take 50% of the vote plus one or else the top two finishers advance to the general in a runoff.

The Big Island mayoral race is nonpartisan, as are the races for the Hawaii County Council. All nine seats are up this year, and eight of the nine incumbents and more than two dozen contenders — they include mixed-martial arts fighter and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate BJ Penn — have filed to run.

Where’s The Competition?

Many state House and Senate contests involve little drama. In the state Senate, for instance, Sens. Dru Kanuha, Tim Richards, Troy Hashimoto, Angus McKelvey, Lynn DeCoite, Sharon Moriwaki, Brandon Elefante, Michelle Kidani, Henry Aquino, Brenton Awa and Jarrett Keohokalole have no primary challengers.

But Big Island Sen. Lorraine Inouye will again confront Laura Acasio, a former state senator who lost to Inouye two years ago following redistricting. House Rep. Cedric Gates will run against former Rep. Stacelynn Kehaulani Eli for the West Oahu state Senate seat currently vacant since Maile Shimabukuro resigned last month. (Gov. Josh Green is expected to appoint a temporary replacement soon.)

And another Democrat and former state senator, Clayton Hee, will oppose Ben Shafer in August in hopes of taking on Awa — one of only two Republican senators — in November for the District 23 seat that runs from Kaneohe to Mokuleia on Oahu.

But the number of incumbents getting free rides Aug. 10 is astonishing.

In the House, they are Reps. Mark Nakashima, Chris Todd, Gregor Ilagan, Nicole Lowen, David Tarnas, Justin Woodson, Terez Amato, Kyle Yamashita, Nadine Nakamura, Luke Evslin, Dee Morikawa, Mark Hashem, Jackson Sayama, Andrew Garrett, Adrian Tam, Della Au Belatti, Jeanne Takenouchi, Micah Aiu, Sam Kong, Gregg Takayama, Rachele Lamosao, Rose Martinez, Darius Kila, Sean Quinlan, Lisa Kitagawa and Lisa Marten. All are Democrats.

The same goes for Republican Reps. Gene Ward, Lauren Matsumoto, Elijah Pierick, David Alcos and Diamond Garcia.

Those who have primary challengers include GOP Rep. Kanani Souza — who does not caucus with her colleagues — who will face Sheila Medeiros in that party’s primary.

Also getting “primaried” are Democratic Reps. Jeanne Kapela (her opponent is Chantel Makuaole-Perrin), Kirstin Kahaloa (her opponent is John Betlach), Mahina Poepoe (Linda Hai Clark), Tyson Miyake (Jeremiah Savage), Elle Cochran (Kanamu Balinbin), Daniel Holt (Ernest Caravalho), May Mizuno (Ikaika Hussey), Sonny Ganaden (Shirley Ann Labadan Templo), Linda Ichiyama (Faifaiese Emosi Jr.), Cory Chun (Domineque Bonifacio and Ikeda Rahman Perreira), Trish La Chica (Ken Inouye, son of the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye), Amy Perruso (Mark Anthony Clemente), Scott Matayoshi (Kana Naipo) and Natalia Hussey-Burdick (Mike Lee).

There are also several open House seats due to retirements or because the incumbents are instead running for a new office. Democrat Sue Lee Loy, a Hawaii County Council member, wants to fill Richard Onishi’s seat in House District 2, five Democrats are running to take Bert Kobayashi’s District 20 place, two are gunning for Scott Nishimoto’s District 23 perch and four want to replace Gates in District 45.

Tamara McKay, chair of the Hawaii Republican Party, believes the minority will be helped at the ballot by “global concerns” about the economy, Hawaii’s high cost of living and the obstacle of cutting through red tape to getting anything done in government. The local GOP is also worried about the brain drain to places like Las Vegas.

“And a lot of people feel that not enough has been done with the fires on Lahaina and Kula,” McKay said. “There are a lot of displaced people, and the recovery process should have been given more attention. I am seeing a lot of people upset with the federal government distributing money to Ukraine instead of taking care of Hawaii and Maui.”

McKay said Republicans are fielding more than 30 candidates, noting that several House candidates — Tim Dalhouse on the Big Island and Kelly Armstrong, Scott Adam and Sheila Walker on Maui — have run for office before.

Derek Turbin, McKay’s counterpart in the Democratic Party of Hawaii, though, thinks his party’s slate of candidates will benefit from just-passed legislation enacting a historic tax cut and facilitating more affordable housing.

“Those are really strong policies that we can be proud of and can campaign on,” he said.

Congressional Races

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who ran unopposed in the 2018 Democratic primary and beat her Republican opponent in the general election in a landslide, has only two primary challengers, Clyde McClain “Mac” Lewman and Ron Curtis. Neither are well known or well funded, as is the case for Hirono, who has been in the Senate for over 10 years.

Lewman received a mere 249 votes in the 2022 Democratic primary for governor, placing him last and well behind winner Josh Green and runners-up Vicky Cayetano and Kai Kahele. Curtis, who ran as a Republican against Hirono in that 2018 landslide, is now running as a Democrat. He also lost badly to Case in a 2020 bid for Congress, when Curtis was the GOP candidate.

Turbin said Democrats don’t want to take anything for granted, but he feels Hirono, Case and Tokuda make for a strong team in Washington along with Sen. Brian Schatz.

The Return Of Kai Kahele

Four of the nine Board of Trustee seats for Office of Hawaiian Affairs are up this year, and Kai Kahele would like to win one of them.

The former state senator, member of Congress and failed candidate for governor filed for the seat just hours before Tuesday’s filing deadline. He is running to replace Mililani Trask, the Hawaii island trustee who has decided not to seek another term on the board.

Incumbents Kelii Akina, Luana Alapa and Dan Ahuna are also running for reelection. And former trustees Lei Ahu Isa, Brendon Kaleiaina Lee and Peter Apo want back on the board.

OHA races are nonpartisan, as are county races.

All nine Maui County Council seats are up this year, and the political angst over the Aug. 8 wildfires seems to have motivated a handful of new candidates. All nine incumbents are running again along with a number of challengers. Among them are Kelly King, a former councilwoman who finished third in the 2022 race for Maui mayor. She’s taking on incumbent Tom Cook for her old seat. Johnny Prones is also in the race for the South Maui seat.

All seven Kauai County Council seats are up this year, too, and all seven want another term. But there also are a half-dozen other candidates, including several who have run before or served before.

One Oahu, five of the nine City Council seats are up this year. Incumbents Augie Tulba, Radiant Cordero and Andria Tupola are running unopposed, but Esther Kiaaina has three contenders — Christopher Curren, David Kauahikaua and Kelsey Nakanelua — seeking to represent Kailua on the council.

And Councilman Calvin Say is retiring. State Rep. Scott Nishimoto wants to succeed him in the District 5 seat, as does Bill Muneno and Brendan Schultz. The area includes Manoa, Moiliili, Makiki and Ala Moana.