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HOOSER: From Governor to Council, money by the numbers

The latest fundraising numbers posted by the Campaign Spending Commission tell an interesting story, both locally and state-wide.

The first big question I have is: What is Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz running for? Will it be Governor (my guess) or Lieutenant Governor? As the current Chair of the Senate Ways and Means (WAM) Committee, Sen. Dela Cruz already holds significant power and influence over the state budget, and thus overall, state government.

Why risk losing the power and influence he already holds by taking a chance on the Governor’s race? Why keep holding fundraiser after fundraiser unless he intends in fact to do so?

With $871,348 in the bank and still counting, I’m thinking the Lieutenant Governor’s race is his for the taking. But why bother? The LG position holds no tangible power whatsoever. Yes, it provides a platform, elevates one’s voice and is a stepping stone to be Governor, but why would someone who is in a position of significant power now, settle for LG and be resigned to wait eight years for a chance to be Governor?

Nope: My guess, and it’s pure speculation, is that Sen. Dela Cruz ($871,348) will be announcing shortly his entry into the race to be Hawai‘i’s next Governor. Move over Lt. Gov. Josh Green ($636,120), former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell ($509,202), and businesswomen Vickie Cayetano ($0).

I’m thinking the price of poker for the gubernatorial race just went up.

Other top fundraisers include House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke who is sitting on a $423,603 balance in her campaign war chest and House Speaker Scott Saiki who has a respectable $227,079, especially when you take into consideration a typical House race should only require $40,000 to $80,000.

What about the LG race? Potential candidates rumored to be considering the LG race include former State Sen. and Honolulu Councilmember Ron Menor ($489,229), former State Rep. and Honolulu Councilmember Joey Manahan ($88,012), and former Honolulu Councilmember Ikaika Anderson ($436,779).

Media reports and the rumor mill have also mentioned Saiki and former State Senator/WAM Chair Jill Tokuda ($0) as likely LG contenders. None of the potential candidates appear to be actively fundraising for the race. Given her long tenure in the Senate and extensive contacts throughout Hawai‘i, Tokuda could no doubt boost her balance fairly quickly, but the reality is that she is starting from zero. First-time candidate and public interest attorney Sergio Alcubilla is the only officially announced LG candidate and is just getting started with an account balance of $276.

It is interesting that Kaua‘i’s Senator, Senate President Ronald Kouchi’s campaign account holds only a paltry $55,794. This would normally reflect a candidate who is extremely confident about re-election and is not interested in climbing the political ladder further, or who is not planning to run for reelection. In this case, it seems obvious the former is the case.

Turning to the campaign bank balances of Kaua‘i’s 3 House seats: District 14 (North Shore, Kapa‘a) Nadine Nakamura is the top fundraiser with $66,924 and seems to be the only one actually prepared for a challenger in 2022. Kaua‘i’s other two Representatives lag behind with District 15 (Wailua Homesteads, Lihu‘e, Puhi) James Tokioka at $20,076 and District 16 (Koloa, Kekaha) Daynette “Dee” Morikawa at $13,141.

Kaua‘i Mayor Derek Kawakami, who is not up for re-election until 2024, has received statewide accolades for his handling of the COVID crisis. As a result, there has been speculation he might be being lured into a campaign for higher office in 2022. However, with a campaign account balance of only $28,455 and zero fundraising activity, this now seems unlikely.

Kaua‘i Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro who is “termed out” and unable to run for re-election to the council is sitting on a war chest of $63,354. This is more than sufficient to mount a run for a House seat or even challenge the Senate President, should he decide to do so (see how rumors get started…).

In descending order the incumbent councilmember campaign account balances are: KipuKai Kuali‘i $25,505; former mayor Bernard Carvalho $5,576; Mason Chock, who is also termed out and unable to run for re-election, $4,826; Billy DeCosta $26; Luke Evslin -$669 (negative); and Felicia Cowden -$6,724 (negative).

Other Kaua‘i politicians with campaign funds available that might signal a run for office in 2022 include former councilmember Ross Kagawa $10,438, and Addison Bulosan who ran for Council and finished eighth in 2020 with $7,901.

While the candidate with the most money does not always win, in the world of politics and elections the amount of money available to a candidate is a good indicator as to the viability of a campaign.

In local elections — where “everyone knows everyone” — the power of the dollar is less important, but for candidates who lack name recognition or are trying to break through and beat an incumbent in a contested race, having sufficient funding is an essential element needed in any winning strategy.


Gary Hooser is the former vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i, and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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