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HOOSER: The race to serve at the Legislature, or not

Within the next 10 days those of you who are registered to vote will be receiving your ballot in the mail.

If you would like information on the candidates there are many places you can go to including first and foremost — directly to the candidate. Do an internet search and you will no doubt find a website or at minimum a Facebook page. If they have none, then that tells you something too.

Call the candidate directly and ask them specific questions about the issues that are important to you — politely and professionally always of course. If the candidate does not make their contact information easily available or is not responsive, that also tells you something.

Ask your friends who might be more involved and who pay attention to local government, and local issues.

But please vote. If you are not sure about certain races, then leave it blank. Leaving it blank sends a message directly to that candidate, where not returning the ballot at all does not.

For each state legislative race, there is on the surface anyway, at least one challenger.

Full disclosure, I am a member of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i. I also firmly believe a democracy requires competitive elections where there are robust discussions on the issues and voters are able to choose from an array of candidates and perspectives.

Unfortunately, there’s been no robust discussion nor anything even remotely resembling that.

The two most relevant indicators of potential successful election are name recognition and money. Those Kaua‘i candidates challenging legislative incumbents in 2022 for the most part have neither.

To get an even better idea of how uncompetitive these races might be, I reviewed the campaign spending reports filed (or not) by each legislative candidate for the filing period Aug. 14 – Sept. 26, 2022. Here’s how much money each has in their campaign spending accounts. To make this whole exercise a bit more interesting — I’ve also included a brief observation as to their expenditure priorities.

State Senate District #8 incumbent, Senator Ronald Kouchi (D) has 2 challengers: Republican Ana Mo Des and Aloha Aina Kapana Thronas-Kahoonei.

Senator Kouchi has approximately $27,000 available to spend on his election. His most recent expenses include a $750 monthly fee to Leio, LLC for consulting and professional services, $200 for Bookkeeping, Services and $618 to J. Kanna Design, LLC. As Senate President his low account balance is surprising and sends a message that he likely has no plans for political ladder climbing.

Challenger Ana Mo Des (R) has approximately $1,700 available with no income or expenditures shown during the filing period.

Challenger Kapana Thronas-Kahoonei (Aloha Aina) shows a $0 balance in his report.

The 3 State House Districts on Kaua‘i each have a single challenger. Note the District #’s have changed because of statewide reapportionment. District #14 Kapa‘a to Ha‘ena is now #15, the former #15 Wailua Homesteads to Puhi is now #16, and the former #16 Koloa to Kekaha is now #17.

District 17 incumbent Daynette “Dee” Morikawa (D) has approximately $12,000 available. Her largest recent expense was $1,989 for travel to Japan RIHGA Royal Hotel Hiroshima) and $300 for food and beverages (constituent and volunteers). The trip no doubt was official in nature and therefore a legitimate expense under existing campaign finance law.

Challenger Michael Wilson (R) had no report on file. Note: A candidate cannot raise or spend money without first filing an organizational report with the Campaign Spending Commission.

District 16 incumbent James Tokioka (D), is my own neighborhoods representative. His campaign account sits at about $22,000.

His number one campaign expense is for food. Between Aug. and Sept. 21, he reported that 21 of his 33 campaign expenditures, approximately $1800, was spent at (Costco, Times, various restaurants and stores) for food and beverages for campaign events, volunteers etc.

Republican challenger Steve Yoder has spent zero on his campaign, and not bothered to file a report.

District 15 incumbent Representative Nadine Nakamura (D) has the most robust campaign account balance of any Kaua‘i legislator with $88,000 available. Her most interesting recent expense was $3,000 (6 X $500) worth of campaign contributions made to six other candidates running to be elected as her future colleagues in the House, none of which live on Kaua‘i. This is a legal expenditure. However, the Campaign Spending Commission will be introducing a bill in 2023 to ban this practice in the future.

Republican challenger Greg Bentley has no report on file and thus similar to all the other challengers, is apparently not spending any money to campaign for his election.

The good news is that each of our legislative races are competitive at least on paper, with a challenger in place to hold the incumbent accountable — but in reality I think it’s fair to say, not really.

•••

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 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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