HGEA endorsements get varied reactions

LIHU’E – For two of the three incumbent Kaua’i County Council members not endorsed by the Hawai’i Government Employees Association, the world didn’t end earlier this week.

Councilmen Bryan Baptiste, Gary Hooser and Jimmy Tokioka were left off the HGEA endorsement list, but Baptiste and Tokioka said they didn’t lose any sleep over it.

Endorsements announced earlier this week included council incumbents Daryl Kaneshiro, Ron Kouchi, Billy Swain and Randal Valenciano, along with Bill “Kaipo” Asing, who seeks to return to the council after a two-year absence during which he unsuccessfully ran for mayor in 1998.

Hooser was unavailable for comment. But Baptiste and Tokioka said not having the union’s formal support shouldn’t slow down their campaigns.

“Did it burst my bubble? No,” said Tokioka, who did not garner formal HGEA support in his first two stabs at elective office, either, in 1996 and 1998 when he won.

Tokioka admitted disappointment at not getting the HGEA support this year, though, because as council Finance Committee chairman he put a high priority on funding HGEA and other public-worker raises.

“This is a primary endorsement,” said Tokioka, indicating he may be able to gain backing for the general election in November. “I’m still going to continue to do what I think is right and best.” The important thing, Baptiste and Tokioka said, is that the HGEA members on this island support both candidates and volunteer in both campaigns.

The entire council services staff, and even Baptiste’s wife, are HGEA members and have supported his campaigns in the past and do this year, he said.

“Well, no, I’m not surprised” about not being endorsed by HGEA, said Baptiste. A majority of HGEA members on this island support his work on the council, he added.

Like Tokioka, Baptiste has never enjoyed HGEA support.

“I don’t get too many union endorsements, but that’s just the way it goes,” Baptiste said. “As long as the membership is supportive, that’s the main thing.” “I am grateful for their support of my candidacy,” Kouchi said of the HGEA endorsement.

Kaneshiro, who as a novice to elective office in 1998 did not win HGEA support, figures he did well in the HGEA interview conducted by the group’s local Political Action Committee (PAC).

“I was straight with them,” telling the PAC that the goals of the council and the HGEA won’t always be aligned, he said.

Still, he appreciates and needs the support, he said, and knows lots of HGEA members from his days of working in the administration of the later mayor Tony Kunimura.

“I can get some help from them, which I really need,” especially for holding signs and helping with neighborhood canvassing, he said.

Having the union’s support will help in organizing his campaign, “and I need that exposure, too,” Kaneshiro added.

In 1998, as a novice candidate, he wasn’t sure how to apply for consideration for union endorsements, so missed the HGEA’s candidate deadline.

This year, he early on sent letters to all the unions, asking them for support, he said.

Kaneshiro feels he has the trust and support of many Kaua’i HGEA members.

“I’m the guy that would be open to lots of communication from (HGEA) members,” he added.

Of 79 national and statewide endorsements made by the HGEA, all are Democrats, from Vice President Al Gore to U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka and U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink.

Absent from the HGEA endorsements was state Rep. Mina Morita, a Hanalei Democrat who represents north Kaua’i and east Maui in the 12th District.

“You’re a little disappointed when you don’t get a union endorsement. I’ve never gotten it before, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” Morita said.

She did win HGEA endorsement in her first campaign, in 1996, after she defeated fellow Democrat and incumbent Swain. With no opposition in the general election that year, Morita was technically elected after winning the primary, and in the general drew HGEA support.

Even in 1998, when she won her re-election bid over Republican challenger Jay Furfaro, she didn’t garner HGEA support, Morita noted.

Morita’s wasn’t the only house seat which didn’t get an HGEA endorsement in the primary, though. Some 17 state House races have no HGEA endorsement for any candidate.

“My basic philosophy is supporting workers’ rights,” so not getting the HGEA nod was a bit puzzling to her, she said.

“Any endorsement from a large, organized group” is a great asset, said state Rep. Ezra Kanoho.

“It indicates to the voting public that a large block of voters backs you.” Also, the HGEA comes out with strong manpower support of endorsed candidates, said Kanoho, who has enjoyed HGEA endorsement his entire political career.

The HGEA backed him even when other unions didn’t, Kanoho said.

Such support can mean the difference between victory and defeat in a close race, he said.

Juan Lugo, Kanoho’s Republican opposition for the state House 13th District (Puhi to Waipouli, parts of Wailua and Kapa’a), said the HGEA endorsement means Kanoho received the nod from that union, and nothing more.

The news of the HGEA’s endorsement for Kanoho didn’t come as a shock or disappointment to Lugo, who said the results of the election will speak for themselves.

State Rep.

Bertha Kawakami, the Democratic incumbent in the 14th District (Koloa to Barking Sands and Ni’ihau), fully expected the HGEA endorsement she received this week.

“Of course. Of course. I’m a member of HGEA,” she said. “It’s an early endorsement. People who have supported the union — and they follow your record — get the early endorsements.

“They ask for (yard) signs, tell when they’re going to hold signs, and plan other activities” in support of endorsed candidates, Kawakami continued.

The HGEA members do register to vote, vote in the elections, and are active in campaigns of those endorsed by the union, she said. And it’s a strong union because they have so many members (over 40,000), Kawakami said.

A communicative and active lobbying group, the HGEA lets elected officials know quite plainly which issues are important to them, she said.

“The endorsement of the Hawai’i Government Employees Association can make the difference between victory or defeat,” said Russell K. Okata, HGEA executive director, in announcing the endorsements.

“More than 90 percent of our 40,129 members are registered to vote, almost 10 percent of the total votes cast in 1998,” said Okata, adding that HGEA members’ families also register and exercise their rights to vote.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at pcurtis@pulitzer.net and 245-3681 (ext. 224).

Deadline for voter registration for the General Election is October 9, 2000.


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