Matsunaga leading Democrat’s primary race for lt. gov.

A decade of clean, honest service in the state Senate has helped Matt Matsunaga establish a large lead in the Democratic race for lieutenant governor, according to unbiased polls.

Matsunaga is running against Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Clayton Hee, former state Board of Education member Donna Ikeda, and Honolulu pedicab operator Marvin Franklin.

The winner will form a team with the winner of the Democratic gubernatorial primary, where the front-runners are Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, state Rep. Ed Case and former lawmaker D.G. “Andy” Anderson.

Matsunaga, the son of the late Spark Matsunaga, a Kaua’i native and long-time member of the U.S. House of Representatives, is one of three state senators who have served longer than any other current state senator, 10 years.

That comes to an end for Matsunaga, who announced he won’t be running for re-election in order to seek the office of lieutenant governor.

During his time in the Senate, Matsunaga was successful in enacting more legislation than any other lawmaker in that side of the state Legislature, other than the Senate president, who traditionally introduces bills for the governor.

The vice chair of the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Housing Committee, Matsunaga this year also served on the Economic Development and Technology, Education and Water, Land, Energy and Environment committees.

Also during his time in the Senate, Matsunaga said he learned that he can do more good things for more people by serving in a statewide office, especially since 97 percent of state expenditures flow through the executive branch of government.

“I can make a difference in people’s lives in the executive branch,” he said.

As an attorney and certified public accountant, and decade-long lawmaker, he feels he has the requisite skills to understand a huge, complex state budget, and knows from both sides (lawmaking and law-interpreting) how to pass, enact and enforce good laws.

He says he’ll bring to the office of lieutenant governor effective leadership, and the ability to get things done.

Gov. Ben Cayetano, a fellow Democrat, hasn’t been able to have his way with the Democrat-controlled state Legislature because of his style of leadership, something Matsunaga called “my way or the highway” rule rather than a collaborative spirit.

Making his fourth trip to Kaua’i in the past six weeks, he says the votes in this county are “very important. It’s where my roots are from,” he said.

And Kaua’i can play a significant role in the state’s economy, with its growing high-technology sector, and work in renewable energy sources and ecotourism, Matsunaga said.

Having a recognizable last name won’t be enough for him to carry Kaua’i, he continued. The people of Kaua’i still need to get to know him, to learn what he has done at the state Legislature, and what he’s able to do as lieutenant governor, he noted.

And although his father Spark Matsunaga was born and raised on Kaua’i, the elder Matsunaga started his political career in Palolo on O’ahu, which is where Matt Matsunaga started his as well.

He spent Friday night at the Kaua’i Farm Fair, and has a stew-and-rice fund-raiser set for Sunday, Sept. 8, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Kauai Veterans Center. Ed Kawamura is his Kaua’i campaign coordinator.

Matsunaga feels he will be able to partner with the survivor of the Democratic primary for governor, set for Saturday, Sept. 21. “All three are strong candidates,” he said.

Though he enjoys the support of the Hawaii Nurses Association union, and statewide painters union, Matsunaga said support from union leadership is good, but doesn’t necessarily mean a majority of the rank-and-file members share their leadership’s endorsement.

Whether or not he gets a formal union endorsement, and he’s expecting more, he feels it is important to touch bases with the rank-and-file members, because their support is paramount, also, he said.

Matsunaga had hoped to raise and spend $250,000 before the primary election on his campaign, but in the wake of political fund-raising investigations, especially ones involving Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris, traditional contribution sources have become reluctant to give to campaigns, he said.

People who traditionally give to campaigns are worried about being investigated, even if they’ve done nothing wrong, Matsunaga said.

It couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Matsunaga, who is mounting a statewide campaign, as opposed to if he were running for re-election to a smaller Senate district.

Establishing a statewide campaign network has been hard work, involving lots of interisland travel, he said. But, it has been rewarding for Matsunaga to see the campaign gain momentum on all the islands, he said.

As far as the primary results, he has already pledged to support whoever wins the Democratic election for lieutenant governor, and feels the party will have no problem uniting around whatever team prevails on Sept. 21.

Matsunaga, 43, has two daughters, Hannah, eight, and Sarah, six. He and his wife, a lawyer in the Honolulu office of the U.S. Attorney, have divorced.

His campaign Web site is www.mattmatsunaga.com.

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

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