Brace yourselves, primaries are coming

From a local political perspective, all hell will break loose in the 2018 elections. Either that or the heavens will open up, depending on the lens in which you view the universe.

Trust me, 2018 will be an election year unlike any other. If you are a potential candidate and not already in motion and running, you will soon be left in the dust.

2018 will be a year for political opportunity, as an inordinate number of seats will be “open” with no incumbent occupying the space. Open seats are rare and will attract attention from newcomers and existing office-holders seeking to “move up.” Former legislators seeking to reenter the political world will also be eying these seats wondering if their time has passed, or whether they still have it.

At the top of the ticket is the governor’s race, and the rumor mill seems to have narrowed it down to either Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. or Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa as the most likely candidates to oppose Governor Ige.

Mayor Carvalho is “termed out” (cannot run for re-election) and the local speculation is that former representative and now Councilmember Derek Kawakami, county Parks Director Lenny Rapozo and the present Council Chair Mel Rapozo are all eying a run for that seat.

Because council seats on Kauai are limited to four consecutive, two-year terms, both Councilmember Rapozo and JoAnn Yukimura are also “termed out,” and thus with Kawakami running for mayor, there will likely be three open seats on the Kauai County Council in 2018.

Should Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa decide to challenge Gov. Ige, her seat in the First Congressional District (urban Oahu) would become “open” as well. Existing Oahu-based representatives, senators and councilmembers running for this highly coveted position will create still more “open seats,” and the cycle will continue, creating additional opportunities for newcomers.

State senators are especially inclined to jump for an open congressional seat when the opportunity occurs in the middle of their own four-year term, as they are not required to resign to run for a federal office.

The resignation of Lieutenant Governor (LG) Shan Tsutsui to seek election to the office of Maui mayor even further accelerates the creation of more open seats, and thus a catalyst for change in 2018.

Oahu Sen. Jill Tokuda and Big Island Sen. Josh Green have already announced their intent to run for the open LG seat. Sen. Wil Espero has also expressed an interest in running for LG. This will create opportunities for House members to “move up” and new candidates to then seek election to the newly opened House seats. First-time candidates might seek election to the Senate seats or LG position as well.

At least two council seats will be opening up on Maui as Councilmember Elle Cochran and Don Guzman have both announced their desire to seek election to the office of mayor, making that race a hotly contested, three-way contest. Termed out and vacating the Maui mayors’ seat is Alan Arakawa who has announced his candidacy too for what will be a crowded LG race.

The early resignation of the LG even further increases the potential for change, as the state Constitution calls for the position to be awarded to the Senate President, Kauai Sen. Ron Kouchi, or to the Speaker of the House, Rep. Scott Saiki, if declined by Senator Kouchi. If Rep. Saiki declines, then Attorney General Doug Chin will become the new LG. If the attorney general declines, then it falls to another director, etc.

If either Senator Kouchi or Representative Saiki accepted the position, then that would set off a process whereby the governor would appoint their replacement. That process could possibly create even more open seats and/or additional appointments.

The primary election is Aug. 11, 2018, just one year away.

In Hawaii, a state where Democratic Party affiliation dominates elections, the primary is everything. With the exception of nonpartisan county races, the general election is considered by many to be almost an afterthought.

New candidates must hit the ground soon if they intend to run a winning campaign in 2018. Incumbents and those with existing name recognition may be able to delay for a few more months, but serous candidates have already started serious campaigns.


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and is the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control during the Gov. Neil Abercrombie administration. He serves presently as volunteer board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action and as volunteer executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.


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