2012 elections preview: Hawaii voters to select winners in congressional, legislative primaries

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August 10, 2012

By Ballotpedia's Congressional and State legislative teams

The primary season continues with elections in Hawaii tomorrow.

Here's what to watch for in Hawaii, where polling places will be open from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM Hawaii Time.[1]

Just days before the primary, Hawaiian election officials were thrown a curve ball when two key staffers in the office, the acting elections administrator and the person in charge of voter registration, reported that they would be out on sick leave until after the election.[2] Additionally, temporary staffer Kui Kama, who worked the 2008 and 2010 elections in the Hawaiian election office, resigned on August 8 and submitted a resignation letter that said, "I refuse to be a part of something that will fail, because I know it will."[2] According to Jeffrey Kuwada, the Maui County Clerk since 2009, "It is my personal opinion that the operation of a successful primary election in Hawaii County is doubtful, if more election personnel fail to report to work."[2]

Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi stated on August 9th, "We're fine, we're doing OK," despite closing the office for a day in July without warning to audit voter registration rolls[2] and reportedly not responding to state elections officials' requests for a detailed update for nearly an entire week.[2] Kawauchi was appointed to the Hawaii County clerk's job in 2010 and has not worked an election before.[2] Despite the concerns, Kawauchi said back-up staff have been shadowing staffers for several weeks and have assumed their responsibilities.[2]

Contested Primaries in Hawaii -- August 11, 2012
U.S. House
(2 seats)
State Legislature
(76 seats)
Total Democratic Contested Primaries 2 (100%) 31 (40.79%)
Total Republican Contested Primaries 2 (100%) 7 (9.21%)


U.S. House

United States House of Representatives elections in Hawaii, 2012

Hawaii has a total of 2 seats on the ballot in 2012. A total of 14 candidates have filed to run, made up of 7 Democratic challengers, 6 Republican challengers, and 1 incumbent. A total of 355 U.S. House seats have held primaries. Thus far, 57.46% of possible primaries have been contested. Hawaii's contested figure of 100% (4 out of 4 possible party primaries) is more competitive than the national average.

Running for re-election in the 1st District is incumbent Colleen Hanabusa, who in 2010 ousted Republican Representative Charles Djou who had won earlier in 2010 through a special election created by the departure of Neil Abercrombie from the 1st District seat up to the Governor position.[3] Hanabusa faces challenger Roy F. Wyttenbach II in the Democratic primary. Djou faces Charles Amsterdam and John Giuffre for the Republican nomination. If Djou wins in the Republican primary, he may end up facing off against Hanabusa in a 2010 rematch.[3]

In Hawaii's 2nd District, incumbent Mazie Hirono's decision to run for Hawaii's Senate seat left an open seat. On the Democratic ticket 6 candidates, Rafael del Castillo, Honolulu city councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard, Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, former Hill staffer Esther Kiaaina, attorney Bob Marx, and Miles Shiratori, will face off for the nomination. In the Republican primary David Crowley, Matthew Digeronimo, and Mark Terry all filed to run for the nomination.

Gabbard was one of the youngest individuals to ever be elected to office when she ran for Hawaii state representative in 2002.[3] Gabbard also led all 2nd Congressional District candidates in fundraising in the second quarter of 2012, according to contribution reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.[4] Gabbard’s campaign reportedly raised $320,505 from April 1 through June 30, outpacing former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s campaign, which closed the quarter with 252,392 in contributions.[4] Gabbard's total included a $10,000 personal loan to her campaign.[4]

Other second quarter campaign contribution totals include:[4]

  • Bob Marx’s campaign raised $49,135, of which $38,500 came from the candidate. Marx’s campaign had $384,466 in total contributions but a cash-on-hand deficit of $802.
  • Esther Kiaaina's campaign reported $21,022 in contributions, which included $12,122 in loans and donations from the candidate. Kiaaina’s campaign reported $128,889 in total contributions and ended the cycle with $5,246 in cash on hand.

U.S. Senate

Running for Hawaii's Senate seat to replace retiring longtime incumbent Daniel Akaka is Hawaii's 2nd District incumbent Mazie Hirono, who faces a primary challenge from former Representative Ed Case, Michael Gillespie, Antonio Gimbernat, and Arturo Reyes in the Democratic primary. Case represented Hawaii’s 2nd District from 2002 until 2007, when he was succeeded by Mazie Hirono after deciding to challenge longtime Senator Daniel Akaka in the 2006 Democratic Senate primary.[3] Recent polls put Hirono and Case virtually in a dead heat for the nomination.[5]

On the Republican side, former Governor Linda Lingle faces competition from former state representative and state senator John Carroll, 2006 and 2010 candidate Eddie Pirkowski, and candidates Charles Collins and John Roco.

In a rare cross-party endorsement, Mazie K. Hirono received the endorsement of Alaskan Republican Representative Don Young on July 24, 2012.[6] The two created a 90 second video discussing bipartisanship and Young endorsed Hirono for U.S. Senate. “Though Don Young is certainly a Republican, and I am clearly a Democrat, we’ve forged a partnership that enables us to solve problems for the people of both Hawaii and Alaska,” Hirono stated in the video.[6]

Republican candidate Linda Lingle responded to the surprise endorsement, critcizing Young as "controversial" and alluding to his past ethics issues.[7] Lingle's campaign manager Bob Lee said in a statement following Hirono's release of the new ad, "It should be troubling to the people of Hawaii that Mazie Hirono's first attempt to convey any example of bipartisanship is a video advertisement with one of the House of Representatives's most controversial members, who even Mazie's fellow Democrats have criticized on a range of ethics and spending issues."[7]

As of July 13, 2012 Lingle (R) reportedly raised $1.1 million in the second quarter[8] and Hirono (D) raised $941,000 and at the end of the cycle had $2 million cash-on-hand.[9]

Members of the U.S. House from Hawaii -- Partisan Breakdown
Party As of November 2012 After the 2012 Election
     Democratic Party 2 2
     Republican Party 0 0
Total 2 2

State legislature

Hawaii State Senate elections, 2012 and Hawaii House of Representatives elections, 2012

There are 76 total legislative seats with elections in 2012 -- 25 Senate seats and 51 House seats.

There are 31 (40.79%) contested Democratic primaries and 7 (9.21%) contested Republican primaries. Thus, there will be 38 (25.0%) races tomorrow with at least two candidates on the ballot. The 25.0% figure of total contested primaries in Hawaii is higher than the current national contested average of 19.38%.


Nine Senate incumbents - all Democrats - face a primary challenge. Samuel Slom, the only Republican incumbent, does not have a primary challenge but will face a challenge in the general election.

Notable races in the Senate include:

Democratic Party District 2: With incumbent Gilbert Kahele (D) running for re-election in District 1, five candidates - 4 Democrats and 1 Republican - are competing in the primary to fill his open seat. Bob Herkes, Wendell Ka'ehu'ae'a, Russel Ruderman and Gary Safarik will square off on the Democratic side. Herkes, who currently represents District 5 in the House, previously served in the Senate from 1988 to 1992. Safarik is a former member of the Puna council, Kaehuaea is a local video producer, and Ruderman is the owner of the Island Naturals Market and Deli. It is expected to be a close race.[10]
Democratic Party District 11: The battle for the Democratic nod is incumbent vs. incumbent as current District 11 incumbent Carol Fukunaga goes up against District 10 incumbent Brian Taniguchi. Both long time senators who previously served in the House, Fukunaga has held her seat for 19 years, while Taniguchi has had his for 17.
Democratic Party District 25: Freshman Sen. Pohai Ryan will face two challengers in the primary as she seeks re-election - Levani Lipton and Laura Thielen. Thielen was a director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources under former Republican Governor Linda Lingle (R). Thus, she was unable to run for office as a Democrat, because she had not been a member of the party in good standing for at least six months. She filed anyway and is now facing internal punishment from the Democratic Party, but her candidacy was not challenged in court.[11]


Eighteen House incumbents - 16 Democrats and 2 Republicans - are facing a primary challenge.

Notable races in the House include:

Democratic Party District 26: With incumbent Sylvia Luke running for re-election in District 25, District 22 incumbent Scott Saiki faces two challengers for the Democratic nod for District 26. Lei Ahu Isa previously served on the State Board of Education from 2004 – 2012 and in the Hawaii House of Representatives from 1996 – 2002.[12] Ryan Toma Kapuniai was a committee clerk for the House during the 2012 legislative session.[13]
Democratic Party District 33: An incumbent vs. incumbent battle, District 33 incumbent Heather Giugni takes on District 34 incumbent K. Mark Takai. Giugni was appointed to her seat in February of this year to fill the vacancy left by Tom Okamura, who resigned due to health concerns. Takai, meanwhile, has served since 1995, including a stint as Vice-Speaker of the House.
Democratic Party District 40: With no incumbents drawn into the new District 40, 7 candidates - 6 Democrats and 1 Republican - are vying for the seat. On the Democratic side, the six candidates are Kurt Fevella, Chris Kalani Manabat, Rose Martinez, Romy Mindo, Sam Puletasi, and Joe Rattner.
Democratic Party District 43: Republican incumbent Kymberly Marcos Pine did not seek re-election, leaving her seat open. District 44 incumbent Karen Leinani Awana is running in the district and will face three challengers in the primary - Hanalei Aipoalani, Leslie McKeague-Gomes, and Cynthia Rezentes. Two Republicans - Glenn Butler and Tercia Ku - are also facing off for the seat.
Democratic Party District 48: In another incumbent vs. incumbent battle, District 49 incumbent Pono Chong will face District 47 incumbent Jessica Wooley. Chong, who first assumed office in 2005, currently serves as Majority Leader. Wooley has held her seat since 2009. She previously served as Hawaii Deputy Attorney General from 2000-2003.[14]

Hawaii State Senate
Party As of November 5, 2012 After the 2012 Election
     Democratic Party 24 24
     Republican Party 1 1
Total 25 25

Hawaii House of Representatives
Party As of November 5, 2012 After the 2012 Election
     Democratic Party 42 44
     Republican Party 8 7
     Vacancy 1 0
Total 51 51

See also

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