Counting Reasons Why Mufi Lost

Mufi Hannemann

“Why,” you ask, “did Mufi Hannemann lose his run for governor?”

The reasons, sayeth the long-winded columnist, are many – starting with the superior Democratic Party credentials of his opponent. Neil Abercrombie may have had creds as a long-haired, antiwar activist that made him suspect in the eyes of some, but he also served 12 years in the state Legislature (six in the House, six in the Senate) as a Democrat. He won a special election to Congress as a Democrat in 1986, a term on the City Council as a Democrat, and 10 terms as a congressman from the state’s 1st Congressional District. That’s 34 years in public office as a Democrat.

Hannemann, on the other hand, has never won public office running as a Democrat. He lost to Republican Pat Saiki in his bid for the 1st District seat in 1986 and to Patsy Mink in his bid to win the 2nd District seat in 1990. Hannemann has won only on the nonpartisan ballot: a spot on the City Council in 1994 (which he held until 2000 when he made an unsuccessful run for mayor) and the mayoralty in 2004. Add that in the ’90s frequent gossip could be heard of Republican leaders romancing Hannemann to run under their banner helped to flaw Hannemann in some Democrats’ eyes.

Then there’s Hannemann’s sense of entitlement. Having been tapped soon out of college for a job in Jimmy Carter’s and George Ariyoshi’s administrations, having enjoyed the patronage of C. Brewer CEO Doc Buyers, and having spent a year as a White House fellow in the office of Vice President George H.W. Bush, Hannemann decided that his first run for political office would be for Congress – and that his second run for political office would be for Congress.

Aiming high is a virtue, but a sense of entitlement is not – particularly in a state where most folks work their way up in a 30- or 40-year career in government, business or politics. Ask Matt Matsunaga. He made his first attempt at a public office run the 1st District Congressional seat, finishing third in a three-person contest. Matsunaga would subsequently win a state Senate seat. But he would lose as the Democrats’ lieutenant governor nominee in 2002, lose a special election for the 1st District Congressional seat in 2002, and lose a bid for the open 2nd District seat in 2006. Entitlement doesn’t always pay dividends.

Neil Abercrombie

Championing rail grievously wounded Hannemann. To be sure, Abercrombie also touted rail as the answer to Oahu’s transportation needs, but he did so from 5,000 miles away. For the past five years, Hannemann’s been the face of rail: when asking the Legislature to hike the excise tax to pay for it, when changing the route to please the federal government, when jousting with the Republican governor who refused to sign off on the environmental impact study. Hannemann showed courage doing so, but, as this humble scribbler warned here years ago, rail always had the potential to destroy him.

Hannemann also lost ground by taking a very public stand in opposition to civil unions. He was running for the Democratic nomination for governor. Heavily Democratic majorities in both houses of the state Legislature sent the civil unions bill to Gov. Lingle’s desk. He won no favor with those legislators or with the members of the gay and lesbian community who lobbied for the bill, or with the many Democratic voters who see it as a civil rights issue.

Hannemann’s self-described competitiveness hurt him. As a 6-foot-7-inch basketball player at Iolani and Harvard, he played under the basket. Big men bump each other: They belly-up, use an elbow occasionally, maybe grab a jersey. As a campaigner, Hannemann’s competitiveness has always meant bumping your competitor: Abercrombie in ’86 for reported marijuana use; Duke Bainum in 2004 for his wife’s treatment of an elderly Japanese man; Abercrombie again in 2010 for marrying a haole, attending the University of Hawaii rather than Harvard and winning a beard contest. The last may constitute competitiveness, but it’s also kinda dumb and the voters have long memories.

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