GOP Gains, Hannemann’s Gamble

The campaign season officially opened July 20 as erstwhile office-holders filed their nomination papers. Immediately, the most powerful political party in this or any other state chalked up four wins. I speak, of course, of the Incumbent Party to whom money, name recognition and inevitability belong in every election.

Ironically, in Hawaii Republican incumbents claim three of the four outright victories. In East Honolulu, veteran GOP Reps. Gene Ward and Barbara Marumoto face opposition in neither the primary nor the general elections. On the Windward Oahu side, another Republican stalwart, Cynthia Thielen, also succeeded in frightening off both fellow travelers and Democrats.

Unfortunately for the Republicans, incumbency in 39 of the remaining house districts belongs to a Democrat. And in the 15 State Senate seats to be elected this year, eleven have an incumbent on the ballot, only one of whom, East Honolulu’s Sam Slom, is a Republican.

Republicans should take heart, however, because GOP leaders have recruited candidates to run in all of the House and Senate districts save two. Now whether – against the power of incumbency – those Republican challengers will have the money, energy or issues with which to topple their Democratic opponents is another matter.

Given voters’strong feelings about Furlough Fridays, civil unions and job layoffs, Republicans may pick up seats. But if recent history tells us anything, they won’t pick up many.

The fascinating action will be for open legislative seats. Thanks to the lieutenant governor ambitions of Democratic Sens. Gary Hooser, Bobby Bunda and Norman Sakamoto, and the retirement of Republican Fred Hemmings, four senate seats are without an incumbent in the race. On the House side, five seats are open.

Mufi Hannemann filed his nomination papers for governor, thus ending his six years as Honolulu’s mayor. A television reporter asked me to grade Hannemann on the job he’d done, and I found myself giving him a “B.” When the reporter left, I wondered why I hadn’t given him an “A.” After all, he took the dream of a fixed rail mass transit system further in six years than Mayors Frank Fasi and Jeremy Harris had in their combined 30-plus years in Honolulu Hale. And in fiscally tough times, Hannemann raised fees, cut salaries and kept the city sound.

But mayors do other things. They’re responsible for potholes, parks, sewage, garbage, the homeless, police protection – things that affect us all in our every day lives. No mayor does all of those things well every day, and mayors can’t hide. Legislators can, so too can governors. But not mayors, thus the “B” that I would give Hannemann, Harris and Fasi – good mayors all.

Hannemann will devote the next eight weeks to trying to cross Punchbowl Street, from city hall to an office on the fifth floor of the state Capitol. Punchbowl may be, for ambitious Honolulu mayors, the widest street in the state. Frank Fasi couldn’t cross it, and he tried four times. Jeremy Harris couldn’t either. Punchbowl’s width scared him off twice.

The problem for mayors who wish to be governors goes back to the nature of the job – solid “B” work, that every-dayness of a mayor’s duties that can’t help but anger somebody, while the others simply take what you do for granted.

And it’s not a Hawaii phenomenon – it’s national. Consider New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He’s a smart guy, and a rich one. How rich? He’s the eighthth richest man in America, worth something like $18 billion. That’s a lotta rich. Bloomberg had enough money to persuade New York City’s voters to change their two-term limit on the mayoralty, allowing him to win a third term by a modest 50-46 percent of the vote. But all of his money and all of his widely-acknowledged ability as mayor have yet to garner him the presidential or gubernatorial nominations he’s long sought.

Yep, Punchbowl is a wide street for a Honolulu mayor.

Then again, Hannemann stands 6-foot-7 tall.

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