The Crazy Way We Choose Our LGs

Politics, it’s long been argued, is about addition, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the calculation done by candidates for the otherwise meaningless office of lieutenant governor.

Republican Duke Aiona and Democrats Mufi Hannemann and Neil Abercrombie all need lieutenant governor nominees who add to their vote total on general election day, Nov. 2.

Gender helps. Aiona, Abercrombie and Hannemann toss footballs, shoot hoops and lift weights: jockish types to a man. Yet more than half of Hawaii’s registered voters are women, and in 2002, the last time the governorship was an open seat, both Democrats and Republicans chose a woman to head their ticket – and Hawaii elected Linda Lingle its first woman governor.

On the Democratic ballot, three-term state representative and former public school administrator Lyla Berg is the only woman among the seven candidates seeking the nomination for lieutenant governor.

The Republican ticket that emerges Sept. 18 will definitely have gender balance. Both Republican LG candidates are women: state House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan and Tea Party Republican attorney Adrienne King.

Ethnic ticket balancing also constitutes addition in multi-ethnic Hawaii, and Hawaiian Aiona benefits here as well. Finnegan is Filipina, King a haole. They’re twofers: Whoever wins the nomination lends the Republican ticket both ethnic and gender balance.

Not so on the Democratic side. Haole LG candidates Gary Hooser and Bryan Schatz add nothing ethnically to a ticket led by Abercrombie. All seven of the Dems’LG candidates – Hooser, Schatz, Berg (part-Hawaiian) Bobby Bunda (Filipino) and Japanese-Americans Steve Hirakami, John Riki Karamatsu and Norman Sakamoto – bring ethnic balance to a ticket led by Samoan Hannemann.

Does this ticket-balancing act factor into the LG choice voters make on primary election day? Does an Abercrombie supporter automatically rule out Hooser or Schatz because they offer neither ethnic nor gender balance?

Seldom, I would guess, if ever. The size of a candidate’s campaign war chest means much more. Former Democratic Party chairman and early Barack Obama supporter Schatz and state Sen. Norman Sakamoto ran first and second in the Star-Advertiser poll: Schatz with 27 percent, Sakamoto with 21 (thus tying with a candidate named “Don’t know/refused to answer”). Schatz has raised and spent the most cash so far on his campaign, Sakamoto the next most.

Those with little money practically fall off the poll, no matter the ethnic or gender balance they provide: 27 percent of those polled had never heard of Senate President Bobby Bunda (whom 11 percent said they would vote for), 31 percent had never heard of Sakamoto, 30 percent of Schatz, 51 percent of Berg (who received 7 percent voter support), 35 percent of Hooser (whom 10 percent would vote for) and 47 percent of Karamatsu (who claimed just 2 percent of those polled).

So maybe choosing a lieutenant governor candidate is only about money. Fortunately, it doesn’t matter. As a former state representative once said, “There are only two reasons to run for lieutenant governor: in order to eventually become governor (three LGs have succeeded in doing that since statehood; a fourth, Aiona, is attempting it this year), or to build up your high-three years of salary for retirement purposes.”

The office of lieutenant governor (as I have not-sofacetiously argued in a previous column) is just that: an empty office with nary a single constitutional duty. Not one.

And the voters seem to know it. They vote for the top of the ticket.

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