In November 2008, a crowd gathered at Akaku’s Kahului plaza and watched Barack Obama announce the arrival of “a new dawn of American leadership.” Almost exactly two years later, with another election in the books, that new dawn has turned into an uncertain day.
At the national level, Republicans reclaimed the House of Representatives while the Democrats narrowly held the Senate. A few Tea Party favorites, including poster boy Rand Paul of Kentucky, rode a wave of muddled discontent to victory, though the “tsunami” some were predicting turned out to be a mild swell. And, it’s safe to say, the outcome in Washington will be the same: partisans will bicker, lobbyists will lobby and the great American experiment will keep lurching forward.
But this year at Akaku’s bi-annual autumn bash, we weren’t so much focused on the rest of the country. There were plenty of interesting races close to home—plus John Cruz was playing and there was free pizza.
Most of the politicians who stopped by—draped in leis and wearing their election-night finest—paused at the MauiTime table to say hello (including Council wannabe Lisa Gapero, who we called “not merely a bad choice, but a potentially dangerous one” in last week’s endorsement issue). It was the end of a grueling marathon of forums, sign-waving and meet-and-greets, and clearly the hopefuls were emptying the last of their charm reserves. Really, by the time the party stared at 6pm, the outcome was already decided—we merely had to wait for the results.
And wait we did. The first print-out from the state Office of Elections arrived almost an hour late, which is predictable but still frustrating—for the politicians trying hard to appear calm, and for members of the media trying hard to find questions left to ask.
But we played our parts, with Akaku’s crew—including anchors Kathy Collins and Jeff King—gamely filling the gaps, and giving time to not only mainstream candidates like Mayor Charmaine Tavares and Council Chair Danny Mateo, but fringe players like “Free Energy” gubernatorial hopeful Daniel Cunningham, who checked in via Skype and earnestly explained his plan to build “a floating city.”
The pizza was gone, the crowd had thinned and even the candidates’ impressive leis (which sometimes seem to multiply of their own accord) were drooping when the second print-out arrived. Now we had actual results to report: Alan Arakawa would reclaim the Mayor’s office from Tavares four years after she took it from him. Don Couch would send South Maui Council incumbent Wayne Nishiki to defeat on his second try. Elle Cochran would succeed Jo Anne Johnson as West Maui’s Council representative after pulling away from opponent Alan Fukuyama. Mike White would claim the Makawao-Haiku-Paia seat, soundly beating Kai Nishiki. Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu incumbent Mike Victorino (who scooted over to the MauiTime table to view the results like a kid on Christmas morning) would trounce Gapero. On Lanai, Riki Hokama would get his old job back, besting Matt Mano. Only one Council race remained too close to call: the East Maui contest between incumbent Bill Medeiros and Bob Carroll, who was Medeiros’s predecessor. (When the final precincts reported in the wee hours, Carroll edged Medeiros by a mere 56 votes.)
Neil Abercrombie and Brian Schatz sprinted ahead early in the night and never relinquished their lead, easily beating Duke Aiona and Lynn Finnegan to become Hawaii’s next Governor and Lieutenant Governor. In a statement, Abercorombie said the election was about a “desire for change” and promised that “our best days are ahead of us.” It didn’t rouse on the level of Obama in ’08, but there was a smattering of polite applause when Akaku “numbers man” Dick Mayer called the race for Abercrombie.
On a night when national Democrats suffered big losses, Rep. Mazie Hirono and Sen. Dan Inouye cruised to reelection. Same goes for most of the state legislative incumbents: Republican upstarts failed to seriously challenge Sen. Shan Tsutsui or Reps. Gil Keith-Agaran, Joe Souki, Kyle Yamashita, Angus McKelvey and Mele Carroll. Only one incumbent legislator went down: controversial South Maui Rep. Joe Bertram—a guy who once grew medical marijuana in his office—lost in a squeaker to former MPD captain George Fontaine.
As for the County Charter and state Constitutional amendments, voters agreed that budget surpluses should sometimes be stashed for a rainy day, that the Board of Education should be appointed by the Governor (though Maui County voted “no”), that tax money should be set aside for affordable housing, that candidates’ financial disclosure statements should be filed earlier and that the County Council should get more time to finalize the budget (and the Mayor less time).
As we folded our tables, powered down our laptops and waved goodbye to the small handful of staff and stalwarts still milling around, Mayor-elect Arakawa walked past, his shoulders now literally heaped with leis. He was headed for the studio for another interview and he was smiling, naturally. But behind the smile was something else, harder to peg: weariness, sure, but maybe also resignation.
The campaign is over. It’s time to put away the signs and slogans and matching T-shirts and get down to the messy, often frustrating work of governing. We all hope these politicians can make a difference, otherwise we wouldn’t vote. (“All,” in this case, meaning 49.7 percent of registered voters.) But we’ve also seen enough elections and sat through enough speeches and heard enough promises to know that new dawns are fleeting.
The Winners Are…
U.S. Rep. (District 2)
State Sen. (District 4)
State Rep. (District 8)
State Rep. (District 9)
State Rep. (District 10)
State Rep. (District 11)
State Rep. (District 12) Kyle Yamashita
State Rep. (District 13) Mele Carroll
For complete statewide totals, check out the state Office of Elections site