Today: Hawaii Primary Election


The polls are open across Maui County and won’t close until 6pm tonight. Just two polling places are closed on the Big Island due to Hurricane Iselle. Given the relative calm weather out there, we should have our normally poor turnout, rather than the abysmal numbers political analysts were forecasting. You’d think that since Hawaii votes on Saturday rather than a workday, we’d have better turnout rates (the 2012 Primary turnout was 42.3 percent)

“I don’t think voting on Saturday helps,” John Hart, a Professor of Communications at Hawaii Pacific University, told me a couple days ago. “If you have an unmotivated electorate, the last thing they want to do is vote on their day off.”

There are a number of key races to watch on the ballot. Of course we have the big U.S. Senate race, in which Democratic Senator Brian Schatz (appointed by Governor Neil Abercrombie, who’s also on the ballot) is facing off against Democratic Representative Colleen Hanabusa, the reported heir-apparent to the late Senator Daniel Inouye. Polls show the race too close to call. But one analyst told me that political history tends to favor candidates like Hanabusa.

“Hanabusa is part of the old Japanese political establishment,” said Colin Moore, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii. “That comes with strong supporters, people who vote at high rates. Schatz’s core supporters are probably white progressives, but that’s not enough to win an election in Hawaii.”

Abercrombie’s bid for reelection is also a big question mark on the ballot. Both Hart and Moore laughed when I asked them to name substantive, policy differences between Abercrombie and state Senator David Ige, his Democratic challenger. Hart also pointed out that Abercrombie enjoyed a 10 to one fundraising advantage over Ige. And yet Abercrombie currently trails Ige by 10 points in the most recent Honolulu Civil Beat poll.

“Look at the poll data,” Hart said. “Seventy percent of those voting for Ige are doing so because they don’t like Abercrombie personally. It’s a charisma thing. The policy differences are slight.”

There are a number of county races to watch carefully. Mayor Alan Arakawa will undoubtedly emerge tonight as the biggest vote-getter, but who he runs against in November is an open question.

Democratic state Senator Roz Baker (6th District) has huge advantages over Democratic challenger Terez Amato in terms of fundraising and name recognition, but Amato’s support from the Shaka Movement–which succeeded in getting the county’s first ever ballot measure (a ban on GMOs) approved for the November ballot–has a number of local incumbents, who are backed by more traditional labor union and land development constituencies, nervous.

Then there’s the 9th District House race (Kahului). There, appointed incumbent Democrat Justin Woodson–who’s never before won, much less entered, an election–is facing Democrat/former Maui County Mayor James “Kimo” Apana. Those are the only two candidates in the race, so whoever wins tonight wins the seat.

For the County Council races, it will be very interesting to see what happens when challenger Ka’ala Buenconsejo–who’s benefiting from a massive spending spree from construction industry and union-back Super PACs–takes on popular anti-development Westside Councilmember Elle Cochran (Rick Nava is also in the race). And Makawao-Haiku-Paia Councilmember Mike White is facing three challengers, but the smart money’s on former Councilmember Mike Molina to emerge as White’s main nemesis going into November (the other challengers are Alex Haller and Henry Kahula, Jr., neither of which has active campaign websites).

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Photo: Jarrett Campbell/Wikimedia Commons