Guess we don’t have Linda Lingle to kick around anymore. On Election night, the former two-term Republican Governor of Hawaii who had trounced Democrat Mazie Hirono at the polls a decade ago, was herself shown the door in her bid to succeed retiring U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka (D–Hawaii). The final summary vote tally, released by the state Office of Elections at nearly 3am Wednesday morning, showed Congresswoman Hirono beating Lingle by more than 100,000 votes–61.6 percent to 36.8 percent (Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, running to succeed Hirono in the 2nd District, beat her Republican challenger Kawika Crowley by a greater margin).
The mood at both parties’ respective Maui headquarters foreshadowed that margin of victory long before the elections office released the first printout of votes (because officials had not anticipated the state’s 61.9 percent turnout rate, many precincts across the state ran out of ballots and had to remain open past their 6pm closing time and the first results weren’t made public until close to 9pm). The Republican Party’s Wailuku office, though filled with a few dozen people in white eating sushi, was a quiet place at 8:30pm. Not so the Democrats’ office down the street. There, party regional coordinator Dylan Beesley was absolutely giddy.
“We knocked on 2,000 doors today,” Beesley told me. “And we made 5,000 calls. Over the last two months we made over 20,000 contacts. It’s been inspirational. People knew the clear choice they were facing. We reminded them of that again and again. Some people got six calls!”
As Hawaii goes, so goes the nation. Republican Mitt Romney had just delivered his concession speech when I spoke to Beesley, ending the wealthy former Massachusetts governor’s bid to unseat President Barack Obama. For months pollsters told us the race was a dead heat, but when the votes started adding up, Obama won a clear victory.
A weak incumbent hobbled by a still-weak economy and high unemployment, Obama and the Democrats apparently found an easy way to win: let the Republicans demonize immigrants (which Latinos took to heart), women, poor people, homosexuals and scientists, and then reap the rewards. As a result, Republicans held onto the U.S. House of Representatives, but not much else.
It will be fascinating to watch the Republican Party in the next few months, to see if they finally accept that America is more multicultural than ever and that white men no longer rule the nation as they once did. Of course, this probably seems obvious to us in Hawaii, one of the most ethnically diverse states in the nation. The more conservative states? Not so much.
As far as Hawaii goes, the Democrats somehow strengthened their already absolute control over both legislative houses. Here on Maui, Republican state Representative George Fontaine, who represents South Maui, lost handily to Democratic challenger Kaniela Ing–the only upset in any Maui County election.
Indeed, as far as this county goes, the electorate was more than happy with its Democratic incumbents. State Senator Roz Baker and state Representatives Angus McKelvey, Kyle Yamashita and Mele Carroll all beat their Republican challengers by massive majorities.
For the non-partisan Maui County Council races, the status quo was the big winner. Incumbents Mike Victorino, Don Couch, Gladys Baisa, Bob Carroll, Elle Cochran, Mike White and Riki Hokama all easily returned to office (the last four in that list didn’t even have challengers). Newcomers Don Guzman and Stacy Helm Crivello will take over the open Kahului and Molokai seats, respectively.
Over in the non-partisan Office of Hawaiian Affairs races, colorful candidates like Walter Ritte and Rose Duey lost to Haunani Apoliona and Carmen Hulu Lindsey (who even managed to beat former Maui County Councilman Dane Kane), respectively.
Both state constitutional amendments on the ballot passed easily, which means private dam owners will now have access to tax-free loans to repair their dams and retired judges can now return to the courts for limited times when the dockets get too packed.
In terms of the Maui County charter amendments, voters were clear: lengthening council terms from two years to four years was bad, but everything else was good. That means Hana, Lanai and Molokai residents will now be able to testify at hearings remotely, council and mayoral candidates will have to live in the county for at least a year before running and departments will now have to face a new County Auditor. We can only hope that new office gets the staff and funding it needs to be a real force in the county.
So is this really the political end of Linda Lingle? I doubt it–U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) is the same age as Akaka, and will have to retire someday. When that happens, I think Lingle will be more than willing to run again.