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Akaka vs. Case: The Political Showdown of the Year

The outcome of this race will say more about Hawai‘i than about either of the candidates.


When Rep. Ed Case announced in January his intentions to challenge Sen. Daniel Akaka for his Senate seat in this year’s elections, it was a bombshell of massive proportions. Primary races don’t often engender much excitement from anyone other than political wonks, but this was different.

On the surface, Case’s candidacy should have been routine. Hawai‘i is a democracy—may the best man win. But in pitting himself against Akaka, Case uncovered not only a political bees’ nest, but a cultural one as well, for Hawai‘i’s junior senator has come to represent not only old-school Hawai‘i Democratic Party values, but old-school local values in general.

Anger toward Case flared up even outside the party, among residents who regarded Case as disrespectful and out of line. Mahealani Wendt, executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp., says Case’s decision to challenge Akaka was a slap in the face to the Hawaiian people. “We’re very proud that we have a senior statesperson holding national office,” she says. “When the situation is created that he would be unceremoniously removed, unceremoniously meaning not of his choosing, that is so insulting. He has served well, and I just don’t see any reason to subject him to that indignity.”

Hawai‘i politics have long been dynastic and controlling, owing almost as much to Japanese and Polynesian traditions as American. ...

To read the rest of this article, pick up the September issue of HONOLULU Magazine on newstands now! The full article will also be online in our archives on October 1st.

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Honolulu Magazine February 2020
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