First Time Running for Office in Hawaii? You’ll Need a Candidate Toolkit

Photo: Odeelo Dayondon

The June 3 candidate filing deadline is still a few weeks away. If only running for elected office were as easy as turning in some forms to the county clerk’s office. We were curious about what goes into a successful run for office, and, as we found out, there’s a lot more to it than getting your name on the ballot.

Aside from a good quality headshot (no passport photos, please), here are some essentials to stock in your candidate toolkit, recommended by political insiders.


This is the most obvious, but also the most important. “If you can’t raise the money, there’s no way you’ll be successful,” says Dylan Nonaka, former executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party. Nonaka, who now runs his own campaign consulting business, says candidates will need to raise $30,000 to $40,000 if they are running for the state Legislature, a little less for local races. Before candidates even decide to run, they should be certain they have at least $10,000 to get the campaign off the ground. This might mean hitting up friends, colleagues and family members for $500 donations.


Do you have 10 friends and relatives willing to dedicate a lot of time to getting you elected? You better, says Nonaka. Stuffing envelopes, screwing yard signs to posts, inputting voter and donor names into a database (not to mention complicated filings with the Campaign Spending Commission)—these jobs need to be done by savvy hard workers, preferably someone other than the candidate. “You shouldn’t be worried about those administrative things. The candidate needs to focus on meeting voters and raising money,” he says. “I’ve seen really good, qualified people get caught up in the minutiae and details.”

A pitch

“Often, what I’ve found, talking to potential candidates, they can’t answer where they’re coming from or why they want to run for office. They just know they want to run,” says Francis Choe, president of the Young Democrats of Hawaii. Choe, who has worked in field organizing and campaign communications since 2008, says potential candidates should spend some time thinking about what they stand for. “If you’re not able to answer that concisely, it’s not a strong foundation to build upon.”


Remember Neil Abercrombie’s taxi cab or Frank Fasi’s yellow shaka? “Recently we’ve seen candidates focus a lot on their presentation. There are notable candidates who wear a certain color or a particular lei,” Choe says. Despite what the fashion police may say about wearing the same lei over and over, a recognizable brand is what memories are made of, he says.


Like money, time can be a dealbreaker. “I see a lot of people who have great qualifications, but they don’t have the time to campaign,” Nonaka says. The candidate who has the most time to spend knocking on doors and meeting voters has an advantage, he says. And often that’s not the same as the candidate with the big shot resume. Choe, however, argues that someone lacking in the time category can always make up for it with strength in another area. “Maybe they would want to focus more on money and go for an all-out media blitz,” Choe says.

Party membership card

The cliche about Hawaii is that it’s a one-party state. Technically, that’s not true. Based on the upcoming primary ballot, we’re a six party state. It might be a good idea for a candidate to be a registered member of one of them. As Choe points out, the Hawaii Democrats require candidates to be registered at least six months with the party before the candidate-filing deadline.

Thick skin

Public scrutiny is possibly the hardest part, but it goes with the territory. “The level of scrutiny you will get from the public, your opponents and even your own supporters is immense,” Choe says. Often, viable young candidates decide not to run because of fear of being under the microscope. If you want it bad enough, thicken your skin, he says.