Trail Mix: Is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s Aiona Endorsement “Good News for Hawaii’s Voters”?

Each week, HONOLULU Magazine’s political team compiles a mix of observations about Hawaii politics. Here’s our notes from this week, ending May 23:

Chris Christie tells Hawaii that James “Duke” Aiona is his guy

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, embroiled in the “bridgegate” traffic jam accusations of political retribution, told Hawaii voters this week that former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona is his choice in the governor’s race. You know, just in case you were holding out on picking sides until Christie made his endorsement.

Christie, head of the Republican Governors Association, called Aiona’s entry into the race “good news for Hawaii’s voters.” He went on to say: “After nearly four years of Neil Abercrombie’s weak leadership and poor stewardship of taxpayer dollars, Aiona offers voters a strong alternative to Abercrombie and a fresh vision for the state’s future.” Strong words coming from a governor steeped in his scandal.

Commitment Issues?

It appears that a whole lot of potential candidates in federal and state races are waiting on the sidelines for the right moment to jump in. As of Friday, 190 people have pulled nomination papers for a range of offices, but haven’t turned them in yet, according to Rex Quidilla, spokesman for the state Office of Elections.

With just about two weeks left until the June 3 filling deadline, Quidilla says either this means there will be a flurry of last-minute candidate filings or a good number of these potential candidates will decide not to run afterall.

“We always see increased activity in the final weeks. That’s held true for many years now,” Quidilla says.

As an example: 18 people have pulled papers to run for governor. Five of them have filed (including Gov. Neil Abercrombie and former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona), 11 have yet to file, and two have withdrawn.

Similarly, 12 people have signaled they may run for the First Congressional District seat, but only state Sen. Donna Mercado Kim has actually filed.

Party like a Democrat

This weekend, the Hawaii Democrats gather for the party’s state convention ahead of the primary elections in August. Convention organizers appear to be avoiding the trappings of campaign speeches, instead giving Hawaii’s top elected officials speaking slots for “reports.” But that gets awkward when someone such as state Sen. Clayton Hee, challenging Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, gets a speaking slot, but none of the candidates for the First Congressional District seat (nearly all of whom serve as elected officials) gets to speak, except for state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim. Here’s what to watch for:

  • Hawaii’s Congressional delegation will take to the podium Saturday morning, with U.S. Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard giving “reports” at 10 a.m. and U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz giving their reports” at 11 a.m. Organizers have avoided putting Hanabusa and Schatz, locked in a tough primary battle, together on the same stage. Each pair of elected officials has to talk fast since each duo shares a 15-minute slot.

  • After an early dust-up, state Sen. David Ige, who is challenging Abercrombie in the primary, was given a speaking slot on Sunday afternoon. Again, organizers are careful to call these “reports.”

  • State Senate President Donna Mercado Kim will speak on Sunday. But as we noted, none of her opponents in the First Congressional District race—including Councilmembers Ikaika Anderson and Stanley Chang, state Rep. K. Mark Takai, state Sen. Will Espero, or activist Kathryn Xian—will have official time slots.

  • Party stalwart Dante Carpenter, a former Big Island Mayor and former state senator, is stepping down as chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party, a post he’s held for four years. Stephanie Ohigashi, Maui County vice chairwoman, and Tony Gill, former Oahu County chairman, are vying to replace him.