Why Do So Many Local Politicians Want to Be Hawai‘i’s Lieutenant Governor?

Many people run for the get-no-respect no. 2 job. Here’s why.
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Why run for lieutenant governor, an office tasked officially with helping people change their names legally while unofficially waiting to run things whenever the boss is out of town?


Often, it’s a stepping stone, allowing voters statewide to get to know you and gain some stature to get elected to the top job the next time it’s open. Since statehood, lieutenant governors moved up more often than they didn’t.


Lt. Gov. George Ariyoshi succeeded Gov. John Burns; Lt. Gov. John Waihe‘e, Ariyoshi; Lt. Gov. Ben Cayetano, Waihe‘e. Then Republican Linda Lingle beat Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono in 2002. Neil Abercrombie won a single term as governor and appointed Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to fill the vacant U.S. Senate seat left by the death of Sen. Dan Inouye. Then Abercrombie lost to Gov. David Ige. And Ige is now fighting for a second term. Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui resigned, which gave state Attorney General Doug Chin a chance to take the job while he runs for Congress. Sounds a little like Match Game, the Democrats edition.


Prominent Democrat U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is trying to unseat incumbent Gov. David Ige. Former state Sen. Clayton Hee dropped out of the governor’s race to seek his old Senate seat. He did so in the last days before the deadline, also considering (you guessed it!) a run for lieutenant governor. Meanwhile, the race for lieutenant governor has attracted a large field of experienced Democrats. Meanwhile, the race for lieutenant governor has attracted a large field of experienced Democrats. 


Current or former elected Democrats running for lieutenant governor include: Kaua‘i Mayor Bernard Carvalho, a trio of state senators: Will Espero, Big Island Dr. Josh Green, and Jill Tokuda, as well as attorney and former school board member Kim Coco Iwamoto. The Republicans seeking the seat are: Marissa Kerns, Steven Lipscomb and Jeremy Low; the Green Party candidate is Renee Ing; and Nonpartisan candidates are Ernest Magaoay, Paul Robotti.


Cayetano admits he tried to talk Hirono—now a U.S. Senator running for her second six-year term— out of running for lieutenant governor based on bad advice from political consultant Jack Seigle, who thought that a different running mate would attract more voters.


Cayetano recalls: “She got a little irked to say the least—‘You guys don’t think that women can do it.’ When I think about it, I have to laugh. I surrendered very meekly to her.”


Then Cayetano got annoyed at Hirono in 2001, in their second term, when she joined striking public schoolteachers on the picket line.


Former Gov. John Waihe‘e says Hirono always focused on issues that were important to her but has dramatically improved the way she interacts with people since she was lieutenant governor. He says she’s willing to talk more personally now where she previously avoided being emotional. “When she became senator, there was, in fact, a quantum change,” he says. 


Read more about Sen. Mazie Hirono in an exclusive profile in our July issue.