Progressives put incumbents on notice

Progressives across the island chain made it clear on primary-election night that, as Nina Turner of Our Revolution says, “any ole blue will not do,” vigorously challenging incumbents, and targeting open seats at all levels — county, state and federal.

The progressive movement made solid net gains in the Hawaii House and the Senate, picking up at least two House seats and three YUGE Senate seats. In addition, several candidates running on an unabashedly progressive agenda lost by only a handful of votes. Two striking examples are Maui progressive challenger Terez Amato who finished only 106 votes behind incumbent Sen. Rosalyn Baker, and Sonny Ganaden who landed just 51 votes short of defeating veteran politician, Romy Cachola for House District 30.

Two chemical-company-endorsed candidates — one running for the state Senate, one running for state House — were soundly defeated by candidates who supported increased pesticide regulation. Voters had clearly noted the grassroots effort that culminated in Hawaii’s pioneering legislation banning brain-harming chlorpyrifos and requiring greater transparency from the chemical companies. And they said NO to giving corporate ag companies more clout in our Legislature.

Qualified progressive candidates ran strong credible campaigns in over 20 state legislative races, giving status quo establishment candidates a run for their money. Consider this: the entire Republican Party was only able to field candidates for 25 legislative races.

You can be assured that if the Republican Party picked up two House seats and three Senate seats, they would be doing backflips right now. But no, that is not going to happen anytime soon.

The message sent on Aug. 11 by the progressive base in the Democratic Party was loud and strong. We are greatly disappointed in the glacial pace of change toward increasing economic, environmental and social justice.

Progressive candidates are willing and fully able to aggressively challenge those who are deliberate impediments to change.

One hopes that those who survived the challenge can read the writing on the wall. That alone should help move the needle significantly toward policy initiatives that put people and the environment first. They have been given notice that people must come before corporate profits and “good ole boy, business-as-usual” politics.

While it may seem like adding two new House members and three new senators may not make much of a difference, these small numbers matter. A handful of new legislators can, and will change the leadership dynamics, particularly in the Senate.

In addition to adding five strong progressive voices to the mix, there is now a veritable army of new battle-tested candidates who are already planning their 2020 campaigns. Incumbents in the House and Senate know that these candidates will be waiting for an opening. That should make incumbents more receptive to a bold economic, environmental and social justice policy agenda.

This should mean a 2019 Hawaii Legislature that passes a $15 minimum wage bill, a paid family leave initiative, stream-flow restoration legislation, and renews the emphasis on building truly affordable housing. 

It is worth noting that the progressive and environmental community were key players in ensuring David Ige’s primary-election win. He has shown through his actions and public statements that he welcomes a change agenda that advances justice on many fronts.

The progressive candidates who fell short in their quest for election should take pride in knowing they helped to move us all forward. Because of them, the momentum of our collective movement for change grows stronger.

It is time now to turn our attention toward the general election and encourage greater voter turnout in support of those who will deliver on the change that is desperately needed. And we must begin immediately developing a bold agenda to move forward during the 2019 legislative session. Imua!

First published on August 19th, 2018 in the Honolulu StarAdvertiser.

Gary Hooser is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.

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2018 Kauai Primary Election Re-Cap

While I’m sure Council Chair Mel Rapozo will put up a valient fight, the bookies in Chinatown are no doubt giving heavy odds in favor of Councilmember Derek Kawakami being elected Kauai’s next Mayor on November 6th in the General Election.

But, as those who follow these things well know, anything can happen. 

Coming out of the August 11th primary election with 48% for Derek Kawakami and 22% for Mel Rapozo, means Rapozo will have to get all of Lennie Rapozo’s votes and all of JoAnne Yukimura’s votes just to start breaking even.

The likelyhood of this happening seems slim. But you just never know.

As we speak, the Mel Rapozo team is probably deep into developing their strategy. We can only imagine the conversation as the different options are discussed.

Typically in an election of this nature, there will be an inclination by some on the campaign team to “go negative” as without “bringing his votes down” and weakening the support of the stronger candidate, all the positive talk in the world will not sufficiently build the votes needed to overcome the candidate ensconced firmly at the top. Others on the team will loudly protest that this strategy is “not Kauai’s way” and caution that it will backfire.

Where will JoAnn Yukimura’s supporters go? That is the question everyone who follows Kauai politics is likely asking. For if they swing to Kawakami early, then this race is already over. No doubt, at this very moment the Rapozo team is frantically trying to figure out how to garner her support. 

Taking into consideration the manner in which she has been treated over the last few years on the Council, I would say good luck but don’t hold your breath on this strategy.

As to the Kawakami strategy, it is simple and basic – steady as she goes. He will keep smiling and shaking hands, he will keep raising and spending money, and he will avoid at all costs, doing anything foolish or taking any risks.

As to the top 14 council candidates:

It was no surprise to see Arryl Kaneshiro and Mason Chock at the #1 and #2 slots, respectfully. I was somewhat surprised to see Ross Kagawa hanging on to #3, while the big winner of the night was no doubt first time candidate Luke Evslin who finished in a strong #4 position, ahead of a sitting councilmember Arther Brun at #5. Former councilmember Kipukai Kualii finished in the #6 position with Felicia Cowden garning the all important last and final position #7.

At the bottom of the pile, we have Adam Roversi sitting in the #14 slot preceded by Kanoe Ahuna at #13, Milo Spindt at #12, Shaylene Iseri at #11, Juno Apalla at #10, Billie DeCosta at #9 and Norma Doctor Sparks, just out of the money in position #8. The big surprises in this group are that Milo Spindt and Shaylene Iseri finished so poorly. Milo was probably the first candidate to start campaigning and has been very active around the County putting up signs and banners. And of course Shaylene Iseri is the former County Prosecuter and also served on the Kauai County Council, so her name recognition is stronger than most.

My predictions: Kaneshiro and Chock will remain firmly embedded at the top. Kagawa and Brun will drop in the standings as voters start looking more closely at what they have done, or not done on the Council. But the truth is, that unless they take their campaigns for granted and attempt to coast through the next few months, they are still likely to get reelected.  

Evslin will remain high and strong in the standings, while Cowden and Sparks will both rise a notch or two.

Kipukai who has run in many elections, does not always finish strong. Given the communites desire for new energy and new leadership, I suspect he will also drop in the standings. Iseri likewise seems to have peaked-out and to many in the community represents a past council they would rather forget.

DeCosta and Apalla are in a decent position to move up, but the slots above them are already crowded with others equally as hungry to serve on the Council.

While historically it is extremely difficult for a candidate to rise from #14 or #13 into the top 7, Adam Roversi got a very late start in the Primary, as did Kanoe Ahuna.  Both are potentially strong candidates and either could break the mold and plow through to the top 7, if they are able to turn up the steam and run very strong campaigns during the next few months.

At the end of the day, except perhaps for the incumbents, those who win seats to the Kauai County Council on November 6th will be those who want it the most and who are willing to do the work needed to get there.

First published on August 15, 2018 in The Garden Island Newspaper

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A Look At My 2018 Kauai Primary Election Votes

In preparation for the final day of voting on August 11th, many in the Kauai community have been asking my thoughts on the various candidates running for office.

To make it easy, I have listed the candidates I voted for below.  I encourage all to review the candidate websites, attend the forums and contact the candidates directly to ask questions and seek additional information.

Voting in the Primary is happening today Thursday August 9th from 8am until 4pm in the Historic County Annex Building on Rice Street.  And on the very last day of August 11th at polling stations around the island.

For those who are interested I voted a few days ago for the following candidates:

Governor:  David Ige

To a great extent this explains why I am supporting Governor Ige:

Lieutenant Governor:  Kim Coco Iwamoto

Why I support Kim Coco Iwamoto

Kauai Mayor: JoAnn Yukimura

County Council: 

Mason Chock

Felicia Cowden

Adam Roversi

I chose to only vote for these 3 and not expend my full 7 votes. These three are the endorsed candidates of Pono Hawaii Inititiative (PHI) of which I am the executive director. Read more on the voting strategy here:

2nd Congressional District Blank – No Vote

I have issues with all of the 2nd Congressional candidates on their “military” positions.  None are willing to speak in support of decreased military spending.  I believe in a strong defense but believe the United States spends far too much of our national budget on weaponry. 

State House District #15

Queenie Daligdig

State House District #16

Daynette “Dee” Morikawa

I do not live in District #16 but if I did, I would vote for Dee. I have found Rep. Morikawa to be a bridge builder and a professional, thoughtful legislator who does her homework and then works hard for the betterment of her community.  It is critically important that Dee be re-elected and I am asking friends who live in District #16 to help spread the word.

Oha was a tough one for me and I fee less confident making recommendations. I encourage folks to review the Sierra Club endorsements as I know they employed a thorough evaluation process and these candidates are likely strong on environmental issues as well as being strong on issues relavant to their community. 

Also you might want to consult with other friends active in the Hawaiian community to get their input.  If you are not sure, simply leave it blank.  Please do not just guess or choose based on simply name familiarity.

Good luck!  gh

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Waiting for the shoe to drop. Expect attacks as they will be coming.

When we set out to rock the boat, we should expect to get wet. 

History tells us that when a power structure is threatened by change they may not be able to control, they will do “whatever is necessary” to retain that power.  And in the arena of government and politics, when the potential disruption of power involves a multi-billion dollar budget and fundamental changes to public policy, “whatever is necessary” is a description that knows no bounds.

Such is the nature of any serious quest to disrupt the status quo and create systemic change at the Hawaii state legislature.

And that my friends is what we are doing.

In these final days leading up to the critical August 11th primary day, there is already evidence that the entrenched powers are pushing back. The messages of anger and implied threats of retaliation against us have evolved from a faint murmur of irritation, to now tangible expressions of acrimony.  Those pesky, inevitable and intractable things called “screen shots”, capture the words, thoughts and threats in text message, email and on Facebook.

So it behooves us to be prepared.  During these final 7 days anything can happen.  No doubt those on the other side will at a minimum begin throwing even more money on their candidates, in a last minute attempt to turn back our momentum.

Yes, that inevitable negative “hit piece” is even now in the mail heading our way. You can bet also that daily there are also attempts to “plant negative stories” in the local media. As that fails, these same stories will then leak out into social media and fake news sources, attempting to spread rumor and innuendo.

We should know that it is coming, but we should also not let it distract us from winning on August 11th. To be clear, it is too late for negative attacks to have much of an impact as over 1/2 of the vote has already been cast.

So long as we remain focused, keep our eye on the prize and push hard all the way through the tape – on August 11th we will win.

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The Voter Non-Voter Conundrum

I often find myself wondering how I can get the attention of the non-voter.  Should I yell, or beg or attempt to shame them?  Should I tell them their vote really does matter even though nothing ever seems to change?  Should I tell them that all politicians are not crooked and many do truly care about the future of our community?

Or should I just ignore their cynicism, accept their ambivalence and speak to the people who do vote?

This is the question every person running for office must ask themselves.  Do I spend my limited time and resources speaking to non-voters, or to people that vote?

There is a fundamental rule of politics that goes something like this: “No matter how smart you are, no matter how hard you work and no matter how good you are in your heart, you cannot serve in public office without first getting elected.”

So, the answer of course seems obvious.  Candidates primarily focus on those who actually show up at the polls and vote.  Statistically this means old people, government workers, higher income demographics, and other specific groups with a defined history of regular voting.

Young people, low to moderate income earners, and new residents have the worst voting records of any demographic.  Consequently, they often get less attention from candidates. and less attention when it comes to public policy support and public funding priorities.

If low to moderate income earners voted in large numbers, affordable housing would be a mandate and not a political talking point that never seems to rise to the top of the priority list.  If young people became engaged and started voting in large numbers, our schools would be properly funded and there would be universal access made available to all residents who wanted to pursue a higher education.

If history repeats itself, which it normally does, the results of the 2018 Primary election that ends on August 11th, will be decided by only 30% of the voting population.

30% of the voting population will decide who makes the first cut for election to our County Council, and for the Mayor’s race.  State legislative races will begin and end at the Primary level, because there is no functioning Republican Party fielding candidates at the legislative level.  Some would say, WUWT?

The office of the Governor and the Lieutenant Governor will also to a great extent be determined in this upcoming Primary.

It is an inaccurate statement to say that the Primary will be decided by the 30% who vote.  The truth is that the 70% who choose to ignore the Primary election and stay home, are the ones really making the decision.

Please know that your vote can make a difference.  After running in 10 elections myself over the past 20 years, winning six and losing four, I know very clearly and sometimes painfully so, that every vote does indeed count.

The 2018 Primary election concludes on August 11th, but early voting is happening now!  Regardless of where you live in the State, you can vote now through August 9th, Monday through Saturday from 8am until 4pm.

For all statewide early voting locations – click here:

Do a little homework, search out information about the candidates, ask your friends and neighbors for their thoughts, then exercise your civic duty and vote.

If you are not registered to vote, that is not a problem either.  Simply bring in your Hawaii driverʻs license and they will register you on the spot and you can vote at the same time.

Those of you who are regular voters, please spread the word and encourage your friends, neighbors, and family members to vote early as well.

We are responsible for the quality of our government leadership.  By voting we take active ownership of that responsibility.  By not voting we are being neglectful and have no one to blame except ourselves for the conduct of our government and the condition of our community.

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Campaign Strategy, Status and Needs – 16 days left to win on August 11th

16 days from now the primary election will be over, and membership in the State House and Senate will be selected. To a great degree, the budget and policy direction of our State legislature will be set for the next two years.

Many of us, on every island, have been working and pushing very hard to support a wide selection of excellent candidates who have stepped up to serve.

It’s time for the last and final push. The candidates cannot let up, and neither can we.

The Pono Hawaii Initiative (PHI) has endorsed and is aggressively supporting, 6 candidates for the Senate, and 8 for the House.

All 14 are extremely electable, values centered, highly competent individuals, and all are campaigning hard in their districts.

If all were elected, that would without exaggeration turn the Hawaii State Legislature on its head. The days of big money and special interests controlling both budget and policy, would be greatly diminished.

Hawaii could then finally pass living wage and family leave legislation. Hawaii’s environment would receive the protections it deserves.  Affordable housing and education would be properly funded.  And the price tag would be paid by the restructuring of priorities and the shifting of the tax burden to the visitor industry and the top 1%.

These 14 all know very well that if we can find the money to fund rail, certainly we can find the money to fund education and affordable housing.

From my direct experience serving in the Hawaii State Senate for 8 years, 4 of which were as Majority Leader, I know even small numbers matter.  The truth is that any one of these candidates could as an individual, change the dynamics and alter the conversation of the legislative body to which they are elected.  Such is the nature of group dynamics at the legislature.  One person, can make a difference.

PHI working with non-coordinating partners across the State has already supported multiple direct mailings in support of many of these candidates, and we are now preparing to send out our last and final mailer consisting of over 30,000 targeted pieces.

However to complete this last element of our primary election strategy, we need to raise an additional $15,000.  Otherwise, that last piece will not be mailed.

Can you help?  In order for us to meet the printer deadline and get something in the mail in time to have an impact, the funds must be received prior to Monday July 30th.   All contributions, large and small are important and all will help.

If we fall short of our $15,000 goal we will scale back our effort. Our hope and goal of course is to exceed the goal, and do even more during these final days.  Contributions can be made online at:

or via mail at:

Pono Hawaiʻi Initiative

P.O. Box 871

Honolulu, HI 96808

Please help if you can.  Time is of the essence, and contributions must be received by Monday July 30th in order to impact the primary election and support this final push.


Gary Hooser – Executive Director, Pono Hawaii Initiative (PHI)


One of PHI’s endorsed candidates, Representative Matt LoPresti who is running for election to the Senate is being challenged by Alicia Maluafiti, a corporate lobbyist who was the former executive director for the Hawaii Crop Improvement Association (Monsanto, Dow, DuPont, Syngenta etc).  Needless to say she has been a strong opponent to any and all legislation that has been proposed to regulate the chemical companies. Clearly, the industry is targeting LoPresti for his support of Bill 3095 (banning chlorpyrifos) and attempting to send a message to other legislators, that if successful would have a chilling effect on our future attempts to regulate this industry.

We need to work especially hard to support Matt LoPresti who supported us when we needed him.  We cannot let the chemical companies win, and effectively punish a legislator for his support of legislation that regulates their industry.

Please help if you can:

*As always – I extend an open invitation to anyone who wants to meet in person, or on the telephone – just email me and we can set up a time that works for both of us.  gh

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Broken News: Kauai residents allowed to choose on removing term limits, but not on increasing affordable housing

Today will be a potpourri of housing policy and politics, relating to issues before the Kauai County Council.

The 3% for affordable housing proposed charter amendment that was introduced by Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura was shot down this past Wednesday by the Council majority.  It is interesting that Councilmember Ross Kagawa believes that voters are smart enough to remove term limits for him and his colleagues, but not smart enough to vote on budget priorities.  I found the argument made “that the setting of budget priorities is beyond the scope of regular voters” was a bit disingenuous.  In the past voters chose to create an “open space fund” via this same process.  This fund has been enormously successful, and has not adversely impacted the budget process one iota.

The question of whether this type of initiative should be done “by ordinance” or “by charter amendment”, is a valid one.  The ordinance is a route that allows for more budget flexibility and does in fact, at first glance, seem the more sensible route to take.  However the reality is that future councils may or may not place funding of affordable housing as a priority, and consequently there may or may not be the funds available for housing on a year to year basis.  More importantly, the “ordinance route” is not a “dedicated funding stream” which is needed to support the floating of long-term low interest bonds necessary to do large projects.

Dedicating 3% of property taxes to funding affordable housing via a charter amendment, would give the County instant access to over 50 million dollars that could be used tomorrow to begin a major affordable housing project (or projects).  Working in partnership with private non-profit affordable housing developers, and utilizing other federal and state matching funds, it is not unreasonable that this amount could double or triple via further leveraging.  In other words, Kauai could increase its affordable housing inventory significantly during our lifetime.

A budget ordinance may give the County Housing Agency 4 million dollars in any given year (based on the current proposal) if the Council during a given year, decides that housing is a priority.

So, the people can choose a path that grants them access to 50 million dollars today for affordable housing, or take a chance that future councils may or may not budget drips and drabs of funding.

Oh wait, the people will not have a choice, because the council voted down the measure and will not allow the matter to be on the ballot.  But you will be given the opportunity to choose to remove the existing term limits for councilmembers, and allow them to serve in perpetuity.

On other matters relating to housing: At the regular Wednesday meeting on August 18th, the Council will be discussing and voting on the up-zoning of Rice Street initiative introduced by Councilmember Brun (Bill 2687).

The broad scope of the testimony given during last week’s Public Hearing was thoughtful and consistent.  In general the testimony was in support of giving property owners the benefit of doubling their allowable density, IF there were measures in place to ensure that the increased density would be used for affordable housing.  It will be interesting if the Council acknowledges this important element, totally lacking now in the proposed ordinance.

Actually it’s bit worse than that.  The proposal now on the table does not even mention the word affordable in its existing language.

My complements to the increasing number of citizens getting involved in the process and showing up at the Council meetings. Please know that your voice is important, and please continue showing up. Bring a friend or neighbor with you next time. Or at the minimum, send an email to the council at:

It’s call civic engagement.  And to create and preserve the future our children and grandchildren deserve, we need more of it.

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