Tsutsui running his first statewide race

Shan Tsutsui is trying to make political history this election year by becoming the first Mauian elected as lieutenant governor.

In December 2012, he ascended to the lieutenant governor’s office, but that came by appointment, not via the ballot box. To keep the state’s second highest office, Tsutsui needs to defeat four rivals Saturday for the Democratic nomination.

They are Oahu Sen. Clayton Hee, former TV reporter Mary Zanakis, Miles Shiratori of Kaneohe and Sam Puletasi of Ewa Beach, Oahu.

The winner of the Democratic nomination will advance to the Nov. 4 general election, joining with the winner of the gubernatorial race to form the party’s ticket. The Republican primary includes Elwin Ahu and Warner Kimo Sutton.

The Independent Party lieutenant governor nominee is Les Chang and the Libertarian is Cynthia Marlin.

This is Tsutsui’s first statewide race. So far, he’s received numerous endorsements, including nods from Gov. Neil Abercrombie and House Speaker Joe Souki.

In June, a Civil Beat poll put Tsutsui 12 percentage points ahead of Hee, a longtime lawmaker believed to have better name recognition on Oahu. Other lieutenant governor candidates were not included in the voter survey.

Last month, state campaign spending reports showed Tsutsui had raised more money and had outspent Hee, while no other lieutenant governor candidates reported collecting or spending anything close to the two front-runners.

In the run-up to Saturday’s primary election, the candidates shared their vision for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor as well as their views on issues.

Tsutsui, 42, of Wailuku served as Central Maui’s senator from 2002 to 2012. In December 2012, Abercrombie appointed him as lieutenant governor, replacing Brian Schatz who was tapped to fill the seat of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who died Dec. 17, 2012.

Tsutsui said his vision for the office is “to build a bright future for Hawaii through working closely to support the administration and to complement the administration’s work through special programs and initiatives.”

“It’s necessary to be well-informed of operations and issues of the executive departments to ensure the ability to fulfill the governor’s duties if he/she is absent, such as last year when I was serving as acting governor and the federal government shutdown occurred,” Tsutsui said. “I worked with the Cabinet to ensure federally funded state services/programs were uninterrupted.”

Tsutsui said he’s also focusing on special initiatives and programs, including the REACH Program that provides after-school programs for middle and intermediate school students. (REACH stands for Resources for Enrichment, Athletics, Culture and Health.) “I believe we can make a difference in the lives of our keiki today and well into the future. The positive impacts of REACH will help to build a sustainable education and workforce pipeline for Hawaii,” he said.

Hee, 61, of Kaneohe has represented Windward and Central Oahu residents in the state Senate since 1984. From 1982 to 1984, he represented Molokai, Lanai and West Maui residents in the state House. He’s also been a trustee for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

As for his vision for the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, Hee said he’d be more proactive and work with officials in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, county councils, the Legislature and with Hawaii’s congressional delegation.

“I believe a proactive lieutenant governor can be a catalyst on issues such as homelessness, invasive species and expanding locally grown agriculture, issues of reconciliation between the federal government and the state government on Hawaiian issues and issues relating to animal welfare,” he said. “To do so would require a track record of accomplishments as an elected official and the strong desire to convince the governor of the importance of these issues that must be addressed.”

Zanakis, 55, of Kailua was a TV reporter for 23 years. This is her first political campaign.

She said that the Office of Lieutenant Governor could do more.

“I would like to focus on the education woes. I want to collaborate with the people in the trenches,” she said. “All kids are not created equal, and we cannot expect them to excel at the same speed. A child coming from a loving home with money for weekend movies and plenty of food in the refrigerator will absorb lessons much differently than children who are slapped around and raised in a drug-filled environment.

Zanakis proposed using “bright, enthusiastic, eager college students who are majoring in education.” The college students could “work with certain children in exchange for college credits,” she said. “Hands-on training along with individualized student attention, it’s a win-win situation and would cost the taxpayer nothing.”

Shiratori, 60, is a real estate investor and a U.S. Army veteran of Vietnam.

Shiratori said there’s much that the lieutenant governor could do to alleviate some of the burden from the governor.

“I would have a conference with the governor and convince him to render some of the duties over to the lieutenant governor’s office, such as working on issues like the elderly,” he said. “I know personally what our kupuna’s needs are. I know compassion, caring and dedication. I know the problems of the elderly. I was my parents’ caregiver for 14 years.”

Shiratori said he wants to see affordable prescription drugs, housing and reasonable long-term elderly health care, and he said he wants to work on reducing homelessness. “I would put them up at Barbers Point and address the education problems that we have,” he said.

Puletasi grew up in American Samoa. He said he’s fluent in Samoan and understands Spanish, Filipino and Mandarin. He’s a former Immigration and Naturalization Services special agent and a Samoan chief.

He said he has helped Samoans in trouble, and “I am familiar with public housing and the homeless.” Puletasi said his solution to homelessness is to buy airline tickets home for people who have traveled to Hawaii and became homeless.

“We need to ship any of them who are willing to go,” he said. “It is a fact that a number of states are sending poor and homeless on one-way tickets to Hawaii. They should get them back.”

The Republican nomination for lieutenant governor is being sought by Ahu, 59, senior pastor of New Hope Metro and executive pastor of New Hope Oahu; and Sutton, 61, an entrepreneur and financial analyst. Both are Honolulu residents.

Ahu said that if he were elected lieutenant governor, he would provide a plan “to stand up for our families, freedoms and future.”

“I believe parents need to be available for their children, but that is greatly affected by their need to work sometimes multiple jobs to make ends meet,” he said. “Government must serve the people by reducing the cost of living, including a critical review of Hawaii’s health care systems.”

Ahu said constitutional freedoms have come under attack recently, and he would protect citizens’ rights under the state and federal constitutions.

To develop future leadership, he proposes to establish a Youth Leadership Commission “to build young leaders that can champion the challenges Hawaii faces.”

Sutton said he would work with former Republican Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona (who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor) to bring “trust, respect and balance to the people of Hawaii.”

He calls for reform of the elections process and wants to help “houseless” people with more compassion and not just label them “homeless.” The judicial system can assist homeless people by sending them to proper agencies with a court order, he said. “Maybe we can reduce the overwhelming numbers on the streets and beaches who are not bad but just in need,” he said.

Chang and Marlin are unopposed for their party nominations.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.

**Editor’s note: This story is a continuation of Maui News coverage of contested election races for state and county political offices. The primary election is Saturday. Winners advance to the Nov. 4 general election.