The State of Aloha

Two weeks ago I wrote about our governor’s race, which is already getting pretty public for the Democratic Party.

Our incumbent, Gov. David Ige, has made no bones about it: He’s seeking re-election. And this time he’s facing former Hawaii Senate President and perennial candidate Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa. That’s surely going to be a watchable race for junkies of politics.

The Republican side has not been as visible (at least in mainstream media). I wrote that House Minority leader Andria Tupola is the only candidate who will face off against the victor of the what is expected to be rough Ige-Hanabusa primary.

That’s where I went wrong. Another Republican candidate is running. His name is John Carroll. Carroll is a perennial GOP candidate. He’s been running as a Republican since the 1960s.

This is the 87-year-old’s third shot at the Governor’s Office. He ran for the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate (his last race was against Sen. Brian Schatz in 2016, and although he won his party’s nomination he was trounced in the general), the Honolulu City Council and the state Legislature. The only time he’s won was in the 1970s as a state representative and later a state senator.

Carroll says he wants to help businesses save money. His campaign material focuses primarily on the high cost of living in the islands and pledges to make serious changes. His public statements from campaigns past focus on no new taxes, less regulations of corporations and less international involvement.

His favorite issue seems to be getting Hawaii exempted from the Jones Act — a piece of legislation from the days of Woodrow Wilson that requires that ships carrying goods and passengers from one port in the United States to the other be made, crewed and owned by American companies and people. The irony in all of this is that the legislation comes from a protectionist, “America First” policy.

His message hasn’t seemed to have really changed over the years so perhaps he’s banking on a change of heart in the people. Perhaps we are finally ready to accept his truths in the general election.

But not without a fight.

Tupola wants to symbolize a different Republican Party. And she wants the Hawaii GOP to change. It’s easy to see why.

In 2016, when a Realtor-turned-reality-television-star became the nominee of the Republican Party, the Hawaii GOP held its convention in Waipahu.

Then-House Minority Leader Beth Fukumoto — a young, rising star for the right — took the stage and voiced her concerns about some of the racist and sexist messages from the presidential campaign trail. She urged the Hawaii GOP to “use a different tone and sound like we are from Hawaii.” After all, “Hawaii is not Texas, and we are never going to be.”

It didn’t go over well. The crowd yelled at her and told her to resign. They called her a “RINO” (a Republican in name only). They preferred the rousing speech of state Sen. Sam Slom, who wanted to “take it to the Democrats” that year.

Sure enough, the Republicans took Congress and the White House, but faired very, very poorly here in the islands. Slom ended up losing his seat in the Senate so now there are no more Republicans in that chamber.

Fukumoto, in the meantime, won her seat and attended the national Women’s March on Oahu, held the day after the president’s inauguration. She was later stripped of her leadership in the House by the members of her party. That’s when she quit.

“Republicans in the state Legislature and in party leadership sought to censure me for raising concerns about the treatment of women and minorities by politicians in power,” she wrote in a letter to her constituents last year. “They have also insisted that I stop working across the aisle and focus more on partisan politics. For these reasons, I am considering leaving the Republican Party and pursuing membership in the Democratic Party.”

Tupola took her place as the House minority leader (of five Republicans). She said it was time for the party to be more “positive.” Tupola herself attempted to rebrand the party by running as chair of the GOP, but lost. Now she’s running for governor. But still unclear is what she wants to do, her brand of politics, or what she would do differently than any other politician in the Governor’s Office.

Perhaps that will emerge later. After all, it’s still pretty early and this campaign season may be a long one.

* Ben Lowenthal is a trial and appellate lawyer who grew up on Maui. His email is “The State of Aloha” alternates Fridays with Sarah Ruppenthal’s “Neighbors.”