Election spotlight on No. 2 spot
By David Shapiro
In the governor's race, both political parties should look at a strong running mate.
The governor's race is the marquee event in next year's election, but savvy voters should also keep a close watch on the contest for lieutenant governor.
Hawai'i's lieutenant governor is a superfluous position of little importance except that it has been an almost-certain ticket to the governor's mansion for a quarter-century. Hawai'i's past three governors have been promoted from lieutenant governor, and incumbent Mazie Hirono is battling Jeremy Harris and Linda Lingle to follow Gov. Ben Cayetano and make it a four-peat.
In national politics, voters seldom look to the ceremonial No. 2 spot or the legislative branch for executive leadership. George Bush the Elder was the only sitting vice president elected president in modern times, and John F. Kennedy in 1960 was the last sitting member of Congress elected president.
In Hawai'i, all of our recent governors have been former No. 2's who came to that office from the legislative branch often from the back bench. Top legislative achievers have little interest in a job that means four or eight years of sitting quietly on the sidelines.
This is no knock on Hirono. She and other lieutenant governors have played by the rules. They didn't invent a system that more resembles a succession ladder for selecting country club officers than an electoral process.
Other states breed executives by giving lieutenant governors enough responsibility to draw top candidates. They allow up-and-coming leaders to test their wings in other elected executive offices, such as attorney general and state treasurer.
In Hawai'i, we centralize power by appointing rather than electing when we can get away with it. We value seniority and don't like to turn away nice people who have waited their turn, regardless of ability and accomplishment. We pass resign-to-run laws to discourage competition for top offices.
The 2002 race for lieutenant governor is led on the Democratic side by state Sens. Avery Chumbley, Matt Matsunaga and Ron Menor, who all clean up nicely and respectably would balance a ticket with either Hirono or Harris. But none are bold leaders who stand out as most rightful heirs to Washington Place. There's no executive experience among them and they would gain none as lieutenant governor.
Also testing the waters are Hono-lulu Councilmen Jon Yoshimura and John DeSoto and Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Clayton Hee. Their candidacies speak to the low standing of the office. Will voters really transport the dysfunction and skullduggery that has marked the Council and OHA under the leadership of these three to the top floor of the state Capitol?
On the Republican side, state Sen. Bob Hogue and Rep. Charles Djou think they're ready to be next in line for governor after serving one year each in the Legislature. Rep. David Pendleton has been around for five years, but hasn't done much to make a name for himself.
Oswald Stender, a recently elected OHA trustee and former Bishop Estate whistle-blower, is thinking of jumping in on the GOP side. He is a community elder of proven character and extensive business experience, who could be an asset to the ticket and the administration. But he has never been tested politically and it remains to be seen whether he has the stomach for it.
In a tight race for governor, the No. 2 spots on the tickets could make the difference. Both political parties would be well advised to field candidates of unquestioned gubernatorial quality.
There are 5,000 reasons to explain why Lingle came up 5,000 votes short in her 1998 bid to unseat Cayetano, but her weak running mate Stan Koki was definitely one of them.
David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org