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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, June 10, 2001

Be prepared for election tsunami

By Jerry Burris
Advertiser Editorial Editor

Political pop quiz: What do Big Island Mayor Harry Kim and U.S. Sens. Dan Inouye and Daniel Akaka have in common?

In 2002, they will be the only regular political office-holders in Hawai'i who will not be running for election.

Yes, there will be a few incumbents on the state School Board and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs who are not up for office in 2002. But otherwise, every political office in the state beyond those three will be up for grabs.

Every. Single. One.

Some fear that this sweeping electoral turnover will simply put the same old faces in new places. That is, state legislators will move to the county council, council members will find their way to the Legislature and so forth.

But the very magnitude of the election scene next year suggests there may be more profound changes in store.

A number of historical quirks create the clean-sweep picture. It begins with a term-limit law at Honolulu City Council. Seven of the nine seats will be filled with new council members; the other two seats are held by interim members Romy Cachola and Gary Okino, but even they will have to stand for election.

At the Legislature, all 76 members will be forced to run. Normally, half of the state Senate sits out each election cycle to provide a degree of continuity. But because of reapportionment, all 25 senators will run — some for two-year terms and others for four-year terms.

The entire 51-member House will run, as usual.

Both U.S. Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Patsy Mink will have to stand for re-election, as they do every two years.

The office of mayor of Honolulu would not normally be up in 2002, but because of a resign-to-run law, incumbent Jeremy Harris will have to step down because he is running for governor.

On the Neighbor Islands, the mayorships of Kaua'i and Maui are up, as are the county councils on Hawai'i, Maui and Kaua'i.

What we are left with, then, is a once-in-a-lifetime case where the nearly the entire political structure of the state will face the voters at the same time.

To make things even more intriguing, this tsunami of an election will take place against the backdrop of newly reapportioned electoral districts: The very political landscape itself will be redrawn. That means a fair number of voters will find themselves hearing from candidates they never before encountered.

Who knows what this historic electoral shake-up will produce?

For starters, it will produce an unprecedented amount of campaign fund-raising and spending. The well of political cash in Hawai'i will be sucked bone-dry next year.

Already, it's not unusual to see $100,000 or considerably more being dropped on a state Senate or Honolulu City Council race, and the tab just goes up from there. The amounts that will be spent on capturing the Honolulu mayor's office and governor will be astronomical.

The job for voters will be to take all the spending and campaign hoopla with a jaundiced eye. They will have an unprecedented opportunity in 2002 to reshape Hawai'i's political world if they just pay attention.

Jerry Burris is editor of the editorial pages of The Advertiser. You can reach him through letters@honoluluadvertiser.com.