Republicans gunning for control of state House
|||Table: Republican rate of fielding candidates|
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
Once the party that conceded election races before they started, Hawai'i Republicans are making a strong push to field a candidate in every state House district and continue the inroads made in 2000.
With the July 23 candidate filing deadline approaching, Republicans have taken out nomination papers or filed to run in all but 12 of the 51 House races, and Hawai'i GOP Chairman Micah Kane said another half-dozen candidates are waiting in the wings.
Republicans are also eyeing races in traditionally Democrat-dominated districts the GOP has shied away from in the past, Kane said.
Two years ago the GOP gained seven additional House seats for a total of 19, despite not fielding candidates in 10 races.
"In the last election, it was tough to get people to change their lives to run for public office," Kane said. "But this time around, having a little bit more foundation, we're able to attract some really quality candidates."
The GOP's efforts have increased significantly over the past several elections. In 1990, it couldn't even field candidates in 33 of the 63 legislative races (51 House seats and 12 Senate seats were up that year).
By 1992 their numbers had dwindled to four Republicans in the House.
However, in 1998 Republicans had a candidate in 60 of the 64 legislative races. And for the first time in a generation, Republicans could realistically envision gaining a House majority.
Still, the GOP's track record for fielding candidates falls far behind the Democrats, who have dominated Hawai'i's political landscape for decades. From the 1982 to 2000 elections, the Democratic Party failed to field a candidate in only 13 of 642 state House and Senate races. Meanwhile, Republicans failed to field a candidate in 195 of those races.
The result is that the GOP was conceding many seats to Democrats. Kalihi Valley Democrat Rep. Dennis Arakaki, for example, has faced opposition only once since 1988.
But this year the GOP's push is clearly more urgent and significant. The Republicans are focusing on the House races because the party appears closer to reaching majority there. Republicans hold 20 seats in the 51-member House, following Nu'uanu Rep. Lei Ahu Isa's switch from the Democratic Party to the GOP this year.
But some GOP House members are leaving to run for other offices this year. Ahu Isa and Big Island Rep. Paul Whalen are running for the state Senate. Rep. Bob McDermott intends to run for Congress and House Minority Floor Leader Charles Djou who was reapportioned into the same district as fellow Windward Republican David Pendleton is running for the Honolulu City Council.
That leaves the Republicans with 16 incumbents in the House. But picking up 10 more House seats for a 26-member majority, while keeping Democrats away from the 16 already occupied by the GOP is no easy feat.
Kane said the GOP will be fielding candidates in House districts that have traditionally been Democratic territory, such as Pearl City.
"We're going to attempt to contest every race," Kane said. "We're going to compete in seats that we never really competed in. ... It's part of the strategy to help the top of the ticket. ... I think the best way the party can assist the governor's ticket is by really doing the grunt work and the grass-roots effort by contesting these lower seats."
Meanwhile, Republicans have so far pulled papers or filed to run in only 12 of the 25 Senate seats. Kane said he expects more to run for the Senate, but that a Senate race is more difficult and requires more resources because the districts are twice as large as those in the House. The chances of the GOP making a significant dent in the Senate is also slim, as only three of the 25 seats in the Senate are held by Republicans.
Concentrating on the House has always appeared to be the political game plan of Kane and Republican gubernatorial frontrunner and former GOP chairwoman Linda Lingle, said Hawai'i Democratic Party chairwoman Lorraine Akiba.
"In contrast to their concentrating on the gubernatorial and the House, we're going to field candidates in all races not just the major races, but the House, Senate and council races on all islands," she said.
Akiba pointed to some Republicans who have turned to the Democratic Party, such as gubernatorial candidate D.G. "Andy" Anderson and small businesswoman Cindy Rasmussen, a former Republican Senate candidate who has pulled nomination papers as a Democrat to run for the open Waikiki-Ala Moana-Kaka'ako district, which Ahu Isa also is running for.
So far Democrats have filed or taken out nomination papers to run in all but five House seats and one Senate seat, and Akiba said other party members may enter the races.