TV journalists try their hand at political office
By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau
More than a half-dozen former television reporters are running for political office this year. Some have already established themselves in local politics while others are just beginning to make the switch from reporting the news to making it.
Former KHON Channel 2 news executive producer and reporter Barbara Marshall is running for the Honolulu City Council. Former KHNL reporter Glenn Wakai is running for the state House, and former KGMB reporter Jerry Drelling is running for the state Senate. Former CNN and local TV and print journalist Dalton Tanonaka is running for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket.
Other elected officials with background in TV news include state Rep. Nestor Garcia, D-37th (Waipahu, Crestview) who is running for the City Council; Honolulu City Councilmember Jon Yoshimura, who is running for the same Senate seat as Drelling; and state Sen. Bob Hogue, R-24th (Kane'ohe, Kailua) who is seeking re-election. All three previously worked at KHON.
So what makes a journalist go from pursuing scoops to seeking votes?
Former KHON reporter Ray Lovell's "tongue-in-cheek theory" is that reporters "got frustrated with the way things seemed to happen in politics and decided to go in and try it themselves. And I think sometimes reporters may feel a little more equipped than other professions to do it because they covered (government and issues)."
"I kind of like the idea," said Lovell, who is working for Democratic gubernatorial candidate D.G. "Andy" Anderson. "They've looked at the world of politics from one side, hopefully as the public's representative as reporters, and they'd like to go on the inside and see how it really works."
Lovell also said TV reporters may be more likely to run for office than print reporters because "those people are used to being on camera and they're a little more comfortable doing that.
"People don't go into television news unless they're fairly comfortable with attracting attention," he said.
Hogue, a former KHON sportscaster who was elected to the Senate representing Kane'ohe and Kailua in 2000, said running for office is based on individual choice and that the Republican Party approached him after he left his television post.
He said it's merely coincidence that a chunk of local broadcast reporters are headed toward politics, but added that working in front of the camera does bring some benefits to a political campaign.
"I think it's pretty obvious that when it comes to politics, name recognition is key," he said. "And again it's obvious that when you work in the media you're going to have high name recognition. ... Because so many people are watching they get to know you."
Democrat Albert Perkins IV is running against Hogue.
Hogue said it isn't uncommon for reporters to make the transition to politics. He said the newsman who gave him his first TV job in Montana in 1977 left journalism to work for a congressman before running for and winning a seat in the state Legislature. The man later returned to journalism before jumping into another political race, he said.
Marshall, who is running for the City Council's Windward District 3 seat, has worked in other fields since she left KHON a year and a half ago. But she is largely known for her 21-year run as a reporter and executive producer.
"I've been critical of government for a long time and it was time to see if I could do anything about it," she said.
Marshall, who faces other candidates in the race such as former state Sen. Stan Koki, said she doesn't consider the group of former reporters-turned-candidates as "a class." She is intrigued that "there is an emphasis on people jumping from television because you don't see the emphasis on people jumping from insurance or law."
"I don't think it's any different from any concerned citizen who is in a position to watch how government operates and learn some of the things that are going on and take a real dislike to some of it," she said. "For me it was sort of a put up or shut up time."
But while she said deciding to run for office an option she said she never considered as a journalist was very difficult, there are a few high points to being on "the other side."
"I'll tell you, what's the most refreshing is being able to have an opinion," she said. "After 30-plus years of absolute neutrality and not being able to take a side, it feels kind of good to be able to say, 'Yeah this is what I believe. ... I think you're right and this guy is wrong.' "
Drelling, a former KGMB news anchor and reporter, agreed. He is running as a Democrat for the 12th Senate district that covers Kaka'ako, Ala Moana and Waikiki. Others running include Republican state Rep. Lei Ahu Isa and Democrats Yoshimura and Hawai'i Restaurant Association president Pat McCain.
"It's finally nice to get off the sidelines and get involved," said Drelling, who has opened a public relations consulting firm since leaving KGMB last year. "It's one thing to be out there covering the news and doing it 9 to 5, being objective. And that's great. But on the other hand, you know as a reporter when you go home, all you can do is what you put on the air and that's it. Now it's a little different because you can actually get involved."
Reach Lynda Arakawa at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 525-8070.