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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 22, 2002

Four incumbents feeling unions' anger

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

One of the few long voter lines for yesterday's primary election was found at Star of the Sea. Turnout was light statewide. By midafternoon, only 23 percent of the state's 667,679 registered voters had gone to the pools. "We are behind the voter turnout in past elections," said Rex Quidilla, state Office of Elections spokesman.

Jeff Widener • The Honolulu Advertiser

Four Democratic senators lost their seats last night in what appeared to be a strong statement from the public worker unions.

In the House, Democratic Reps. Terry Yoshinaga and Nobu Yonamine lost to two other Democratic colleagues in races affected by reapportionment.

Sens. Jan Buen, Jonathan Chun, David Matsuura and Bob Nakata lost in hotly contested races. The four, who have angered public worker unions by voting for privatization and public employees' health fund reform make up the tight-knit faction led by Senate Vice President Colleen Hanabusa of Wai'anae. All five were first elected in 1998.

It was clear the public worker unions were displeased with the five senators. The Hawai'i Government Employees Association and Hawai'i State Teachers Association did not endorse them, and in some races supported their opponents. Hanabusa did not have a primary election opponent.

The senators' votes to oust popular Attorney General Margery Bronster in 1999 also were dredged up in some races. Bronster spoke at campaign functions for a couple of the senators' opponents.

"These public unions went all out to really target our races," said Maui's Buen. Buen, 59, was replaced by Shan Tsutsui, a 31-year-old financial adviser. Only Democrats ran for the seat, so Tsutsui won outright to represent the Kahului Senate district.

"I think the public unions did come out with a lot of negative kind of campaigning, and it's very unfortunate because it just hurts their own membership," Buen said.

Matsuura, 39, lost his race to fellow state Democratic Sen. Lorraine Inouye, 62, by a large margin. Reapportionment put the two in the same district, which includes Hamakua and South Hilo, an area currently represented largely by Inouye.

Inouye said constituents appeared to judge the candidates on two issues: "death with dignity" legislation to allow terminally ill patients to end their own lives, and the Bronster vote. Inouye supported the "death with dignity" bill and Bronster's nomination, while Matsuura opposed both. Inouye, who also supported privatization and public employee health fund reform, said the public worker issues did not dominate the campaign.

"It really became a personality issue; our style of leadership," she said. Matsuura could not be reached for comment.

Inouye will face Republican Charles W. Clarke, a 60-year-old Waimea real estate figure, in the general election.

Chun, 45, lost to Gary Hooser, a 48-year-old president of a publishing firm and member of the Kaua'i County Council. Hooser goes on to the general election to face Republican Rosie Holt to represent Kaua'i-Ni'ihau.

Nakata, 61, was defeated by Melodie Aduja, a 42-year-old lawyer in the 23rd district covering Kane'ohe and Kahuku. Aduja will advance to the general election to face Republican Lacene Terri and perennial candidate Solomon Nalua'i, who is running as a nonpartisan.

Nakata said public worker unions were targeting him "to some extent" because of his vote to limit how much the state will pay for health benefits.

"What we heard is that efforts were made to — how should I put it — to influence the outcome of the election," he said. "The HSTA formally took a position of hands-off, but I think there were at least individual members who had very strong feelings, so I think on their own worked against my election."

In other Senate races, Democratic Sen. Brian Kanno beat Ho-nolulu City Council Chairman John DeSoto by a large margin for the 19th district covering Kapolei, Makakilo and Waikele. Kanno will face Republican Gerald Nakata.

Democratic state Rep. Willie Espero won the race for the new 20th Senate district covering 'Ewa Beach and Waipahu, beating Tesha Malama. Espero will become the district's senator, as no other political party participated in the race.

Honolulu City Councilman Jon Yoshimura, a Democrat, defeated Pat McCain in the highly contested race for the new Senate district covering Waikiki, Ala Moana and Downtown,while Republican Gordon Trimble beat state Rep. Lei Ahu Isa.

In House races pitting incumbents against each other, Rep. Scott Saiki defeated Yoshinaga by a large margin to represent the 22nd district, despite his reform efforts that angered public worker unions. Portions of both incumbents' former districts have been combined to create the newly redrawn McCully-Pawa'a district. Saiki will face Republican Christopher Kelly in the general election.

In Pearl City, Democratic Rep. Roy Takumi beat Yonamine. Takumi and Yonamine were put into the same district by reapportionment, and Yonamine had already represented most of the new district. Takumi will face Republican Chris Prendergast in the general election.

In other House races, 27-year-old attorney Jon Karamatsu defeated 61-year-old Annette Yamaguchi, 61, executive director of the YMCA of Honolulu in the race for the district covering Waipahu, Village Park and Waikele. Karamatsu will represent the district, because only Democrats ran for the seat.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.