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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 29, 2002

Political fallout raises hopes and doubts

 •  Hawai'i, nation lose 'a powerful voice'
 •  Mink remembered for her resolve, integrity
 •  What happens next?
 •  A photo retrospective
 •  Editorial: Patsy Mink: A true champion of the people
 •  Ferd Lewis: Mink paved way for female athletes to get in game
 •  Send your tributes, condolences

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The death of U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink means Hawai'i will now have two elections for the same seat in Congress, the first a poignant but meaningless tribute to Mink and the second a potentially bruising contest between Democratic Party heavyweights.

A strong voice for civil rights, Patsy Mink can still win election to the 2nd District seat, setting the stage for a fresh contest and a new slate of contenders.

Advertiser library photo • 1990

Democratic and Republican leaders said yesterday it was too soon to talk about the political fallout from Mink's death and what they would do about the suddenly open congressional seat. Party officials and political experts interviewed yesterday said they expected Mink would easily win the Nov. 5 election, which would set the stage for a special election within four months.

"This is not the way that most of us would like to end our careers, but I hope that the people of Hawai'i honor her with their vote," U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye told reporters last night.

As some voters questioned whether Mink's condition was worse than reported earlier in the campaign, voting for her now might be awkward for the Democrats, who already are being accused of manipulating the election by keeping the bad news quiet until after the primary.

"Essentially, people are not voting for Patsy — they're voting for a new election," said University of Hawai'i political science professor Ira Rohter. "How do you say 'none of the above'? Well, the way you say 'none of the above' is you say OK, I vote for Patsy."

Few people said yesterday they believed Mink's death would swing a significant number of votes to her opponent, state Rep. Bob McDermott. The district is overwhelmingly Democratic and McDermott has not been able to mount a strong campaign.

"We have no choice," said state Senate President Robert Bunda, a Democrat. "It is an unfortunate situation that she has passed. By way of the law, yes, we're going to have to vote for somebody, either McDermott or Patsy Mink. I will vote for Patsy Mink."

As for the special election, few believe the 2nd District seat, which has been in Democratic hands since statehood, would go to a Republican.

However, with a slim, 14-vote majority in the House and two seats open, it's possible the Republicans would invest in a strong candidate, especially if the outcome of the November elections cut their margin further.

Among the names suggested to replace Mink in Democratic political circles are Ed Case, the state representative who lost the Democratic gubernatorial primary by about 2,600 votes; state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa, who lost a chunk of her Senate faction in the primary election; former Honolulu City Councilman Mufi Hannemann; and former Gov. John Waihee. State Sen. Matt Matsunaga, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, is also being mentioned.

Political observers have speculated that whoever loses the governor's race — Democrat Mazie Hirono or Republican Linda Lingle — might be an attractive candidate for the congressional race because of name recognition and campaign machines already in place.

"I think we can get some good talent from both the Democratic and Republican side, and the voters will have a choice from what is the A-team," Rohter said.

Hawai'i Pacific University political science professor Greg Gaydos said he believed some politicians would be quietly considering how they would do in the race.

"No one will talk about this, but everyone will do their private polling to see whether or not they have enough name recognition," Gaydos said.

While some voters may feel manipulated or disillusioned by the Mink affair, it's not clear that would have much of an impact on a special election.

"There's an uneasy feel that something's not right," but it's not going to affect the outcome, Gaydos said.

Some of Mink's constituents had mixed feelings yesterday, and many said they suspected Mink's condition was more serious than reported. Some said they believed Mink's family and the Democratic Party weren't forthcoming because they wanted to maneuver candidates into place.

Kane'ohe resident Miki Maeshiro, 42, said she felt betrayed and that the family should have revealed her condition before the primary.

"I didn't vote for her for that reason," Maeshiro said. "She should have pulled out before the primary."

Kailua resident Dale Coarsey, 36, said she suspected the family knew of Mink's deteriorating condition, but they may have hoped for the best.

"Whenever a family member gets sick, you're always hopeful," Coarsey said. "I imagine they were very hopeful, but it's disappointing if they totally knew and kept it a secret because it hurts the process."

A former aide to Mink said there is a responsibility to keep voters informed so they can make proper decisions. Pepe Trask, 50, of Anahola, a summer intern in Mink's Washington office in 1972, said he supported her, voted for her and now worries about who will represent the district.

"The right of the public to know supercedes that of the family's interests, especially in the condition she was in. From a voter's perspective, they have a right to know," said Trask, a lifelong Democrat.

Hilo resident Jennie Kinney said she was not concerned about the secrecy surrounding Mink's health.

Mink's condition, she said, was "a patient and family" matter.

Advertiser staff writers Eloise Aguiar, Dan Nakaso, Jan TenBruggencate and Hugh Clark contributed to this report.