Iwase first Democrat to challenge Lingle
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Derrick DePledge
Former Mililani state Sen. Randall Iwase declared his candidacy in the Democratic primary for governor yesterday, promising he would be guided by the values of equality, opportunity and fairness, and dismissing Republican Gov. Linda Lingle's record as public relations over substance.
Introduced with a hug and kiss from his wife, Jan, on the lawn in front of Kaimuki High School, Iwase said young people today have the same dreams of a good job and home ownership as he and his friends had when he graduated from the school more than four decades ago.
"But they face the harsh reality of the present" Iwase said. "They are being priced out of paradise."
Iwase, who said he would resign as the chairman of the state Labor and Industrial Relations Appeals Board for the campaign, is the first Democrat to enter the race after a lengthy search by the Democratic Party of Hawai'i for a candidate to challenge the popular and well-financed Lingle. But the party did not endorse Iwase yesterday and, while Hawai'i Teamsters members were present when the candidate made his announcement influential labor unions also are keeping their options open.
Big Island Mayor Harry Kim has not ruled out a campaign for governor, and Democrats believe others might still be interested.
Iwase described himself as an underdog, and his lack of name recognition and relatively late entry could limit his ability to raise money against Lingle, who hopes to raise $6 million for her re-election. Even if no other Democrat enters the race, Iwase will have to attract money, resources and attention from many of the same Democrats choosing sides in the unexpected primary campaign for the U.S. Senate between U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka and U.S. Rep. Ed Case.
"The Republican incumbent has a record of promises unfulfilled. A record that does not merit another four years," Iwase said of Lingle. "As one editorial writer put it, it is a record based on ceremony and not on substance. She is frozen by the Republican view that government's purpose is to support big business. That's good for her because she gets a lot of campaign money, from here and from the Mainland.
"Our campaign will expose the pesky realities behind the huge public-relations firm called the governor's office."
Iwase said Lingle should return Mainland campaign donations that would have been prohibited under a new campaign-finance law that was approved by the state Legislature last year and took effect this month. The law limits Mainland donations to no more than 20 percent of money raised during each campaign reporting period. The governor, who held several Mainland fund-raisers late last year, had dismissed a similar suggestion by U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie a few months ago because her fundraising was legal.
Iwase also challenged the governor to a series of debates. "I think people are sick and tired of having elections bought," he said of the use of campaign commercials and direct mail over debates.
Lingle told television reporters yesterday that issues such as education, affordable housing, energy independence and sustaining the state's strong economy would likely come up during the campaign. In a written statement later, she wished Iwase well.
"Once our opponents are chosen by the voters, Lt. Gov. (James 'Duke') Aiona and I look forward to a spirited fall campaign," Lingle said. "We expect it to be a positive campaign that focuses on important issues, and which highlights our ongoing initiatives to fulfill our commitment to make life better for all the people of our state."
Sam Aiona, the state's GOP chairman, said the party would likely not focus on Iwase until it appears he will be the nominee. "No matter who emerges in the primary, we'll be ready to defend the good record she has," he said.
Neil Milner, a political science professor at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa, said any Democratic candidate starts in a good position because of the party's dominance of state politics over the past half-century. But he said Iwase is not well-known statewide and will have to excite Democratic loyalists to have any chance.
"He darn well better appeal to the Democratic base," Milner said. "After that, everything is gravy."
Iwase has already aligned himself with Akaka and the party's establishment in the internal struggle with Case, which could help him with some core Democrats but cut badly if Democrats and independents gravitate toward Case. The congressman has said the party's difficulty in finding a quality candidate for governor is part of a larger problem of discouraging competition and failing to groom younger Democrats for a changing Hawai'i.
CANDIDATES CAN'T WAIT
Abercrombie, who attended Iwase's announcement, said Iwase has experience at both the Honolulu City Council and the Legislature. He said Democrats should also consider that Iwase is the first candidate willing to step up for what is expected to be a tough campaign.
"The Legislature's under way. And if you haven't declared by now for the governorship, at least as far as I'm concerned in my political position, I think that you're undermining your own possibilities," Abercrombie said. "So the fact that he's stepped forward now, I think, is something we have to take into account from a practical point of view."
Brickwood Galuteria, the party's chairman, has had to be careful over the past week to stay officially neutral. But he disagreed with the idea the party has stifled competition or has been resistant to change.
"The party still actually has its doors open and will welcome anybody," Galuteria said of other candidates. "If Sen. Iwase emerges, then it's all systems go from the party."
Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com.