Kawananakoa eager for comeback
By Johnny Brannon
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Johnny Brannon
Quentin Kawananakoa has had his ups and downs in politics, but the lawyer, former state representative and heir to the Campbell Estate fortune said his desire to serve Hawai'i has never waned.
Neither has his conviction that the state needs a Republican counter-balance to the Democratic Party and the power it has long enjoyed, he said.
Kawananakoa was a rising Republican star when he won election to the state House in 1994, representing the 26th District (Punchbowl-Pauoa). He was a hard-charging opponent of tax increases and won re-election in 1996 by a landslide of 77 percent, then launched a campaign for Congress in 1998 to represent urban O'ahu.
He was favored to win the Republican nomination for Congress but abandoned the race less than one month before the primary election, citing hypertension and other health problems.
Nowadays, Kawananakoa is highly polished and radiates confidence, and said he's in excellent health. The Lanikai resident hopes to become the first Republican to ever represent Hawai'i's 2nd Congressional District, which includes Central, Leeward, Windward and North Shore O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands.
Kawananakoa's opponent in the Sept. 23 Republican primary election is state Sen. Bob Hogue. Ten Democrats also are competing for their party's nomination. Winners from each party will face off in the Nov. 7 general election.
Kawananakoa said tax cuts and privatization of government operations are among his top priorities, but that he also is keenly interested in such issues as alternative energy production.
One of his ideas is to seek $500 million in federal money to build a major ocean thermal energy conversion plant. That could make Hawai'i a world leader in energy self-sufficiency with clean, innovative technology, he said.
Such a government-funded project would not necessarily conflict with his preference for privatization, or undermine existing private energy producers, he insisted. Tax credits and other incentives could also help the private sector modernize public utilities, he said.
Kawananakoa said he strongly favors federal recognition of Native Hawaiians but does not believe the recognition bill authored by Democratic U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka will ever be passed. Recognition would stand a better chance if Hawai'i's congressional delegation included a Republican, he said.
Kawananakoa was born in Honolulu and is a descendant of Hawaiian royalty. His great-grandfather was Prince David Kawananakoa — who was a cousin of King David Kalakaua — and his great-grandfather's brother was Prince Jonah Kuhio Kalaniana'ole.
Some Hawaiians also consider Quentin Kawananakoa a prince and heir to the Hawaiian monarchy, but he said he neither claims nor rejects the title and it has never been formally bestowed on him. Such a title would be honorific, rather than a source of actual political power, except in the sense that it emphasizes heritage and Island roots, he said.
"I don't allude to myself in that fashion, but I certainly am proud of my forefathers who in fact were of the royal family," he said. "But today what we have is perhaps a remembrance of our culture, and in that respect, I think many Hawaiians do recognize that we do come from our prior ali'i family lines."
Kawananakoa stands to gain an estimated $25 million when the Estate of James Campbell is transformed next year from a $2.3 billion trust to a new entity that's expected to be one of Hawai'i's largest privately held companies. He said he will be a shareholder, but he does not expect to work directly for the firm regardless of whether he's elected to Congress.
He's collected sizable campaign contributions from estate trustees and beneficiaries, and said he expects to spend up to $1 million on the race, including personal loans. He had loaned his campaign a total of $349,000 by last week, and had raised $185,000 more from donors, according to a report filed yesterday with the Federal Election Commission. Hogue, by contrast, had raised slightly more than $70,000 in donations.
But Kawananakoa laughs when others suggest that he has unlimited resources and said he does not expect to win with money alone. "People ask me all the time, 'Don't you come from a rich family, and aren't you just buying an election?' " he said. "And I have to tell people that old Chinese saying: 'With great fortune comes great responsibility.' I recognize that, and that's my passion for running, to be able to serve our islands."
Kawananakoa's views, background, good looks and resources have caught the attention of some Washington, D.C., Republicans.
"Quentin Kawananakoa is someone who we believe is flying below the radar right now but has a chance to really make a big push for this seat," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Alex Burgos.
The group works across the nation on behalf of Republicans running for Congress but does not typically endorse candidates in primary races. It's clear that the committee favors Kawananakoa in this race, however.
"To begin with, it's the resources he brings to this race," Burgos said of Kawananakoa's appeal. "He's a former elected official, and it's certainly an interesting personal tale, the fact that he is (an) heir to the Hawai'i throne as well."
Kawananakoa is also "a very telegenic candidate, and someone who, as he is communicating his message to Hawai'i voters, comes across very well in terms of TV. He's a very articulate spokesman for Hawai'i values."
Kawananakoa's demonstrated ability to raise lots of campaign cash and draw on his own money also has been noted.
"Anytime a candidate has personal wealth he or she can delve into, it's certainly another advantage that they bring to their campaign," Burgos said.
Kawananakoa also has a past that's been used against him.
He was arrested for cocaine possession outside a Waikiki nightclub in 1988, when he was a student at the University of Hawai'i, and he later pleaded guilty to a single felony count. He was granted a deferred acceptance of his plea — a form of probation common for first offenders facing similar charges — and stayed out of trouble after that. The case was dismissed after less than three years, leaving his record free of convictions.
During that time, he attended law school and performed an externship for Hawai'i Supreme Court Associate Justice Frank Padgett, for whom he served as law clerk after graduating.
An anonymous source tipped reporters about Kawananakoa's cocaine case when he first ran for the state House in 1994, but he weathered the resulting publicity and does not duck questions about the matter.
He said he had used cocaine for "a very short time" after falling in with a fast crowd but has refrained from illegal drugs ever since.
"Yes, I made a mistake, but it may have been the best thing that ever happened to me, because it put me on the right track right away, and I think I've done the best with my life that I can," he said.