Schatz enters crowded race
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Brian Schatz, a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawai'i, announced yesterday that he will run for lieutenant governor, promising to bring change to a state government that he said is broken.
Schatz said he has executive experience as party chairman, chief executive of Helping Hands Hawai'i and as a leader of Barack Obama's presidential campaign in the Islands, along with legislative experience as a four-term state House representative from Makiki.
"We understand that Hawai'i's government is not working anymore. We need change," Schatz told supporters at his announcement at Kaka'ako Waterfront Park.
Schatz said the Lingle administration has spent too little attention to the details of running government, which he believes have led to mistakes such as the pending spike in unemployment insurance costs for businesses and teacher furloughs on classroom days.
"These are not problems of public policy, these are problems of someone who is not paying attention to the details of running the state government," he said.
Schatz said Hawai'i is in a unique position to benefit from federal dollars, with the Hawai'i-born Obama as president and U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. But he questioned whether the state is making the most of the relationships.
He said that if he is elected, he would create a state "Office of Federal Maximization" to attract additional federal money and to make sure the federal funds the state receives are put to best use.
Republican officials question how Schatz can claim state government is broken without faulting majority Democrats, who have controlled the state Legislature since statehood and the governor's office for 40 years before Linda Lingle was elected in 2002.
"If the people of Hawai'i want more of the same — increased taxes, inefficient spending and special interest union control of government — they will be excited about some of the Democrat candidates who have announced their run for public office," Jonah Ka'auwai, the state GOP chairman, said in a statement.
"However, it is clear that Hawai'i wants real change we can believe in, not empty promises. Democrats have held a majority for 50 years and Hawai'i's education system ranks third worst in the nation. We have the third highest housing costs in the nation and the highest electricity, food, gasoline and medical costs."
Schatz, 37, is a progressive who earned some establishment credentials as party chairman. He was among the early leaders of the Obama campaign in Hawai'i in 2008.
"He's got the depth, substance, smarts, charisma — everything," said Donna Hoshide, a retired legislative aide and event planner. "He is committed and he's passionate."
Honolulu City Councilman Nestor Garcia, who served with Schatz in the state House and, like Schatz, ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary in the 2nd Congressional District in 2006, described Schatz as capable and a quick study.
"He couples his intelligence with passion for what he believes in," Garcia said.
Schatz could be the last of the prominent Democrats to enter the primary for lieutenant governor.
The field already includes state Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, D-7th (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau); state Sen. Robert Bunda, D-22nd (North Shore, Wahiawä); state Sen. Norman Sakamoto, D-15th (Waimalu, Airport, Salt Lake); state Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, D-41st (Waipa- hu, Village Park, Waikele); and state Rep. Lyla Berg, D-18th (Kuli'ou'ou, Niu Valley, 'Äina Haina).