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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Aiona breaks free of the leash

By Lee Cataluna

James "Duke" Aiona finally brought the doughnuts.

Thus far, the lieutenant governor's campaign for governor has been soft-focused and uninspired. In his two terms as Linda Lingle's No. 2, he hasn't distinguished himself as a decisive leader-in-training gearing up to get in the game. Most times, his duties have been little more than old-fashioned, first-lady type speeches about healthy living and staying in school. Lingle didn't let him off the leash. Now perhaps he's chewed through the rope.

Last week, Aiona issued a statement breaking with his boss on a major issue: support for the Akaka bill.

This came after Lingle sent letters to every U.S. senator saying she could not support the current bill.

"Although I believe the original plan to negotiate first makes more sense, my administration has tried to work with the Hawai'i Congressional delegation on the new structure to establish governing powers first, with negotiations to follow. ... Ultimately, although we had good and productive discussions, the current draft of the bill is not one I can support," Lingle said.

This is reminiscent of 2001 when Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono brought doughnuts to striking public school teachers. The set-up is the same: the beleaguered second term of the governor is winding down, the lieutenant governor is not considered a shoo-in in the upcoming election and an opportunity presents itself to break free. For Hirono, it was the HSTA strike. She walked the picket line and brought them pastries.

Gov. Ben Cayetano played it off publicly like she was entitled to her own opinion, but in his memoir, he talks about how Hirono's actions hurt him: "Put in simplistic terms, her walking the picket line was about as appropriate as a backup quarterback cheering for the opposing team."

Of course, Hirono fumbled her gubernatorial bid that year, but ultimately made her way to Congress. Her calculated break with Cayetano's stubborn stance on the teachers contract has remained one of her most memorable career moments, almost as dramatic as when she weirdly dropped out of the governor's race to run for Honolulu mayor and then tried to reverse that reversal.

Aiona's break with Lingle is not as defiant as what Hirono did. He pulled his punch, saying his support for the bill is with reservations, and that he shares valid objections to the current draft. But still, it is a signal that he's off the leash and in the game.