Hawaii economy, education at top of Hannemann's campaign list
• Photo gallery: Hannemann to run for governor
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann said his campaign in the Democratic primary for governor will stress issues such as education, economic recovery and sustainability, but he also said his personal values and roots growing up in Kalihi would shape his vision.
Hannemann, who declared his candidacy yesterday at a rally at Fern Elementary School, which he attended, said he could help fulfill the promise that Hawai'i is "capable of producing home-grown leaders."
"We are leaderless at this point," he told reporters afterward. "The economy is in the tank. The educational system has become an embarrassment.
"And I'm willing to take that executive leadership style that I've demonstrated of bringing people together, Democrats, Republicans, conservatives, liberals, young and old, rich and poor.
"And that's what we need right now."
Hannemann, who has been fundraising and organizing his campaign for nearly a year, will face former Congressman Neil Abercrombie in the September primary. The mayor will not file papers until just before the July deadline because he must resign from Honolulu Hale once he becomes an official candidate.
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona is the leading Republican candidate for governor.
Hannemann raised $2.3 million for his campaign through December, compared to $1.3 million for Abercrombie, and has picked up several major endorsements, including the backing of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union.
But the mayor and the former congressman have only engaged each other sporadically over the past year, mostly through the news media, and always with the asterisk that the mayor had not formally declared. The mayor's announcement yesterday finally brings the two Democrats toe-to-toe.
AN EARLY ATTACK
Hannemann said Abercrombie, 71, sacrificed his seniority in Congress to return to the Islands to essentially retire as governor. He also said the former congressman lacks executive experience and has never had to balance a budget or negotiate a collective bargaining agreement.
"This is not going to be the last job of my career," Hannemann said, vowing to serve out a full four-year term if elected. "This is going to be the best job of my career. Because in my mind, the best is yet to come, and you need focused leadership. The governorship is a position you lead from, not retire to."
Hannemann, 55, also said Abercrombie's decision to resign early after initially saying he would not opened the door for U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, R-Hawai'i, to win a special election to fill out the remainder of his term.
Djou won with a plurality after state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former Congressman Ed Case split the Democratic vote.
"He took a safe Democratic seat and now put it in Republican hands," Hannemann said. "Congressman Djou is not going to be very easy to take out in November."
Abercrombie called Hannemann's remarks "typical Mufi."
"I don't think it makes much sense to have the mayor talking about who should stay on the job when he's walking away from his with two years to go, no EIS (environmental impact statement) on rail, garbage piling up by the ton, the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and sewage one step from another lawsuit," he said. "It's so typical. Blame other people. Be negative. And it's all about him."
Abercrombie, like Aiona, said Hannemann was jeopardizing the city's $5.3 billion rail project by leaving office in the middle of his four-year term as mayor. Plumbers and electrical workers' unions that back Abercrombie also said yesterday that the mayor is putting rail at risk.
"He said he's been listening to the people and they want him," Abercrombie said. "Well, I've been listening to the people and they want change."
Hannemann said he is convinced the Lingle administration does not want to move forward on rail. He said the future of the project was a factor in his decision.
"I need to go to the governorship to move rail forward," he said.
Aiona described both Democrats as "two peas of the same pod" who would raise taxes, increase state government spending and be beholden to labor unions.
"The bottom line is the people of Hawai'i cannot afford Mayor Hannemann," Aiona said. "And with a Legislature that is 90 percent Democrat — in other words, of one party — Hawai'i can't afford a Democratic governor."
Aiona said, however, that the two Democrats apparently differ on social issues such as the civil-unions bill before Gov. Linda Lingle, which Aiona opposes.
Abercrombie supports civil unions. Hannemann has refused to say whether he would sign or veto the civil unions bill if he were governor.
Aiona said the mayor should take a position.
Hannemann said yesterday that he believes in preserving the sanctity of marriage and would reject civil unions if he determined they were the same as marriage. But he would not say whether he considered civil unions the same as marriage.
"Look at the way I look. Do I look like a guy that would discriminate against people with the color of my skin and my ethnic background? I'm just not made up that way," said Hannemann, a Mormon who is of Sāmoan, German and English ancestry.
"So I will push for legislation that does not discriminate against anyone. But I draw the line between a marriage between a man and a woman."
Dante Carpenter, interim chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawai'i, said there is a potential for the primary to split the party and drain financial resources. But he said Democrats have a history of coming together.
"I'm hoping that cooler heads will prevail in terms of their contest. We're going to encourage everybody to pitch it positive," Carpenter said.
Democrats do not want a replay of the nasty Hannemann and Abercrombie fight in a 1986 special election and primary for an open congressional seat. Abercrombie won the special election and Hannemann won the primary, but Hannemann was so weakened that Republican Pat Saiki took the general election.
John Hart, a Hawai'i Pacific University communications professor, said the primary will pose an interesting choice for unionized workers who are influential in party politics.
Abercrombie has been a friend of labor for decades, while Hannemann, as mayor, has been behind significant public-works projects such as rail.
"I think, obviously, there are going to be some tough calls," Hart said.
Another subtext, Hart said, is the shadow of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the state's top Democrat. The senator has not disputed that he encouraged Hannemann to run.
"It's also a story of who controls the Democratic Party," Hart said.