Now the Hawaii native, who was in the House of Representatives beginning in 1984 for six years, and then in the Hawaii State Senate for a decade from 2000 until 2010 when he “retired” from politics, wants to make a comeback.
He’s aiming to recoup his former Senate seat, which includes Kailua, Waimanalo and part of Hawaii Kai, from either incumbent Democrat Pohai Ryan or whoever might win the Democratic primary this August.
In an interview with Hawaii Reporter, Hemmings said he has been inspired to run for office by a most surprising person – former Gov. Benjamin Cayetano – a liberal Democrat who many Republicans and conservatives opposed in the 1998 gubernatorial election.
Cayetano, who also “retired” from politics, entered the race for Honolulu mayor in recent weeks because he believes the city’s planned $5.3 billion elevated steel on steel rail system will bankrupt the city and destroy the environment and cultural sites along the route. Hemmings, who also has opposed the rail project, agrees with Cayetano, and was pleased to see the momentum Cayetano’s campaign has rendered.
Hemmings notes Cayetano’s mayoral campaign is not down party lines – many people who are Republicans and conservatives as well as Democrats and Libertarians support Cayetano because they want to stop the rail project and fix the city’s aging infrastructure – and the battle is about an issue not political ideology.
The fight against the so-called “status quo” is one Hemmings has often talked about on the House and Senate floors. He sees those who are working to stop the rail project having the momentum against the “status quo” and that gives him hope other problems can be resolved and Hawaii’s political and business climate can change for the better.
Hemmings, who has a marketing and sports background and has served as a director for the NFL’s Denver Bronco Team, said Hawaii business and residents needs relief from high taxes and a high cost of living and doing business.
He also believes government spends too much and has voted against the legislative budget in the past. He’s waged war against corruption in government.
One of his main passions is energy. He has railed against the Hawaiian Electric Company energy “monopoly” and fought for alternative energy that includes an innovative, condensed nuclear source that would get Hawaii off of its “fossil fuel dependence.”
Hawaii has had nuclear submarines operating for decades safely in Hawaiian waters, Hemmings said, and the technology he advocates for is similar, although even more advanced.
When asked to describe his diverse career that has led him from surfing and paddling into promotions and marketing, into media and then politics, Hemmings says background is “eclectic.”
He’s also had his share of agony – after an accident involving his foot and his lawnmower in his own yard, Hemmings lost three of his toes. He had to drive himself to the hospital. The “father of surfing,” as he has been called, has been able to maintain a sense of humor about the accident. He jokes instead of “hanging 10” on a surfboard, he “hangs seven.”
After Hemmings retired, Democrat Pohai Ryan replaced him in a district that has traditionally been held by Republicans. That left just one Senate Republican– Sen. Sam Slom (Hawaii Kai-Diamond Head) – to hold all minority positions and 24 Democrats in the remaining seats. Slom became the only person in the nation serving in any legislature with the distinction of being the only member of his party serving in that body.
Ryan will also face her share of challenges before Hemmings. She has at least one Democrat opponent in the upcoming primary.
In addition, former School Board Member Laura Thielen wants to run for that seat as a Democrat but the party leaders are refusing to allow her in the race. Laura, who also served as the director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources under Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, is the daughter of Rep. Cynthia Thielen, a popular liberal Republican who has represented parts of Kailua for decades.
Laura, who has been public about being a Democrat, even when she ran her mother’s campaign for U.S. Senate, has hired attorney Eric Seitz to represent her in the dispute within the Democratic Party.
He sent a letter to the party demanding fairness (see the letter here: LetterfromLauraThielentoPartyChair.) Thielen made the dispute public last Sunday via a press release. The party’s refusal to welcome Thielen into their political “big tent” as a political candidate also was debated on the Senate floor this week, when Sen. Clayton Hee defended Thielen and said the party should let her run and Ryan agreed.
Hemmings did not want to comment on that debate between Laura Thielen and the party heads saying he’d leave it to the Democrats to work out.
A proud father of four, one of Hemmings’ children, Kaui Hart Hemmings, has made national and international news this year. She is the author of the award winning book, the Descendants, which also became an award-winning movie filmed in Hawaii starring George Clooney.
Hemmings believes this could be a contentious political season, but he’s ready for whatever comes his way.
He’s taken on big challenges in the past and “gone for it,” whether it was a big wave championship he’s won (including the Makaha International Surfing Championship four times in the 1960s, the Peruvian International Surfing Championships in 1964, and the World Surfing Championship title in 1968 in Puerto Rico), a test of endurance during the Molokai to Oahu canoe paddling races (which he won three times), hosting his own radio program, or writing a best seller (The Soul of Surfing is Hawaiian).
He’s had his share of recognition. For his athletic accomplishments in water sports, Punahou School inducted him into the Athletic Hall of Fame, and he also was inducted into the International Surfing Hall of Fame, the Hawaii State Sport Hall of Fame and the Hawaii Waterman Hall of Fame.
He founded the International Professional Surfing (IPS) with Randy Rarick in 1976 – it is a professional surfing organization that would help launch the sport worldwide.
He also founded The Triple Crown surf contest held annually in the winter on Oahu’s North Shore.
But for Hemmings, being involved in politics hasn’t been about recognition. He wants to see change – the good kind – and he believes this time, Hawaii is ready for it.