Hawaii’s Powerful Senior Senator Shows He Still Has Control of Island Politics

Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa with U.S. Senator Inouye and Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, now a U.S. Senator. Both were elected with Inouye's endorsement
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Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa with U.S. Senator Inouye and Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, now a U.S. Senator. Both were elected with Inouye’s endorsement

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Hawaii’s powerful Senior Senator Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, showed he still has control of state politics.



All of the candidates the 88-year-old powerhouse personally lobbied for won their elections. That included:


  • President Barack Obama, a former Hawaii resident, winning over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 306,545 votes (70.54 percent) to 120,975 (27.84 percent).


  • Congresswoman Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, who beat former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, in the U.S. Senate election with 269,389 votes (62.60 percent) to 160,937 (37.40 percent).


  • Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, won re-election and defeated a challenge from former Congressman Charles Djou, R-Hawaii, in Congressional District 1, 116,450 votes (54.61 percent) to 97,774 votes (45.39 percent).


  • Former City Council Member Tulsi Gabbard beat Republican handyman Kawika Crowley, 168,466 votes (80.54 percent) to 40,697 votes (19.46 percent). Gabbard will replace the retiring U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii.


  • Former City Managing Director Kirk Caldwell beat former Gov. Ben Cayetano in the mayoral election, 157,650 votes (53.93 percent) to 134,690 votes (46.07 percent). Cayetano, a Democrat, opposed Inouye’s prized $5.2 billion elevated steel on steel rail project and pledged to cancel the project if elected. Inouye worked diligently to ensure Cayetano was defeated.


With Democrats also holding control of the U.S. Senate, Inouye will likely remain as the U.S. Senate Appropriations Chair.


In the state legislative races, Republicans took a hit.


Sen. Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai to Kaimuki, was the only Republican to win a state Senate seat. He remains the only Republican in that 25-member body. Slom beat challenger Kurt Lajala, a newcomer to politics, by 14,811 (60.18 percent) to 9,800 (39.82 percent), in a newly redistricted area.


Fred Hemmings hoped to return to the state Senate after a two-year break from politics, but former state Department of Land and Natural Resources Director Laura Thielen beat him 13,551 votes (59.45 percent) to 9,242 votes (40.55 percent).


There was a great deal of tension in that race because state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-Kailua, Laura Thielen’s mother, broke Republican Party rules and campaigned aggressively for her daughter, a Democrat. But the Republican Party did not step in.


In Ka’awa, former state Republican Representative Colleen Meyer was unable to unseat Democrat Clayton Hee, the chair of the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee. Hee, who raised over $400,000 in his campaign war chest, brought in 6,885 votes or 53.36 percent versus Meyer’s 6,018 votes or 46.64 percent.


In the House, Republicans lost two incumbents: Corinne Ching of Nuuanu and George Fontaine of Maui. Two House Republicans opted not to run again, Rep. Barbara Marumoto retired and Rep. Kymberly Pine ran for city council. Richard Fale beat incumbent Rep. Gil Riviere during the Republican Primary, and won the General as well.


However, Republicans picked up three House seats with newcomers Beth Fukumoto and Lauren Cheape and former state Rep. Bob McDermott.


With all the shuffling, the House Republican Minority will go down from 8 to 7 in the 51-member body.


GOP members include House Minority Leader Gene Ward, R-Hawaii Kai; Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-Kailua; Rep. Richard Fale, R-North Shore; Rep. Beth Fukumoto, R-Mililani; Rep. Lauren Cheape, R-Kunia; Aaron Ling Johanson, R-Aiea; and Rep. Bob McDermott, R-Ewa Beach.


The prosecutor races on Oahu and Kauai were hard fought.


On Oahu, City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro will keep his job after beating challenger Kevin Takata, 155,151 votes (58.93 percent) to 108,108 votes (41.07 percent)


On Kauai, incumbent Prosecuting attorney Shaylene Carvalho was defeated by challenger Justin Kollar, 14,289 votes (60.03 percent) to 9,514 (39.97 percent).


On Oahu, the Honolulu City Council will continue to be dominated by politicians devoted to the controversial rail project. Rep. Kymberly Pine beat incumbent Council Member Tom Berg and Senator Carol Fukunaga won the District 6 council race over former Rep. Sam Aiona. Both Pine and Fukunaga were backed by the Hawaii Carpenters Union because of their pro-rail stance. Council Budget Chair Ann Kobayashi is now the only council member of 9 that has been critical of the rail project.


Statewide, two constitutional amendments were defeated. The first, relating to dams and reservoirs, received support from 212,395 voters or 48.66 percent of the vote. Some 175,952 people voted no, and that combined with the 47,975 votes (10.99 percent), defeated the amendment that would have allowed private dam and reservoir owners to borrow state special purpose revenue bonds for maintenance.


A second constitutional amendment that would have allowed retired judges to return to the bench on a temporary basis also failed to pass with 216,655 people or 49.63 percent voting yes and 174,190 people or 39.90 percent voted no. But those no votes combined with the blank ballots totaling 45,513 votes or 10.43 percent, defeated the amendment.


Two city charter amendments on Oahu, relating to grants in aid and relating to the creation of special funds, did pass with more than 50 percent of the vote.





  1. Is Tulsi Gabbard replacing Senator Akaka? For some reason I thought that Mazie Hirono was taking that Senate seat. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Senator Inouye but maybe it's time that he look at retiring. After 50 years in Congress he is probably not the "change" candidate anymore…. I moved away from Hawaii 20 years ago and live in Washington State. There are a lot of people from Hawaii moving up here; and I read a statistic a few months ago that in the next 15 years more native Hawaiians are expected to be living away from Hawaii than living in Hawaii. I'm sure that everyone moves away from Hawaii for different reasons but if all of the Hawaii politicians were doing such a good job, shouldn't people be staying in Hawaii instead of moving away?

  2. I felt our beloved Senator Inouye, duty bound to support his democratic colleagues in their quest for re-election, could have been a bit more respectful to Linda Lingle, in her bid for the senate seat. Instead, he appeared to distance himself from her in a way not seen during her 8 year tenure as Hawaii's governor. I doubt that he treats his fellow republican senators in Washington in a similar manner.

  3. He is King of today's Hawaii kingdom, like it or not. When he's gone, get ready for austerity. Case was right, Inouye should have asked Akaka to step aside six years ago so we would have staggered seniorities in the Senate. But when one is King, it often gets heady.

  4. Sen Inouye certainly was disrepectful of Gov Lingle, but that was pure aloha compared to what he and his minnions did to the other former governor, DEMOCRAT Cayetano. He gave the green light to all the character assassins out there. There is no hatred like hatred for a "turncoat!" Once he is gone and not pulling keeping everyone in line, there is no successor and all the empty democrat suits he has put on his congressional delegation better have a good plan B. Mufi and Case are not done yet.

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