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  • Election Problems: The Solutions Are Coming

    · By Zach Johnson and Carmille Lim

    Do you remember last year’s controversial Primary Election? As a result of Tropical Storm Iselle hitting Hawaii Island on Primary Election Day, voter access was questioned, public confidence in the office of Elections diminished, and flaws in Hawaii’s election laws were exposed.

    Lawmakers have taken the initiative to introduce bills that would address concerns raised in the 2014 Primary election: House Bill 612 HD2 aims to keep elections fair by disallowing election results to be shared during postponed elections, until after all precincts have “closed.”

    House Bill 376 HD2 and Senate Bill 622 SD1 increase the accountability of the Chief Elections Officer, by requiring the Elections Commission to a performance review of the CEO after every general election.

    A special primary election was held in Puna in 2014 after Tropical Storm Iselle kept people from getting to the polls.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    In the 2014 primary election, the two leading Democratic candidates running for Senate, Brian Schatz and Colleen Hanabusa, were separated by a mere 1,782 votes. However Tropical Storm Iselle left directly impacted two precincts in Puna, which left voters in those communities unable to get to the polls on Election Day.

    Initially Scott Nago, the Chief Election Officer, announced that absentee ballots would be mailed to the 8,200 voters in the two closed precincts. Then three days later Nago proclaimed that a walk-in election would be held instead, and this “makeup election” would be held on Aug. 15, just six days after the Primary Election day, while residents

  • Hawaii Elections Commission to Hold 1st Videoconference Meeting

    · By Chad Blair

    In a first, the state Elections Commission will hold a videoconference meeting next week.

    The meeting, at Kakuhihewa State Office Building in Kapolei, is set for April 7 at 10 a.m. and will be broadcast via videoconference on Hawaii, Maui and Kauai.  

    The videoconference sites on the neighbor islands will be open for the public to attend, and to submit public testimony. 

    A special election in Puna.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    Some Neighbor Island folks have long complained that it’s sometimes difficult to reach government officials in Honolulu.

    Here are the viewing locations:

    County of Hawaii, Hilo State Office Building, 75 Aupuni Street, Basement
    County of Maui, Wailuku State Office Building, 54 South High Street, 3rd Floor
    County of Kauai, Lihue State Office Building, 3060 Eiwa Street, Basement

    Click here for the meeting agenda, which includes discussion of elections-related bills at the Hawaii Legislature and the evaluation of the chief elections officer.

    Of note: The agenda says the commission meeting will continue “even if video conference connection is lost.”

  • Voting By Mail In Hawaii: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

    · By The Civil Beat Editorial Board

    According to new rankings, Hawaii places No. 32 among all states in voter turnout, with a depressing 36.5 percent of citizens who are eligible to vote casting ballots in 2014.

    While that is about the same as the national average and better than our state’s performance in 2010, to put it mildly, there’s plenty room for improvement. Vote-by-mail bills currently before the Legislature stand a chance of significantly boosting the number of people taking part in our democracy.

    House Bill 124 and Senate Bill 287 would phase in voting by mail, introducing the practice first in counties with fewer than 100,000 residents in 2016 and extending it statewide by 2020. Ballots would be mailed directly to voters, who would then complete and return them by mail. No braving rush-hour traffic to get to a polling place, waiting in line or dealing with fussy optical scanners.

    These were among the 36.5 percent of registered voters who turned out in the 2014 general election in Hawaii.

    Brian Tseng/Civil Beat

    The bills provide for a limited number of “voter service centers” to open on election days to assist voters with special needs and receive absentee and mail-in ballots in person. Election-day voter registration, passed last year by the Legislature, would remain intact under both bills – a good idea, even with voting by mail: States with election-day registration had about 12 percent high turnout than those that didn’t in 2014.

    Both bills enjoy strong support and stand a good chance of passage by the Senate and

  • What Do the Election Results Mean for the Neighbor Islands?

    · By Nathan Eagle

    There’s no doubt that the emotionally charged issue of genetically modified organisms and concerns over the pesticides that major biotech companies spray on the fields they lease in Hawaii drove many neighbor-island residents to the polls Tuesday.

    Less clear is what to make of the election results.

    All of the incumbents who ran for office on Maui and Big Island won another term. That holds true on Kauai for races at the state level, but voters uprooted the power structure of their seven-member county council.

    Voters on Tuesday sent every incumbent who sought re-election in a state legislative race on the neighbor islands back for another term. That was the trend at the council level too, save for Kauai.

    Brian Tseng/Civil Beat

    Last year, Kauai became the first of the three neighbor island counties to adopt a law placing tougher restrictions on the GMO seed companies that operate in the isles, which include Monsanto, Syngenta, Pioneer, DowAgro Sciences and BASF.

    Two of the council members who supported that legislation, known as Bill 2491, lost their bids for another two-year term.

    Kauai County Council Chair Jay Furfaro, a mostly level-headed leader known for his business acumen, finished eighth — just 92 votes away from winning a seat.

    Councilman Tim Bynum ended up 12th out of the 14 candidates running in the general election. He and Councilman Gary Hooser, who barely secured the seventh seat, introduced Bill 2491, which increases the disclosure requirements for pesticide use

  • Hawaii 2nd Congressional District: Gabbard Cruises to Re-election

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard was sailing smoothly into a second two-year term Tuesday night, leading Republican Kawika Crowley in the race to represent rural Oahu and the neighbor islands in the U.S. House.

    Gabbard had 76 percent of the vote, to 18 percent for Crowley, according to early returns. Libertarian Joe Kent had 2 percent.

    Gabbard, a 33-year-old rising star in the Democratic Party, hardly had to campaign this election after running unopposed in the Aug. 9 primary.

    Tuesday marks the second time Gabbard has defeated Crowley, a 63-year-old professional handyman and advertising consultant.

    U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard and state Rep. Mark Takai, left, are seen in this photo from a 2013 National Guard event.

    Jeff Cox/NGAUS

    In Gabbard’s first shot at a congressional seat in 2012, she blew past former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann in the Democratic primary and then beat Crowley in the general, winning 77 percent of the vote.

    This election season she’s spent more time helping others and presumably laying the groundwork for future elections, although it’s uncertain what position she might seek. There’s been speculation that Gabbard might run for the Senate.

    Gabbard and her political action committee have spent thousands of dollars helping fellow Democrats in Hawaii and on the mainland.

    The day after state Rep. Mark Takai beat six other candidates in the primary for the 1st Congressional District seat, Gabbard’s PAC gave his campaign $2,600. He was tied in the polls with Republican Charles Djou

  • Hawaii 1st Congressional District: Takai Defeats Djou

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Democrat Mark Takai has defeated Republican Charles Djou in the race to represent urban Oahu in Congress for the next two years.

    With all precincts reporting Tuesday evening, Takai was up over Djou, 51 percent to 48 percent. Djou picked up a little ground in the third wave of results that were released just after 10 p.m. but not enough to flip the results.

    “We started this race Aug. 7, 2013 — 15 months ago,” Takai told supporters at the Japanese Cultural Center in Moiliili, where Democrats gathered to celebrate their big night. “An absolute marathon. A long, long race. It actually felt like sprinting every single day.”

    Mark Takai speaks to supporters after winning a seat in the U.S. Congress.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Takai thanked Djou for a campaign that he said focused on issues. He also said the race was about values — about caring for keiki and kupuna.

    Takai concluded by thanking his family and said he looked forward to working with a united Democratic congressional delegation on behalf of Hawaii. 

    Djou gave a heartfelt concession speech to a roomful of supporters at his campaign headquarters in Kalihi moments after calling Takai to congratulate him.

    “I believe that we needed bipartisan representation in our delegation. I believe that our government needs change and that this one-party system is failing us,” Djou said. “But while I believe in all of these things, I also believe that we live in a wonderful nation. And one of

  • Schatz Helps Fellow Dems as Republican Underdog Tries to Unseat Him

    · By Nathan Eagle

    In the past two months, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz has given more campaign cash away to help fellow Democrats seeking office than former state Rep. Cam Cavasso — the Republican trying to unseat him Tuesday — has raised in the entire race.

    Schatz spent $4 million during his grueling battle to defeat U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the August primary, a contest decided by fewer than 1,800 votes. 

    But since then he’s taken advantage of his huge financial advantage and double-digit lead in the polls to support candidates facing tougher battles on the mainland and in Hawaii.

    Republican Cam Cavasso, left, is running against Democrat Brian Schatz for the U.S. Senate.

    Civil Beat composite

    He gave $200,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Sept. 12 and $30,000 to the Democratic Party of Hawaii on Oct. 2, according to filings this month with the Federal Election Commission. The committee serves as the official party group working to elect Democrats to the U.S. Senate, which could shift to a Republican majority this election.

    “We want to make sure the Senate stays in Democratic hands,” Schatz said Wednesday, adding that he recently wired another $25,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as a way of doing his part.

    Schatz had $555,000 cash on hand as of Oct. 15 and donations have continued to pour into his campaign. He’s raised over $5.48 million this election, including almost $100,000 in the first two weeks of October.

    Plenty of Money From PACS, Individuals


  • Tulsi Gabbard Emails Thoughts on D.C. and Why She Wants 2nd Term

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is many things. A combat veteran. A Hindu. A national media darling.

    She’s also the Democratic candidate running to represent Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District for another two years.

    The race has received scant attention, though, as less lopsided contests and controversial ballot measures have dominated the political discourse.

    Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, seen here at AFGE’s annual legislative conference last year, is seeking election Tuesday to a second term in office.


    In her first shot at a congressional seat in 2012, Gabbard had to get by former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann in the Democratic primary.

    Hannemann, practically a household name, led in the polls early in the race but Gabbard pulled off a shocking 54 percent to 34 percent victory before cruising to a crushing win in the general election with 77 percent of the vote against Republican Kawika Crowley.

    Gabbard, 33, was unopposed in the primary this year and faces Crowley again in the general. She’s expected to defeat him by a similarly huge margin. Civil Beat’s latest poll had Gabbard 50 percentage points ahead.

    But the lack of competition doesn’t mean Gabbard deserves a free pass. Her record the past two years and plans for her next term are undeniably important, especially to her roughly 700,000 constituents on the neighbor islands and rural Oahu.

    Freed from having to campaign hard for her own re-election, Gabbard has been busy helping other candidates, making a litany of public appearances

  • John Oliver Blasts Hawaii Legislature Over ‘No Conflict’

    · By Nathan Eagle

    John Oliver, the host of HBO’s new comedy news show Last Week Tonight, slammed Hawaii lawmakers in Sunday’s episode highlighting the ethically-challenged-yet-dangerously-powerful nature of state legislatures across the country.

    Showing a video clip from a House hearing in 2011 about a bill requiring businesses to charge customers a 10-cent fee for plastic checkout bags, Joe Souki, speaker emeritus at the time, is seen asking then-Rep. Joey Manahan to decide if there is a conflict because Souki is a paid consultant for the American Chemistry Council, which produces plastics.

    Manahan, in typical Hawaii Legislature fashion, just thanks Souki for the disclosure and informs him, “There is no conflict.”

    This screen shot from Sunday’s episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight shows host John Oliver reacting after the Hawaii Legislature decided then-Speaker emeritus Joe Souki had no conflict of interest with a plastic bag bill despite being a consultant for a plastic-producing company.

    Screen shot

    Oliver pauses the clip at that point, exclaiming: “What do you mean there’s no conflict? He’s being paid by the plastics industry.

    “Unless in Hawaii, conflict of interest means both conflict of interest and not a conflict of interest — you know, like how aloha means both hello and goodbye — that’s the only fucking acceptable explanation,” Oliver says.

    Civil Beat has written extensively about the Hawaii Legislature’s pattern of declaring “no conflict” even when conflicts could not be more apparent, including the Souki example that Oliver used as part of a brilliant

  • James Pflueger Donates $4,000 to Libertarian Jeff Davis’ Campaign

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Two weeks before retired Honolulu car dealership owner James Pflueger was sentenced to jail for his role in the fatal Ka Loko dam breach, he made one of the biggest political donations of his life.

    State campaign finance records filed this week show Pflueger gave $4,000 to Jeff Davis, the Libertarian candidate for Hawaii governor, on Sept. 30.

    Pflueger, 88, was sentenced Oct. 15 to seven months in jail after pleading no contest in July 2013 to reckless endangering in the first degree. State prosecutors had alleged that Pflueger had illegally filled in the dam’s spillway, which, following more than a month of heavy rain on Kauai, led to its breach on March 14, 2006, washing away everything in its path and killing seven people.

    Libertarian Jeff Davis speaks during a gubernatorial forum at UH West Oahu, Aug. 26.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    The campaign contribution is the largest Davis has received to date. He has raised $5,463 since entering the race and spent $472 as of Oct. 20.

    The donation also appears to be the single largest that Pflueger has given, at least in the past several years. Campaign finance records show he has given a total of $4,000 to Colleen Hanabusa, but that happened over the course of two years between 2007 and 2009.

    Pflueger has also given money to Mufi Hannemann, but not recently. He donated $2,000 to Hannemann in 2010 when he stepped down as Honolulu mayor to run for governor as a Democrat. But he hasn’t contributed to Hannemann’s campaign this year

  • Outside Money Having Outsized Influence on Hawaii Governors Race

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Super PACs funded by groups based on the mainland have spent more trying to influence the Hawaii governors race since the Aug. 9 primary than the candidates have themselves, according to the latest filings with the state Campaign Spending Commission.

    The public got its first look Monday at just how much cash the most active of these independent expenditure committees have put toward saturating the airwaves with ads targeting Democrat David Ige and Republican Duke Aiona.

    Two super PACs in particular have set the pace, spending a combined $3.2 million to sway voters before the Nov. 4 general election.

    Super PACs have spent more than $3 million on ads targeting the Hawaii candidates for governor, Republican Duke Aiona, left, and Democrat David Ige, in the 2014 general election.

    Civil Beat composite

    Hawaii Forward — funded by the Democratic Governors Association and AFSCME, the nation’s largest public services employees union — has spent $1.46 million to help Ige win. His own campaign, meanwhile, has spent $830,000 since the primary and $1.42 million during the election.

    The American Comeback Committee, which gets its money from the Republican Governors Association, spent $1.8 million to aid Aiona. His campaign has spent $1.21 million this election, $780,425 since the primary.

    The campaigns for Ige and Aiona receive much of their money from individual contributors who live in Hawaii, many of whom are retirees, lawyers and business owners. Aside from the types of political action committees supporting them and the overall amounts raised and spent, other differences

  • Which Hawaii Candidate Spent the Most Money Per Vote?

    · By Nathan Eagle

    A dozen people in Hawaii are set to enjoy influential, decently paid jobs with great benefits for the next two years and all they had to do was sign up to run for office.

    That’s according to a list of interesting 2014 election stats compiled by the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission staff. They let the numbers do most of the talking, whether it’s how many people have already won seats in state and county offices before the Nov. 4 general election has even taken place or how many super PACs have been working to influence races without filing a single campaign finance report yet.

    By the numbers: candidates running for state and county offices Through the Aug. 9 Primary | Create Infographics

    In all, two state senators (Kalani English and Breene Harimoto), six House reps (Romy Cachola, Ty Cullen, Cindy Evans, Ken Ito, Marcus Oshiro and Karl Rhoads), two Hawaii County Council members (Dru Kanuha and Dennis Onishi) and two Maui County Council members (Stacy Crivello and Riki Hokama) ran unopposed this election.

    Some have held their seats for a long time, such as English and Oshiro, but it’s Harimoto’s first time seeking a seat in the Legislature after serving on the Honolulu City Council. Harimoto will replace Sen. David Ige, who left to run for governor. Apparently no one else in the Pearl City district thinks they could do a better job.

    Alleged voter intimidation and the misuse of campaign funds apparently aren’t enough to get someone to run against Cachola. In September, the Honolulu Ethics Commission fined him $50,000, the largest civil fine its ever imposed. That came on

  • Hawaii Candidates for Congress Fundraise to the Finish Line

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Mark Takai needed more campaign money — and he got it.

    The Democratic candidate for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District raised just over $200,000 — including $85,000 from political action committees, or PACs — during the first half of October, according to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission.

    His Republican opponent, Charles Djou, pulled in $72,000 but outspent Takai by almost $82,000 during the same 15-day period.

    Charles Djou and Mark Takai share a laugh during a congressional debate at the Plaza Club in Honolulu on Sept. 23.

    PF Bentley/Civil Beat

    With 12 days until the general election and the race still too close to call, the candidates are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into TV, print and radio ads. 

    Absentee ballots have gone out and early walk-in voting started Tuesday at select polling places in each county. Each day closer to the Nov. 4 general means fewer potential voters for the candidates to attract.

    Djou, a former Honolulu City Councilman and state lawmaker who served for seven months in Congress in 2010, may have raised a lot less money recently, but he has far more cash on hand heading into the home stretch. 

    Takai, who’s served in the Legislature for the past 20 years, had $189,168 on hand as of Oct. 15, compared to Djou’s $416,014. How their campaigns choose to spend that money during this critical period will likely play a role in who wins.

    Djou has raised $925,181

  • Is Cayetano’s Complaint Against Super PAC a Criminal Matter?

    · By Nathan Eagle

    It’s not over yet.

    The state Campaign Spending Commission decided Wednesday to defer until November a complaint that former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano filed against the super PAC that crushed his bid for mayor in 2012.

    Pacific Resource Partnership, a political action committee funded by contractors and unionized carpenters, spent over $3 million on a coordinated attack to keep Cayetano out of office after he pledged to end Honolulu’s $5.2 billion rail project if elected.

    “I’m not doing this for any kind of motive like revenge — the public has the right to know,” Cayetano said.

    Former Gov. Ben Cayetano addresses the Hawaii State Campaign Spending Commission on Wednesday. He filed a complaint against Pacific Resource Partnership’s super PAC for failing to report certain expenditures.

    Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

    The commission’s executive director, Kristin Izumi-Nitao, and general counsel, Gary Kam, had recommended that the five-member commission dismiss Cayetano’s complaint that PRP failed to report certain expenditures because the group corrected its campaign finance forms in September and paid a $1,250 fine.

    But the commission’s chair, William Snipes, said that’s not good enough. He wants to refer the case to the prosecutor’s office — a rare move that could lead to harsher penalties and a deeper investigation if it takes the case.

    “I’m a little disappointed that the commission did not look into this further,” Snipes said. “PRP’s position may be validated in the process but I’m not comfortable closing the book on it.”

    Snipes said

  • Should Hawaii Purge More People from List of Registered Voters?

    · By Nathan Eagle

    Hawaii’s infamously low voter turnout may not be quite as bad as it seems.

    That’s because thousands of people who are still on the registered voter list have moved, gone to prison or died since the last election, lowering the overall turnout percentages published by the state Office of Elections in any given year.

    Heading into the Nov. 4 general election, the state has identified 626,431 people as “active” on its master list of 706,890 registered voters.

    Voting booths are lined up and ready for voters to cast their ballots at Kawananakoa Middle School, Aug. 9, 2014.

    Cory Lum/Civil Beat

    Officials put 80,459 people — 11 percent of the overall total — on their “failsafe” list, a sort of holding period that keeps them registered as voters while the counties confirm whether they should be purged from the voter rolls.

    In the Aug. 9 primary, just 42 percent of 697,033 registered voters cast ballots. If 11 percent of the total registered voters could have been purged, the turnout would have been 47 percent — still not great, but better. And it’s still likely among the worst voter turnout in the nation.

    Some suspect there could be more dead weight on the voter rolls than elections officials identify — possibly even twice as much. 

    State Sen. David Ige, who’s been in elected office since 1986, said his campaign team routinely identifies 15 percent to 20 percent of the names on the voter registration list as