Strength in numbers

Is the Hawaii Legislature becoming a major player in who gets elected to Hawaii’s higher offices? They are currently 1 and 1 on the record.
PC: “Hawaii State Capitol with dramatic cloud” by Eric Fischer is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

A factor in every election, no matter what office, is the actions of certain players, and whether they “buddy up” to provide support to one candidate or cause. Of course, we know how labor and public worker unions utilize their substantial bank accounts to provide support. And with the development of the Political Action Committee (PAC) by organizations, serious muscle is put behind any candidate outside of the more-traditional contribution avenues.

But going back to those traditional avenues, one who had their ear to the rail this last primary election cycle would have realized that a player who never advertised their activities came out in a big way for Sylvia Luke for Lt. Governor.

That player turned out to be members and “friends of” committees of several Hawaii state legislators currently in office. Their ability to “hui up” (come together in Hawaiian pidgin) and provide a healthy number of financial resources to Sylvia Luke raised the eyebrow of at least this humble blogger.

And with that eyebrow raise, an evaluation of who gave what to Luke confirmed a theory held that, indeed, the “legislature” is now working to become the main player in elections in Hawaii.

IT WAS REPORTED IN 2018, in the last days of the primary race for Governor, a call by David Ige’s competitor, Colleen Hanabusa rallied several legislators to give and give big to Hanabusa’s campaign.

From Civil Beat’s coverage of the race at that time, they reported,

“Hanabusa held an Aug. 9 fundraiser — a sign that her campaign needed more cash in the primary’s final days. Campaign spending receipts show that several state lawmakers — including top legislative leaders who vociferously supported Hanabusa’s bid — heeded that call for help.”

The article reported that key leaders of the legislature, from Representative Sylvia Luke to Senate member Donovan Dela Cruz, both of who were chairs of powerful money committees in each chamber, showed their support for her in ways that led others in the legislature to also show some love.

And yes, she lost. But that didn’t mean the exercise of putting support behind one candidate was a failure. Their actions as a combined unit helped fortify them for the next election cycle, of which one of their own was about to compete– Sylvia Luke.

So the legislature as a player in the election was ready.

WHILE THE PLAYERS THE FIRST TIME AROUND didn’t all play in this round, the concept of working together came early in the race. Going back one year – to campaign finance reports from July 2021 to the present, it shows that some legislators started their contributions to Sylvia Luke early for her Lt. Governors race. Early contributors like Senator Glenn Wakai and Representative Della Au Belatti, gave Luke 4-figure donations in 2021, with other legislators coming in (some big) in 2022.

(Note, on the link, click on Luke’s name and then look at “Schedule A – Contributions Received” for each of the time periods. A summary of donations by legislators to Luke is attached to this article at the bottom for download)

In all, one out of five house members donated to Luke’s campaign (totaling 10 members) and a full 20% of Senate members also donated (5 Senators). While the numbers of people don’t seem significant, another analysis of their contributions – again from July 2021 to the last report – showed that these legislators gave $62,412 to Luke.

Furthermore, the campaigns of Senator Gil Keith-Agoran, and House members Scott Nishimoto, Aaron Johanson, and Kyle Yamashita, all maxed out their donations at $6,000, mostly during the 2022 campaign season. Another four, again Kyle Yamashita along with Representative Mark Nakashima, and Senators Karl Rhodes and Michele Kidani, all gave a reported $4,000 a piece during the reporting times examined.

Unlike the last time, the body supported a candidate, legislators who supported Luke this time decided to not only give money but also show support on social media and even put their names on “friend to friend” postcards. One received by this blogger from his Representative affirmed that this was a signal that they were “all in” for Luke.

A “Friend to Friend” card was sent by a legislator to one of their constituents in support of Sylvia Luke. Typically these come from friends or family.
PC: Stan Fichtman – PHwSF

And putting bets down on Luke this time around may pay off for the donors, and the body, as she was the winner of the Lt. Governor Primary, becoming the Democratic nominee on a joint ticket with Josh Green, the nominee for Governor from said party.

THIS LEVEL OF UNIFIED SUPPORT begs the question of whether the legislature should now be seen in the same light as entities like labor unions (public and private) along with well-heeled donors of influence. While it’s not new that a legislative body would use monies to support other candidates, and that it was one of their own that they supported, the unity of the body to support one candidate should not be dismissed as a “one-off’.

If leadership at the legislature stays generally the same (Scott Saiki as House Speaker; Ron Kouchi as Senate President) one may surmise that outcomes like what happened with Luke, working with legislators for support, could embolden the body to become even more influential in elections to come.

And if that were to happen, then voters may need to factor in not only who the person is that wants to represent them, but whom, in turn, will they support in future elections for other offices. The body could also become cocky in their support and their influence abated through bad calls, similar to how some are saying the PAC “Be Change Now” made bad calls in their advertisements against Luke in this last primary election cycle.

Only time will tell in answering that question.