Hawaii legislators: Speaker of the House in close race for seat

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House Speaker Scott Saiki led challenger Kim Coco Iwamoto, a former member of the Committee on Education, after votes for the second round of the Hawaii primary were released late Saturday night. Results include all ballots received by election officials through Friday.

Saiki, who narrowly escaped a challenge from his fellow Democrat two years ago, had 48.5% of the vote versus his opponent’s 44.1% when the second results were released. It’s a lead of almost 200 votes.

In the Senate races, Carol Fukunaga, a Honolulu councilwoman who wants to return to the legislature, led 60.8% to 30.1% for Fukunaga ahead of newcomer Ian Ross.

House Speaker Scott Saiki appeared with supporters on primary night. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/2022

The 2022 election will be the first in 10 years in which all 76 seats have been allocated as a result of the decade-long redistribution process, in which county boundaries are redrawn based on census data. The 2022 session, which ended in early May, was also widely described as historic, as it passed an increase in the minimum wage and substantial funding for affordable housing and programs for Hawaii’s Native Americans.

This year’s election also marks the departure of longtime influential lawmakers, including Rep. Sylvia Luke, who won the Democratic assistant lieutenant governor Saturday, and Sen. Roz Baker, who is retiring. The 2023 legislature is likely to see many new faces as lawmakers vie for leadership and committee positions.

Also looming over the legislative wrangling are the guilty pleas earlier this year from former Rep. Ty Cullen and former Senator J. Kalani English for accepting bribes to influence the passage of legislation.

Kim Coco Iwamoto at Margaritas Hawaii during a gathering she had over the weekend when she announced she would run for the House District 26 seat.
Kim Coco Iwamoto narrowly lost to Scott Saiki two years ago and was trailing late on Saturday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Despite public outcry over the scandal, most incumbents faced little or no primary opposition.

Of the 25 members of the Senate, 18 were unopposed incumbents in the primary, including Democrats Gil Keith-Agaran and Dru Kanuha, and Republican Kurt Fevella. The three were directly re-elected on Saturday because they have no opponent in the November 8 general election.

Of the 51 members of the House of Representatives, 19 incumbents are unchallenged in the primary. Seven of them were directly elected because they have no opponent in the parliamentary elections. They include Republican Gene Ward and Democrats Mark Nakashima, Richard Onishi, Nicole Lowen, Scott Nishimoto and Linda Ichiyama.

Notable Senate Races

In the Senate, incumbents Laura Acasio and Lorraine Inouye were reassigned to the same Big Island district. According to the second round of results, Inouye – the winner – had 53.2%, Acasio had 27.4% and a third candidate, former teachers union leader Wil Okabe, was third with 12.8%.

Walter Ritte was defeated by Lynn DeCoite in a Senate race.

Sen. Lynn DeCoite defeated Walter Ritte — the contest was another notable rematch — and Leo Caires for the seat, representing Molokai, Lanai and parts of Maui. DeCoite had 58.7% versus Ritte’s 26.5%. Caires has 6.4%.

And Sen. Bennette Misalucha lost to Brandon Elefante, the contingent member of the Honolulu City Council who hopes to continue his political career in the Legislature. Misalucha had 27.1% versus Elefante with 65.7%.

Rep. Henry Aquino becomes the new state senator for District 19, covering Pearl City and Waipahu. He defeated his Democratic compatriot Roger Clemente with 68.8% to 16.4%.

In the GOP primary, former KITV host Brenton Awa defeated Art Hannemann 65% to 23.6% for the North Shore District 23 seat of Democrat Gil Riviere, who had no opposition in the primary. And former beauty queen Leilani Soon defeated True St. Thomas for the District 10 seat held by Les Ihara, the Democratic incumbent from the Kaimuki region.

Notable house races

Two longtime friends and Democratic incumbents were forced to face each other after their respective seats were reconfigured at the Oahu House. Gregg Takayama received 62.3% of the votes, Roy Takumi 31%.

Della Au Belatti, the house majority leader, easily won her feature race with 50.8%. The challenger Valerie Wang was at 33.6%, Kanzo Nara at 4.7%.

Gary Gill speaks to protesters about the US Navy fuel spill and demands that the fuel tanks at the Federal Building be removed immediately.
Gary Gill, seen here speaking to protesters about the Red Hill fuel spill, lost a home race on Saturday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Democrat Gary Gill, a former member of the Honolulu City Council, lost Jenna Takenouchi to 42.4% in another House of Oahu race, 49.7%. The winner will face Republican Margaret Lim, who was undisputed in the primary.

Rep. Sharon Har, a Democrat whose arrest but final release and acquittal for drunk driving last year, beat challengers Lori Goeas and Makana Paris. Early results have Har at 37.2%, followed by Goeas at 28.1% and Paris at 24.8%.

And in a rematch, Rep. Cedric Gates defeated Jo Jordan for the Waianae-Makaha 45th District seat. The votes were 68.2% to 23.9%.

At GOP Elementary School, Kaimuki-St. In the seat of Democrat Jackson Sayama at 21 Louis Heights District, Julia Allen restrained Joelle Seashell. The votes were 46.2% and 32.8% respectively.

Several legislative races were too close to be called on Saturday and could require automatic recounts if the final lead is within 100 votes.

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