Seven candidates running in Democratic primary for governor of Hawaii

Seven candidates are running in the Democratic primary for governor of Hawaii on Aug. 13. Incumbent David Ige (D) is term-limited.

Vicky Cayetano, Joshua Green, and Kaiali’i Kahele lead in polling and media attention.

Cayetano co-founded Hawaii’s largest laundry company and served as president and CEO for 34 years. Cayetano said, “My record of building a business of a thousand employees and supporting our community is one of action and results.” She said, “I have a vision, I make payroll, know how to be a CEO. Government should be run like business. We keep talking about the same issues, and we need a new perspective. It’s time for a new perspective to solve the problems.” In 1997, Cayetano married Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano (D), who served as governor until 2002.

Green is Hawaii’s current lieutenant governor and an emergency room physician. He said, “I’m running for Governor because Hawaii needs elected leaders we can trust — to tell us the truth, keep us safe and informed, to care about working families, and to be transparent and accountable to the people.” Green highlighted his role serving as COVID liaison while lieutenant governor. A campaign ad said, “Hawaii got through COVID with the lowest infection rate in the nation.”

Kahele, a veteran and lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Air National Guard, was elected to represent Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2020. Kahele said, “Congress established our great state in 1959 on the condition that the State of Hawaiʻi would establish and manage the ceded Public Land Trust for the benefit of Native Hawaiians and the general public. Ensuring that the state restores its kuleana to manage this public trust is a foundation of my platform for governor.” Kahele says he is “running for governor on a grassroots, publicly funded campaign[.]” He said, “While other candidates are taking corporate money and checks of up to $6,000, I will not accept donations from any individual of more than a hundred bucks.”

Affordable housing has been a central theme in the race. Cayetano’s campaign website said, “[I]n addition to accelerating housing projects that are specific to Native Hawaiians and are taking place within the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL), I would make the availability of affordable rental housing my highest priority. I propose a massive five year recurring statewide affordable rental housing plan to significantly increase the number of affordable rental housing units for Hawaii’s families.” 

As part of Green’s 10-point housing plan, he said that he would “[i]mmediately issue an executive order to all state and county housing agencies to speed up construction of affordable housing by eliminating red tape, streamlining processes and approvals, and coordinating efforts to address the crisis.” 

Kahele said he would “[build] targeted workforce housing; [develop] fee mechanisms through tax-exempt bonds and bond activity caps; and [build] out housing plans specific to urban Honolulu and the rest of the state.”

Cayetano, Green, and Kahele disagree on the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope project, a plan to construct a $2.65 billion telescope on the summit of the Mauna Kea volcano. Cayetano supports the project, Kahele opposes the plans as they stand, and Green expressed disappointment in the handling of the project, saying he supported large projects like the telescope if they were done with respect between cultures.

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s Dan Nakaso, the candidates also disagree on the legalization of recreational marijuana. Nakaso wrote, “Kahele and Green support legalizing recreational marijuana, with caveats, while Cayetano is opposed.”

Major independent observers rate the general election as solid Democratic or safe Democratic. Ige was first elected in 2014 and won re-election in 2018 by a margin of 29 percentage points. Democrats have had trifecta control of Hawaii state government since 2011.

Also running in the primary are David “Duke” Bourgoin, Richard Kim, Clyde Lewman, and Van Tanabe.