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ANALYSIS: Candidates Flock to Hanohano’s House Race

June 4, 2014, 6:11 PM HST (Updated June 10, 2014, 2:13 PM)
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It looks like Puna Rep. Faye Hanohano has stirred up considerable interest in the Democratic primary race in District 4 in Puna.

Hanohano, a Democrat whose controversial comments got her in hot water with her state House colleagues twice in the past 16 months, faces no less than five challengers in the Aug. 9 primary election.

She would have faced six, but Lenny Terlep Sr. filed and later withdrew.

The six Democrats still in the running are two more than have entered any of the District 4 races over at least the past 11 election cycles (the state elections website provides election results going back only to 1992).

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They are also more than the total in that race over the past three elections combined.

Hanohano got in trouble in February 2013 when she subjected workers installing art in her office to criticism of the pieces and racial slurs about the artists.

That resulted in Hanohano issuing a public apology several days later.

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Then this past February, comments she made to a college student testifying before the committee she chairs prompted House leadership to form an investigative committee.

The committee also heard from William Aila Jr., head of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources, who said that Hanohano had a history of abusive treatment toward his staff.

Several weeks later, House Speaker Joe Souki issued Hanohano a reprimand, saying any future “disruptive behavior” would result in her losing her committee assignments and possible additional disciplinary action.

But Hanohano, who is seeking a fifth two-year term, has remained defiant.

She also has not returned any of the numerous requests for comment from Big Island Now as well as those from print media.

The only exception has been brief interviews with several television stations and a lengthy videotaped interview with Big Island Chronicle blogger and publisher Tiffany Edwards Hunt, herself now a candidate for the Hawaii County Council, who Hanohano described as a friend.

In that interview, which contained what a Honolulu reporter described as “largely sympathetic” questions, Hanohano said her conduct had been mischaracterized.

She said she had been “thrown under a bus” by her House colleagues because her Ocean, Marine Resources and Hawaiian Affairs Committee refused to hear a bill banning smoking on public beaches.

House leaders reportedly said that was not the reason for their actions against her, and that the bill was not a high priority in the legislative session.

As for the treatment of DLNR staff, Hanohano said many were not born or raised in Hawaii and brought with them “Western perspectives.”

So now her tenure in the House is up to voters.

Among the challengers are Hilo attorney Joy Sanbuenaventura, a political newcomer, and Julia Peleiholani, who worked as Hanohano’s office manager until September 2013.

Peleiholani reportedly said she felt Hanohano’s comments were inappropriate, but that they weren’t the reason she decided to file for the office.

Hanohano’s democratic opponents also include Brian Jordan, who is making his fourth run at the seat.

However, his previous attempts, the latest of which was in 2006, were made as a Republican, who have historically not done well in the left-leaning district.

Some political observers say having so many opponents this time will dilute the votes against Hanohano and favor her at least surviving the primary.

If that turns out to be the case, then maybe Republican Gary Thomas of Keaau, the only non-Democrat in the race, will jump from political unknown to a House member in the general election on Nov. 4.

That could also be the day that Jordan, who is already out sign-waving on Highway 11, might rue checking that “Democrat” box on his filing form.

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