One of the state’s most powerful legislators will be the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor based on results released Saturday night by the state elections office.
With most of the vote in, Rep. Sylvia Luke, who controlled the state’s budget as chair of the House Finance Committee, had 35% of the vote shortly after polls closed Saturday. She led contenders Ikaika Anderson 25.3%, Keith Amemiya 21.7%, and Sherry Menor-McNamara 9.8%, according to the state Office of Elections.
“Right, now I’m just ecstatic,” Luke said in a phone interview. “I’m just so thankful to the state and to the voters of Hawaii for the support that I’ve had.”
Anderson wouldn’t concede the race and told Hawaii News Now “We’ve got a long night ahead of us.”
Luke endured a massive attack campaign mounted by the super PAC Be Change Now, which is backed by the local construction industry. Be Change Now spent more than $3 million supporting Anderson’s campaign and attacking Luke’s.
It’s the same group that propelled Lt. Gov. Josh Green to his current office in 2018.
Luke said her nomination is a “clear indication that voters saw through the negative campaign ads.”
Luke also had outside financial support from the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 675.
In the Republican primary, Seaula Tupa’i appeared to be in the lead with 38.7% of the vote. Rob Burns had 30.7% and Tae Kim had 11.2%.
Most eyes were on the four-way race for the Democratic nomination to be the state’s second-in-command. Many lieutenant governors, like Green, eventually run for governor or use the position as a stepping stone to higher office, like US Sens. Brain Schatz and Mazie Hirono.
All four of the candidates expressed at least some interest in leading their own initiatives alongside the next governor. The top issue for most was affordable housing.
Luke also wanted to speed housing development and the building of more preschool classrooms. Anderson also wanted to tackle homelessness. Menor-McNamara, the president of the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii, also had plans to develop workforce initiatives. Amemiya campaigned on a platform of tackling housing and public corruption.
Throughout the election season, polls from various media outlets as well as the candidates’ own internal polling showed a wide open race in which all the candidates lacked name recognition among a broad, statewide audience.
Anderson and Amemiya each spent more than $830,000 on their campaigns, but Anderson had outside assistance from the Be Change Now super PAC of more than $2 million in paid advertising.
But Luke, who spent years amassing a campaign war chest as a state legislator, led the field in fundraising. Her campaign for her spent more than $1 million during the election season.
The negative advertising focused on Luke’s campaign donations in 2017 from former Navatek CEO Martin Kao, who along with two other executives were indicted on federal conspiracy charges in February.
Recent ads also tied Luke to Milton Choy, the wastewater executive who bribed two state lawmakers and is at the center of an ongoing federal investigation. Luke returned more than $25,000 worth of donations from Choy and his associates to the state.
Luke railed against super PACs at a press conference on Wednesday, where she called on the Legislature to crack down on such groups and require them to provide more disclosure on where their money comes from.
“We’re at a low point in the history of Hawaii’s elections,” Luke said.
The state’s ability to limit super PAC spending and contributions to those groups is limited by a 2010 US Supreme Court decision called Citizens United.
Amemiya and Menor-McNarama did not attract that kind of outside money. Super PACs did not play a role in the Republican primary race.
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism