Kahele, Ruderman defeat challengers

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State Sen. Kai Kahele is all but guaranteed to finish the term his father started after defeating his two challengers in the Democratic primary Saturday.


State Sen. Kai Kahele is all but guaranteed to finish the term his father started after defeating his two challengers in the Democratic primary Saturday.

Kahele, a pilot with Hawaiian Airlines and Hawaii Air National Guard, won 5,855 votes, or 57.24 percent, with eight of nine precincts reporting. Gov. David Ige appointed him to the District 1 seat, representing Hilo, in February following the death of Sen. Gil Kahele the month before.

Dennis “Fresh” Onishi, a Hawaii County Councilman who is finishing his last term this year, received 3,692 votes, or 36 percent.

Kaloa Robinson, a county housing specialist, received 681 votes, or 6.6 percent.

Kahele, 42, gave the credit for the win to his father.

“I really feel that my dad, he left me a couple of different gifts,” he said. “One of them was the long-time friendships you have with a lot of people, the lives that you touched.”

Kahele spent the last day of the campaign sign waving in Hilo, including at one spot near Lokahi Circle, where his grandmother lived. He recalled sign waving with his dad at the spot during his 2012 and 2014 campaigns.

“There was a nice little mist, a nice little rain coming down,” he said. “I kind of felt my dad was there.”

Onishi, who was reached after the first printout, said he was still hoping for a comeback.

He acknowledged he was at a disadvantage, filing his candidacy on the last day at the “11th hour.”

“There’s always two years from now,” said Onishi, 55.

Assuming he beats Libertarian candidate Kimberly Arianoff in the Nov. 8 general election, Kahele will finish the last two years of his late father’s four-year term.

Gil Kahele, who was appointed to the Senate to fill a vacancy in 2011, won his last election in 2014, beating Libertarian Gregory Arianoff, Kimberly Arianoff’s husband, with 86 percent of the vote.

While this was Kai Kahele’s first election, the freshman senator still had the power of the incumbency on his side. He wracked up the lion’s share of endorsements and campaign contributions.

Kahele received $164,761.76 in donations, one of the highest amounts in the state.

Onishi relied on mostly public funding instead. He spent $11,146.27 through the state’s partial public funding program.

Robinson received $10,425.09 in donations.

Senate District 2

Sen. Russell Ruderman beat challenger Hawaii County Councilman Greggor Ilagan in the District 2 race with all precincts reporting.

He won 3,937 votes, or 54 percent.

Ilagan, his only Democratic primary challenger, received 3,307 votes, or 45.6 percent.

Ruderman, owner of Island Naturals, has held the seat representing Puna and Pahala since 2012.

“I’m super gratified that the people of Puna feel that I deserve another shot,” he said.

Ilagan said he wanted to thank his supporters “who believed in me, who gave me love and support.”

He said he hadn’t decided if he would run for office again.

Ruderman will face Libertarian Fred Fogel in the general election.

See the for final results.


Reporter John Burnett contributed to this report.

Email Tom Callis at

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