Kona Sen. Josh Green floats possible bid for governor

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With two years remaining in his state Senate term, Josh Green is considering running for statewide office in 2018.

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With two years remaining in his state Senate term, Josh Green is considering running for statewide office in 2018.

Green, a Democrat representing Kona and Ka‘u, said Wednesday he’s thinking of running for lieutenant governor, or even governor, depending on how the current legislative session plays out. A physician, Green, 46, will have been in the Legislature 14 years when his current term ends.

“I see the people that are in dire straits and unsolved problems that continue to grow,” Green said. “We can’t go two, three, five years without solutions.”

Green lists the struggle for working people to afford homes, continuing problems with homelessness and Gov. David Ige’s failure to meet his promise of putting air conditioning in 1,000 public schools by the end of last year as some of the problems.

“I really do want the administration to succeed because I love what I’m doing,” Green added. “I’m still waiting to see if the current administration is successful. I’m still rooting for the administration.”

If he doesn’t take the leap in 2018, he’ll definitely do it in 2022 when the governor is term-limited and leaves office, he said.

Challenging a sitting governor in your own party can be a risky move for a state lawmaker, said political analyst Colin Moore, associate professor of political science and director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Ige, a relatively unknown senator when he challenged his Democratic predecessor Neil Abercrombie who was seeking a second term, was successful. But that was because of Abercrombie’s leadership style, which angered many people, Moore said.

It’s different with Ige. While some among the top leaders in the Legislature are frustrated with Ige’s budget, that level of dissatisfaction hasn’t reached the public, Moore said. The most recent polls show about a 50-50 split between those thinking Ige’s doing a good job and those who don’t.

“There’s not this same angst with everyday voters as there was with Abercrombie,” Moore said. “In Hawaii political theory, an inoffensive candidate is a pretty good bet to keep the job.”

It won’t surprise Moore to see legislators pushing Ige to test his vulnerability. If there’s a sense he’s weak, there could be challengers.

“They’re going to poke him a bit to see how strong he is,” Moore said. “I suspect that’s sort of how the game is being played.”

Green, who last year had the largest campaign war chest of any state or local candidate, still had $507,372 in his campaign account as of June 30, compared to Ige’s $318,146 and Lt. Gov Shan Tsutsui’s $239,394.

Ige’s already gearing up to collect more. He scheduled a Jan. 29 fundraiser with suggested contributions of $100, $2,000 or $4,000, according to a report filed with the Campaign Spending Commission.

If he runs for lieutenant governor, Green will join a crowded field vying for the seat likely to be vacated by Tsutsui, who’s widely thought to be returning to Maui to run for an open mayoral seat, Moore said.

Names already popping up as possibilities are Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho, state Senate Ways and Means Chairwoman Jill Tokuda, among others.

Green said he won’t run for lieutenant governor if Tsutsui decides to stay. Tsutsui couldn’t be reached for comment by press time Wednesday.

Would-be candidates getting their names out early might or might not have an advantage.

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“We’ll know more as the session progresses,” said Moore, who’s inclined to think of moves toward the gubernatorial post as “bluster” at this point from candidates more likely to run for the lieutenant governor position instead.

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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