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August 13 primary preview: Hawaii

A look at Saturday's primaries in Hawaii, and some results from Tuesday's primary elections.

On Friday, the House of Representatives approved the Inflation Reduction Act by a party-line vote. First, a review of several key results from Tuesday’s primaries in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin:

CT-Treasurer: Party favorite Erick Russell won his primary, and will face state representative Harry Arora from the Trumpy “Gold Coast” town of Greenwich in the general election.

MN-01: In a result that is fueling speculation that this November’s midterms could be less dire for Democrats than previously expected, Republican Brad Finstad won a special election over Democrat Jeff Ettinger by only about 4% of the vote in a district Trump had carried by 10%.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) squeaked out a primary win

MN-05: In a closer-than-expected election, Green New Deal Champion Rep. Ilhan Omar defeated former Minneapolis Councilmember Don Evans, 50-48%.

WI-Treasurer: In an apparent upset, Fitchburg Mayor Aaron Richardson, who includes surpassing Fitchburg’s clean energy targets among his accomplishments, won the Democratic primary and will face Republican attorney John Leiber in the general election.

VT-AL: In what seems to be an exciting upgrade in this House seat, Green New Deal Champion Becca Balint won her primary. Vermont is the last state in the country that has never been represented by a woman in Congress, a fact that will change when Balint is sworn in in January.

VT-Treasurer: Since the importance of state treasurers to climate is very well-known to Hill Heat readers, we apologize for neglecting to mention the May retirement of incumbent Vermont treasurer (and climate hawk) Beth Pearce in previous posts. On Tuesday, Vermont Commissioner of Financial Regulation Mike Pieciak won an uncontested Democratic primary. Pearce endorsed Pieciak, who forced a crypto firm to register as a security during his tenure as commissioner, and who notes that he “supports recent efforts by the federal government that would require publicly traded companies to uniformly disclose their carbon impact,” and that “many high-carbon industries, like fossil fuel production, will make for bad long-term investments.”

Pieciak will be the favorite in the general election against Progressive Party nominee Don Schramm and Republican H. Brooke Paige, who has again pulled off the impressive feat of sweeping numerous Republican statewide primaries.

Hawaii

On Saturday, primary elections will be held in the Aloha State, where 70% of the coastline is experiencing erosion, wildfires are growing, and hurricanes are becoming more frequent. “Studies at the University of Hawaii suggest that unprecedented climatic changes will be common in the state by the 2030s.”

HI-Gov: Shortly before winning re-election to his current and final term, governor David Ige signed a law requiring Hawaii to be carbon-neutral by 2045. Hawaii’s governor is powerful, with the ability to appoint several climate critical positions that are elected in most other states, such as the chief financial officer and state attorney general. With Ige termed out, there are three major contenders in the Democratic primary to succeed him. The frontrunner is Lieutenant Governor Josh Green, who has emphasized Hawaii’s immense housing affordability challenges. Green also notes that Hawaii has been a model for other states’ approach to climate, as “the only state in the nation whose legislature has declared a climate emergency and the only state with a statutory commitment to be carbon negative by 2045.” Green has pledged to integrate solar rooftop expansion into his affordable housing plans.

Rep. Kai Kahele is a trained pilot and former state senator. After winning his first term in Congress in 2020, Kahele continued to work as a commercial pilot and eschewed travel to DC, casting many of his House votes by proxy. In May, Kahele announced his run for governor with the slogan “Hawaii is not for sale.” His website places greater emphasis on his pledge not to accept large contributions and to enact democratic reforms— including a novel proposal to limit Hawaii governors to a single, six-year term— than it does on climate change or any other policy issues. Kahele is endorsed by AOC and the United Public Workers Union, though Green has won most major labor endorsements.

Former Hawaii First Lady Vicky Cayetano is running a mostly self-funded campaign that has highlighted the major costs of climate change to Hawaii’s economy. At debates and press conferences, she has joined with Kahele in questioning some of Green’s business income.

Sergio Alcubilla is challenging conservative Rep. Ed Case in Hawaii’s 1st

HI-01: Rep. Ed Case was an annoyingly vocal Blue Dog and Iraq War supporter during his previous tenure in Congress from 2002-07, and unfortunately won a comeback bid to Congress in 2018 over a crowded field of better options. Last year, Sunrise Movement co-founder Evan Weber created Our Hawaii Action, which launched a six-figure ad condemning Case’s involvement with the Unbreakable Nine, which substantially weakened climate action by disrupting Build Back Better’s passage. Case faces a primary challenge from nonprofit director Sergio Alcubilla, who supports the Green New Deal and is endorsed by the AFL-CIO and other labor unions. Our Hawaii Action has also run ads supporting Alculbilla.

HI-02: The race for Kahele’s seat in the House has numerous candidates, but there are two major contenders. The Congressional Progressive Caucus and most labor unions are supporting former state senator Jill Tokuda, while Reid Hoffman’s Mainstream Democrats PAC is attacking Tokuda. The New Democrats and various Super PACs (including several funded by crypto interests) are throwing their weight behind state representative Patrick Branco, a crypto promoter.

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