By AUDREY McAVOY
HONOLULU (AP) — For their 16th wedding anniversary, Democrats in Hawaii gifted Josh Green and his wife, Jaime, a comfortable margin of victory in the gubernatorial primary Saturday.
Green, the state’s current lieutenant governor, handily defeated former first lady Vicky Cayetano and Kaiali’I Kahele, who decided to seek the governor’s office instead of a second term in the U.S. House.
Green, with lei of yellow and purple flowers and green leaves piled high up to his neck, alternated between throwing fists in the air and giving the shaka sign to a boisterous crowd of supporters at his victory party.
“On to November, we will win the governorship and lead Hawaii forward,” he said to the cheering crowd.
He will face former two-term Republican Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona in the general election, who defeated mixed martial arts championship fighter B.J. Penn in his party’s primary.
In an interview with Hawaii News Now, Aiona said his supporters “trusted my ability to lead the state, and I’m truly, truly appreciative and grateful for that.”
Green has served as second-in-command for the past four years to Hawaii Gov. David Ige, who has already served two terms and isn’t eligible to run for reelection.
The winner of the Democratic primary is favored to win the general election in the liberal state.
Many voters said Hawaii’s high housing costs were a top issue for them. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the median price of a single-family home topped $1 million in Honolulu, Maui and Kauai counties.
To address the housing shortage, Green said he would issue an executive order to eliminate red tape and streamline construction approvals and enforce existing laws to shut down illegal vacation rentals.
Aiona said he would eliminate the state Land Use Commission, which he blamed for slowing housing development.
Herbert Rowland, an Oahu construction worker, said he likes Green’s plans for tackling Hawaii’s housing problem and homelessness.
“I’m from this island, been here all my life. I don’t want my children to move off this island because it’s too expensive and they can’t find a house,” Rowland said recently while holding a Green campaign sign and waving at passing cars in Honolulu.
Aiona supporter Viola Alipio said she believes he will address rising crime in the state. Earlier in his career, Aiona served as a Family Court judge and Circuit Court judge. He spearheaded the Hawaii Drug Court program, which offers rehabilitation to nonviolent offenders as an alternative to prison.
“I know him very well. I know his values — it all lines up to what my values are. Family, honesty, transparency,” she said at a recent Aiona sign-waving event in Kailua.
Green was a state senator and representative before serving as lieutenant governor. He was a doctor in rural areas on the Big Island before entering politics. He has continued working part time as a physician while in the state Legislature and as lieutenant governor.
Green developed a following during the COVID-19 pandemic for his explanations of infection rates and trends and hospital treatment capacity.
The state’s largest unions endorsed his candidacy in the primary, including the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
The race got heated when Kahele and Cayetano questioned income that Green received while lieutenant governor from a limited liability company called Green Health International LLC. Green, who has continued in his emergency room doctor side job while lieutenant governor, said the money was for work he performed as a physician.
Kahele drew attention this year for his own side job as a Hawaiian Airlines pilot and his heavy use of proxy voting in Congress. Like everyone who has voted by proxy, he submitted a required letter attesting he was “unable to physically” vote at the Capitol. He cited “the ongoing public health emergency.”
Green was born in Kingston, New York, and grew up in Pittsburgh. He moved to Hawaii with the National Health Service Corps in 2000.
Kahele’s decision to run for governor opened up his congressional seat representing rural Oahu and the Neighbor Islands.
Former state Sen. Jill Tokuda beat state Rep. Patrick Pihana Branco for the Democratic nomination for that seat, Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District.
Among Republicans, former U.S. Air Force intelligence analyst and businessman Joe Akana defeated business owner Joseph Webster.
Hawaii is a vote-by-mail state so voters began mailing their ballots and placing them in drop boxes across the islands late last month. Election clerks in each county made a few voter service centers available for people registering to vote at the last minute or voting in person.
In the 1st Congressional District, incumbent U.S. Rep. Ed Case beat attorney and political newcomer Sergio Alcubilla in the Democratic primary. Case in the general election will face former U.S. Navy SEAL Conrad Kress, who defeated two other candidates to win the Republican primary.
In the U.S. Senate race, sitting U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz defeated Democratic primary challenger Steve Tataii, a conflict resolution consultant. Tataii made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2016.
In the Republican primary for U.S. Senate, state Rep. Bob McDermott beat five other candidates.