Aug. 14, 2022 at 11:00 a.m. ET
Two of Hawai’i’s most high profile Native Hawaiian candidates didn’t advance to November’s general election. However, another will try again at being elected to Congress.
The state held its primary on Saturday and most of the election is vote-by-mail with some voter service centers available for people registering to vote or voting in person.
U.S. Rep. “Kai” Kahele’s bid for governor after one term in Congress fell short. Democrats in Hawai’i overwhelmingly went with Lt. Gov. Josh Green. Green will face former two-term Republican Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona in November.
State Rep. Patrick Branco, Native Hawaiian, came in second in the race to replace Kahele in Hawai'i’s 2nd Congressional District. Former state Sen. Jill Tokuda advanced to face Native Hawaiian and Republican Joe Akana, who easily won his primary. Kahele defeated Akana in 2020.
Aug. 12, 2022 at 6:00 p.m. ET
Patrick Branco, Native Hawaiian, who served just one term in the Hawai’i House of Representatives is making the jump to run for Congress. Branco is running against five others in the Democratic primary for Congressional District 2. This seat is currently being represented by gubernatorial candidate and Native Hawaiin Kaiali’i “Kai” Kahele.
“I'm very grateful for my story, and I know that it wouldn't have been possible without my ancestors, my family, my neighbors, and my community, and I feel a debt to service,” Branco said to ICT. “Things are getting very difficult in Hawai’i. It is more probable that my little cousins are going to move to the continent to have a life. It's more probable that a kupuna, one of our elders, has to choose between paying for their medicine or paying for their next meal. We've been talking about these issues in Hawai’i since I was a kid and nothing has changed and nothing is happening. So I want to change that.”
In 2020, there were a historic six Indigenous candidates elected to the U.S. House. That number went down when Deb Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, made history by becoming the first Indigenous person to be selected as secretary of the Interior. Then, Kahele, who was up for reelection, chose to instead run for the Governor’s seat in Hawai’i. While Oklahoma’s Markwayne Mullin, Cherokee, set his sight on a U.S. Senate seat, leaving his House seat up for grabs. Two Indigenous candidates ran in the Republican primary and both lost.
Sharice Davids, Ho-Chunk, and Yvette Herrell, Cherokee, are running in newly redrawn congressional districts that favor the opposing party. In Kansas, congressional District 3 took on more rural, conservative voters making the seat a toss-up and a tough race for the Democratic candidate. In southern New Mexico, congressional District 2 took on more Democratic voters from around the Albuquerque area up to McKinley County that go blue every election. This seat is now considered highly competitive.
The only Indigenous U.S. Representative who is likely to return this midterm is Tom Cole, Chickasaw Nation.
Making it ever more important for Indigenous candidates, like Branco, to run for seats in Congress.
“I returned home to run for office and the main reason was to give a voice for Native Hawaiians,” Branco said. “We are underrepresented in politics. We don't have a lot of Native Hawaiians that run for office. I think it's a very important voice to have.”
Branco has a tough race ahead of him and is running against a more well-known and seasoned politician in former state Sen. Jill Tokuda. Tokuda served in the state Senate from 2006 to 2018, when she made an unsuccessful run for lieutenant governor. But outside-PAC money has evened the playing field for the freshman politician who have spent more than $1 million in ads criticizing Tokuda and boosting Branco’s campaign.
Branco is now one of the top two candidates for that seat, with some 63 percent of voters undecided. Though current polls favor Tokuda, the undecided vote will ultimately decide this election.
Branco is currently the state Representative for Hawaiʻi House District 50, representing Kailua and Kāne‘ohe Bay. He was born and raised in the district he now represents.
Branco graduated from the Kamehameha Schools-Kapālama and then went on to get a degree from Hawaiʻi Pacific University. He started working in Washington D.C. as a Congressman Charles B. Rangel Fellowship. While on the east coast, he earned a graduate degree from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Then, becoming a commissioned diplomat in 2012. Before returning home to Hawai'i to run for office.
“I'm very proud that I'm the only candidate in the race that has committed, that if I'm elected I will not run for any other seats. I will not run for governor, or lieutenant governor. I will not run for Senate,” Branco said.
He isn’t the only Native Hawaiian candidate in the race. Joe Akana, a Republican, is also running for that seat. Akana also attended the Kamehameha Schools in Honolulu. He served for a decade as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Air Force. Akana also got his undergraduate degree in human resource management, a graduate degree from Hawaii Pacific University in business administration and a second master’s degree in strategic intelligence from the National Intelligence University.
This is Akana’s second run for Congress. Last election, he overwhelmingly won the Republican primary nomination. He ran unsuccessfully against Kahele. Akana received 30 percent of the votes compared to Kahele’s 60 percent.
Kahele, who was elected to Congress in 2020, is making a bid for governor. He made headlines when he announced that his campaign wouldn’t accept money from special interest groups and would only accept small donations under $100. Unfortunately, the grassroots campaign has been falling behind in polling.
FiveThirtyEight reported that several polls show that Lt. Gov. Josh Green is likely to win by double digits. Although, do not discount the Indigenous vote which can sway whole races.
According to the list of Indigenous candidates compiled by ICT, here is the list of Indigenous candidates running for state office. The list isn’t complete and ICT encourages people to reach out to political correspondent, Pauly Denetclaw, at firstname.lastname@example.org to add any past or present candidates we may have missed this election.
The other candidates running for state office are:
Lynn Pualani DeCoite, Native Hawaiian, is running for State Senate 7 as a Democrat.
Daniel Holt, Native Hawaiian, is running for State House 29 as a Democrat.
Dru Mamo Kanuha, Native Hawaiian, is running for State Senate 3 as a Democrat.
Jarrett K. Keohokalole, Native Hawaiian, is running for State Senate 26 as a Democrat.
Michelle Kidani, Native Hawaiian, is running for State Senate 18 as a Democrat.
James Tokioka, Native Hawaiian, is running for State House 16 as a Democrat.
Justin Woodson, Native Hawaiian, is running for State House 9 as a Democrat.
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