By PETER SUR and COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writers
Russell Ruderman shocked a field of political veterans to win the Democratic primary for the state Senate.
State Sens. Gil Kahele and Malama Solomon held off challenges from political veterans to win their respective races.
The winners of Saturday’s contested Democratic primary races for the Senate will face their opponents from the Republican and Green parties in the general election on Nov. 6.
Kahele won his first election to the Hilo seat after his appointment by Gov. Neil Abercrombie. He led outgoing County Councilman Donald Ikeda from the initial returns Saturday and celebrated the win in the Democratic primary with his blue-shirted supporters at his headquarters in downtown Hilo.
“My opponent has been a worthy opponent,” Kahele said, a day after praising Ikeda at Friday night’s Democratic Party rally in Hilo. Kahele thanked his team for the group effort.
Late Saturday night, Ikeda conceded the race and said he probably would not seek elected office again.
“I wish him the best,” Ikeda said of Kahele. “It was a good effort,” but Ikeda said he couldn’t overcome Kahele’s vast fundraising advantage. Ikeda was surprised that Kahele “had the support of the machine, the Democratic machine.”
As for what’s next for Ikeda, “I’ll probably go and retire,” he said, although he does plan to campaign for Barack Obama.
Both are Democrats; there is no Republican challenger.
Businessman Ruderman pulled off a major upset Saturday, when he deposed longtime Rep. Bob Herkes to win the Democratic nomination for the state Senate District 2 seat, covering Puna and Pahala.
The two were locked in a close race for most of the evening as results trickled in. When the final numbers were reported around 11 p.m., Ruderman earned 3,001 votes, or 36.3 percent, to Herkes’ 2,620, or 31.7 percent.
Earlier in the evening, Herkes held a small lead over his opponent after only absentee and walk-in votes were tallied. As he watched the results come in on his TV at his home in Volcano, he said it was too soon to tell how things would play out.
“I’d rather be ahead than behind. It’s been a really tough race. I got in late, and we really had to work hard,” Herkes said. “I just hope we’ve gotten the message out to the people. We’ll see as the evening progresses.”
Ruderman did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Bringing up the rear in the race for the District 2 Democratic nomination were Wendell Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a, with 1,152 votes, or 13.9 percent, compared to Gary Safarik, with 1,124, or 13.6 percent of the votes cast.
Meanwhile, Daryl Lee Smith ran as the sole Republican, and will face Ruderman in the General Election. He captured 810 votes.
The District 2 position is currently held by Kahele, who was bumped out of the district due to redrawing of district lines.
Ruderman, 58, ran on a platform of restoring funding to the state Department of Education, and encouraging more local control of schools and additional funding for charter schools. The owner of Island Naturals Markets also supports the creation of a business incubator focused on “value-added food production.”
Herkes, 81, of Volcano has served in the House from 1992-2000 and since 2002. A retired hotel executive, he also served in the state Senate in 1988 and the Hawaii County Council from 1984-1988. Herkes said in an interview last month that this would likely be his last election run. He focused his campaign on dealing with Hawaii’s high rate of mortgage foreclosures, calling a law he introduced to give homeowners greater protection “the most gratifying thing I have ever done.” He also seeks to pressure the state Department of Transportation to find an alternate route through his district in addition to Route 11, which is the only road in and out of Puna and Ka‘u.
Safarik, 63, of Hawaiian Paradise Park is a business owner who represented Puna on the County Council from 2000 to 2006. He became chairman in 2004. He supports boosting infrastructure expenditures and encouraging schools to offer more agriculture education.
Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a, 69, is a Na Leo O Hawaii production coordinator and farmer. He promised to fight for a hospital for Puna, a rehabilitation center for seniors and a youth center. He also called for a 10 percent pay cut for administrators before reducing pay for other public employees.
Incumbent State Sen. Josh Green, running unopposed, will face Republican Jeff LaFrance in the general election to represent Ka‘u and Kona. Final uncertified tallies had LaFrance with 788 votes to John Totten’s 665 in the Republican primary.
Nonpartisan candidate Mike Last did not have enough votes to advance to the general election.
Solomon pulled off a squeaker against Inouye, defeating her by a vote of 3,866 to 3,788 in uncertified results to represent North Hawaii. That’s a 78-vote margin, almost identical to the 76-vote margin by which Inouye lost the mayor’s race in 1992.
“We’re just watching everything and we’re just really happy,” Solomon said from her home in Waimea around 10:30 p.m., before the final results were reported. “But I just feel it’s just too close to call.”
After the results came in, she was relieved.
“I knew it was going to be close,” Solomon said.
Solomon is heavily favored in the general election against Green Party candidate and former County Councilman Kelly Greenwell, who got 18 votes.
Inouye, who made her name in the hotel industry, served on the County Council and then won a special election in 1990 to fill out the final two years of Mayor Bernard Akana, who died in office. After losing a bid for a full mayoral term in 1992 by the slimmest of margins to Stephen Yamashiro, she won election to the state Senate in 1998, defeating Solomon. She gave up her seat in 2008 in an unsuccessful run for mayor.
Solomon, a Waimea resident who served as one of the original trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, served in the state Senate until her loss to Inouye in 1998. She was reappointed to the Senate by Abercrombie.
Email Peter Sur at email@example.com.