House GOP leader set to run for lieutenant governor
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
State House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan is expected to announce today that she will run in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor.
Finnegan, R-32nd (Lower Pearlridge, 'Āiea, Hālawa), has led House Republicans for five years and is considered one of the GOP's best political prospects.
"I believe I'm a voice for the average person in Hawai'i," said Finnegan, who has scheduled a news conference this morning at Kaka'ako Waterfront Park. "I'd like to connect the public to the Capitol in a more meaningful way."
Adrienne King, an attorney and activist, is the other announced Republican candidate for lieutenant governor.
Finnegan, 39, said her campaign will be based on economic recovery, improving public education and greater transparency in government.
She opposes new state tax increases and believes that tax hikes discourage consumer spending and slow job growth. She has called for a management and financial audit of the state Department of Education to determine whether central bureaucracy is preventing more money from reaching the classroom.
She has also been an advocate for charter schools one of her children attends the Voyager charter school in Kaka'ako, the other is at Punahou School and has sought more state funding for charter-school students and facilities.
"Furlough Fridays was just a symptom of a deeper-rooted problem," Finnegan said. "And this session, I believe, we didn't get to any of those deeper-rooted problems."
State GOP leaders, unsure whether Finnegan would run, had said they were looking outside the party's circle of regulars to recruit for the lieutenant governor's race, hoping for a candidate like Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who was a legal consultant and former judge when he won in 2002.
Several prominent Republicans, including aides to Gov. Linda Lingle, are behind Finnegan and believe she would be a strong complement to Aiona if they both reach the GOP ticket in November.
Aiona is facing John Carroll, an attorney and former state legislator, in the Republican primary for governor.
Jonah Ka'auwai, the state GOP chairman, said the party will stay neutral between Finnegan and King until after the September primary.
"She has legislative policy experience. She has political savvy, no doubt about it," Ka'auwai said of Finnegan.
Debi Hartmann, who leads O'ahu Democrats, said Democrats will likely plumb Finnegan's voting record in the House to contrast her with the eventual Democratic nominee.
Finnegan, for example, openly struggled with her vote to dedicate $67 million of the hurricane relief fund to end teacher furloughs next school year, telling colleagues on the House floor last month that she was voting "yes" with reservations, then "no," then "yes" with reservations again.
Finnegan believed that the money for teacher furloughs should have been borrowed from the hurricane relief fund not taken with a plan for repayment.
House Democrats have also been critical of Finnegan and other Republicans for attacking some of the tax increases and tax adjustments used to help close a $1.2 billion state budget deficit through June 2011 when all six House Republicans voted for the state budget that relied on the tax changes to balance.
"She's definitely made her stripes in the Legislature, so there's a lot to look at. She has a voting record," Hartmann said.
Finnegan, a former mortgage loan officer, was elected to the House in 2002 after the district's boundaries were redrawn following the 2000 census.
Finnegan will have to give up her House seat to run for lieutenant governor, creating an open seat in a swing district.
She said she had thought about running for state Senate in the district being vacated by state Sen. Norman Sakamoto, D-15th (Waimalu, Airport, Salt Lake), who is leaving to run in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor.
Finnegan's decision to run for lieutenant governor provides a clearer opening for state Rep. Glenn Wakai, D-31st (Moanalua Valley, Moanalua, Salt Lake), who has announced his campaign for Sakamoto's Senate seat and preferred to avoid a battle with Finnegan.
Several Democrats have said they will compete in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor: Sakamoto; former state lawmaker and Democratic Party of Hawai'i chairman Brian Schatz; state Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser, D-7th (Kaua'i, Ni'ihau); state Sen. Robert Bunda, D-22nd (North Shore, Wahiawā); state Rep. Lyla Berg, D-18th (Kuli'ou'ou, Niu Valley, 'Āina Haina); and state Rep. Jon Riki Karamatsu, D-41st (Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele).