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Oh, Yeah, The Prosecutor Race

Despite early signs of senioritis, in even numbered years I still receive an invitation or two to take part in panels on the upcoming elections.

On one such occasion in early August, after an hour’s post-luncheon blather about Caldwell-Carlisle-Cayetano, Hirono-Case-Lingle, Hannemann-Gabbard and the other four, Djou-Hanabusa, Obama-Romney, plus rail-or-anti-rail and various legislative races, someone from a table in the back asked, “What about the prosecutor’s race?”

Rifling through the thinning Rolodex of my memory, I looked in desperation to the two aging panelists to my right. The expressions on their faces mirrored mine, “What prosecutor’s race?”

But I, with my well-honed professorial habit of never, ever admitting I didn’t know the answer, stroked my beard and mumbled something about, “the incumbent having a decided advantage.”

In a televised meeting between the two candidates, Kaneshiro dismissed the “mass exodus,” saying that the disgruntled had balked at “working Saturdays” and “training.”

%$#*&! At that moment, I couldn’t remember the incumbent’s name, nor his opponent’s, nor that there was even an election for Honolulu prosecutor this fall. I had given a pure, cover-my-ignorance response. Shame on me.

The incumbent’s name is, of course, Keith Kaneshiro. He held the office from 1988 to 1996, left for private practice and a turn as state director of Public Safety, then ran for the two years remaining in Peter Carlisle’s term when Carlisle decided to run for mayor in 2010. Kaneshiro, with far greater name-recognition advantage than either of his opponents, won.

His opponent in 2012 is Kevin K. Takata. Takata is currently a deputy in the State Attorney General’s Office, but he previously spent 23 years as a deputy city prosecutor and boasts the office’s record for the most homicide convictions.

In announcing his candidacy last May, Takata gave as his reason for running: “Over the past 18 months, there has been a mass exodus – there is simply no other way to put it – an exodus of more than 50 deputy attorneys (out of approximately 100 lawyers). This is unprecedented. That’s half of the heart and soul of the prosecutor’s office.

“I am running for Honolulu prosecutor to restore integrity, improve performance, and attract and retain skilled attorneys who are committed to justice and protecting the people of Honolulu.”

In a televised meeting between the two candidates, Kaneshiro dismissed the “mass exodus,” saying that the disgruntled had balked at “working Saturdays” and “training.”

To be sure, deputy prosecutors and deputy AGs routinely move on to more lucrative jobs in private practice, and oftentimes their moves coincide with the arrival of a new prosecutor. Still, half the office’s attorneys leaving in 18 months should make voters and guys who write columns titled, say, “Mostly Politics,” take notice.

Let me try shifting some of the blame off my narrow shoulders. The Kaneshiro-Takata race received little notice in part because of the rules governing our nonpartisan city elections. With only two candidates running, the Honolulu city prosecutor’s race didn’t even appear on the Aug. 11 primary ballot. The mayoral contest did, because it drew three candidates – Caldwell, Carlisle and Cayetano. Cayetano and Caldwell ran one-two Aug. 11 and moved on to the general.

Given the media attention on the mayoral race that many of us thought could be decided on primary day, it is little wonder that Kaneshiro-Takata failed to register with some of us seniors, among others.

Add the nature of deputy prosecutors. Deputy prosecutors go to court but are little known nor long remembered. City prosecutors, on the other hand, so long as they talk tough, get noticed – on occasion, at least.