He’s had to sober himself up. Some people didn’t like that more radical image; they still see him as a campus radical. All politicians do their attitudinal studies, and he’s pretty sober now, and I find it boring compared to the old Neil.

Mufi Hannemann hasn’t been very boring. He recently came under fire after his campaign released a mailer that asked readers to compare him with Abercrombie, and made a point of noting Abercrombie, who is white, was not born in Hawaii. Why did that anger people so much?

Mufi has a record of this, going back to ’86, and to when he was first elected mayor of Honolulu in 2004. Back then, one of the unions supporting him brought up some nasty stuff about his opponent’s wife—it was alleged she and her mother had defrauded an elderly Japanese man. Mufi is a very competitive guy, a former basketball player at Harvard, and he plays hard. He has to: he comes from a small ethnic group [Samoans], he’s a bright guy, politically very astute.

But sometimes he gets a little too clever and a little too cute, and he stumbled recently with that mailer. It was meant to accentuate that he was more local, his roots were deeper than Neil’s, he was browner, his wife had a Japanese surname, Neil’s was a pasty Caucasian like Neil. And there were a couple of other things that were sophomoric. You found yourself thinking, “Did you really have to do that?” He took it on the chin, not just from me, but everybody responded to that. Even Inouye went after him—and Inouye hasn’t endorsed him, but he definitely wants him to win.

Does race often get brought into elections in a nasty way in Hawaii?

Not compared to what you folks do up there on the mainland. You wouldn’t see that crap they’re pulling on poor Obama. Sure, ties that bind matter. Filipinos don’t have many candidates in office, so if there’s a good-looking Filipino candidate, they will vote that way. But that can only win in a few districts. It’s the same with the Japanese population. Nobody’s got a good enough hold, except in state legislative districts, to do it. People might say, “You nasty this!” or, “You effing that!” over a beer. But you don’t see it in the public square very often.

Polling has Abercrombie up by as much as seventeen percent. Is it over for Hannemann?

Neil’s been up in the polls but that’s not necessarily good enough to win in this state. When we have an undecided vote, it often is not undecided. It might be Asian-American folks who don’t like to answer polls that are called in. I am telling anyone who asks me that I think it’s going to be very close and I won’t be surprised if either one of them wins. And Mufi’s got significantly more money and he really owns the airwaves. That’s going to be a big factor.

Duke Aiona on the Republican side has his nomination locked up. How would he fare against either Democrat?

All the polls that have been run so far with Aiona against Abercrombie or Hannemann show either Democrat will beat Aiona rather handily.

You wrote in a recent post that the Hawaiian media has been missing a lot of the key issues this election. What have they been missing, and what have they focused on instead?

My criticism really had to do with something we’ve been talking about ad nauseum on my PBS program: the media’s been shrinking. We were a two-newspaper town until about six months ago; we’re now a one newspaper town. A lot of good journalists were left out in the cold. The one newspaper is doing as good a job as it can. But there aren’t as many voices out there asking questions and writing profiles.

We have four television stations and two of those have been combined to one newsroom. I’ve worked for both of these organizations as a stringer, and now there just aren’t as many reporters, and that causes trouble. It’s also a younger generation of journalists and I just don’t think we’re getting to as many of the issues that are important. We’re talking too much about civil unions and not enough about education. We have educational challenges out here that are very, very, real; that’s half of our state budget. The state pays for education in Hawaii, not local areas.

And it hasn’t been a major campaign issue?

I think both the candidates for the Democratic side, and Aiona on the Republican side, haven’t said much about it, and I don’t think they’re getting asked about it.

What’s the net effect of this media shrinkage?

Joel Meares is a former CJR assistant editor.