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Chang wins seat, securing all-Democrat Hawaii Senate

November 9, 2016 GMT
Hawaii State Senate candidate Stanley Chang, left, is greeted by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz at the Japanese Community Center, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)
Hawaii State Senate candidate Stanley Chang, left, is greeted by U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz at the Japanese Community Center, Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, in Honolulu. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii has become the only state in the nation to elect an all-Democrat legislative body in decades.

Democrat Stanley Chang won election to the Hawaii Senate, ousting Republican Sam Slom from the seat he held for 20 years.

Chang said he was deeply humbled by the outpouring of support from east Honolulu.

“We knocked on 16,000 doors, wore out three pairs of shoes, got bitten by two dogs, and all because I think the residents of east Honolulu deserve to have an elected official that will take the time to listen and understand their concerns and translate that into concrete action,” Chang said.

Slom was the lone Republican in the chamber until he was defeated Tuesday. He didn’t immediately return phone calls for comment.

The last time a party held all the seats in any state Legislature was 1980, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.

“I just think it’s sad that we’re not going to have an opposition or alternative voice in the state Senate, and I think the state will suffer for that,” Slom said.

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Hawaii Democrats also held on to the vast majority of seats in the state House of Representatives.

Hawaii has long been a Democratic stronghold. Democratic voters outnumbered Republicans 2-to-1 in the 2012 presidential election.

The party has dominated island politics since around the 1950s, when laborers on sugar plantations — largely immigrants from Asia — unionized to fight for better treatment from the predominantly white, Republican plantation owners who controlled politics during territorial times.

Chang is a Harvard-educated lawyer and former city councilman. During the campaign, he said he visited more than 15,000 homes in the district, using a mobile app to track his progress.

Slom was widely viewed as a fiscal watchdog. He never took a penny of the $13,268 annual legislative allowance available to lawmakers for things like office supplies and drinks for guests. Slom was the only senator with that distinction, said Carol Taniguchi, chief clerk of the Senate.

Independent voter Linda Makela doesn’t see a problem with an all-Democrat state Senate, she said after voting for Chang on Tuesday at Kamiloiki Elementary School in Hawaii Kai. “It will be a change, and maybe the change would help for the better,” the insurance claims professional said.

At the same time, Leatrice Fung, 81, an independent, voted at Waikiki Elementary for Slom “because I feel he has integrity.” Also, she didn’t want all Democrats in the state Senate because that would be ridiculous.

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Slom’s defeat has some puzzling about what would happen with politically charged issues such as re-drawing the lines of voting districts and naming members of the elections commission. Typically, the Senate minority leader appoints two people to each panel. But the state Constitution is silent on who gets that power if there’s no minority leader, and the state attorney general’s office wouldn’t speculate on the matter.

Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang, minority leader of the Hawaii House, tried to change that with legislation, but the bill died. Her caucus of seven Republicans is far outnumbered by the 44 Democrats in the Hawaii House.

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Associated Press writers Audrey McAvoy and Jennifer Kelleher contributed to this report.