James R. “Duke” Aiona, Jr.
The son of a Portuguese-Hawaiian father and a first generation Chinese mother, James R. “Duke” Aiona Jr. is a proud keiki o ka ‘aina.
Duke’s father was a life insurance agent and his mother an elementary educator. Duke enjoyed growing up in the (then) rural community of Pearl City. With his neighborhood childhood friends, he enjoyed riding bicycles through the rich red dirt of the Leeward sugar cane fields. Little League games at Pacheco Park sparked Duke’s life-long passion for team sports. With his school friends from Honolulu, Duke excelled in sports, including basketball and football through Saint Louis High School (1973).
While attending University of the Pacific, in Stockton California, Duke played basketball while obtaining his bachelor degree in Pre-Law. Returning to Hawai’i in 1977 Duke attended the University of Hawai’i’s William S. Richardson School of Law, graduating in 1981 with his Doctor of Jurisprudence.
Stepping into the courtroom as a law clerk for the Honorable Wendell K. Huddy, Duke knew he wanted to serve the people of Hawai’i. Duke first served as a deputy prosecutor then as deputy corporation counsel overseeing litigation for the City and County of Honolulu.
The legal community recognized Duke’s strong leadership, work ethic and balanced decision-making, and he was appointment as a Family Court judge in 1990. There, Duke was face-to-face with the families of Hawai’i. Families challenged by drugs, illness, lack of support and more. It is here that Duke realized how his decisions had a significant impact on the lives of people, an experience he describes as “humbling.” During his time as a Family Court judge, Duke was recognized for his fair and compassionate decision-making. Duke’s experience with “Real people, with real problems, who needed real solutions,” would continue to impact Duke throughout his career.
In 1996, then Circuit Court Judge Aiona spearheaded the innovative Hawai’i Drug Court program, which offers active and effective drug rehabilitation to non-violent offenders as an alternative to prison. As its primary architect, he became the Drug Court’s first administrative judge for the successful, time-tested, platform. During Judge Aiona’s tenure, Drug Court realized an 85% retention rate.
During this time, Duke also returned to his passion for sports, but this time, coaching youth teams in soccer and basketball. As a coach, he emphasized sportsmanship and teamwork to his players.
In his first year as Lieutenant Governor for the State of Hawaii, Lt. Governor Aiona called to order the first Drug Control Strategy Summit, an ambitious project which gathered leaders in government, nonprofit organizations, law enforcement, and social agencies, to create an all-encompassing strategy that included community mobilization, prevention, treatment, and vigorous law enforcement. This multi-pronged and collaborative strategy was hailed as increasing awareness while reducing the production and use of crystal meth, and underage drinking.
Former Lt. Governor Aiona was a member of numerous national health advisory councils in addition to the Aerospace States Association, an organization of Lieutenant Governors which promotes aerospace policies, education, and economic development.
Since leaving Hawai’i’s executive office, Duke has continued his private law practice while substitute teaching. Working as a substitute teacher, Duke sees first-hand, the difficulties teachers face in Hawai’i’s public schools.
Married to Vivian since 1981, they are the proud parents of four children- Makana, Ohulani, Kuli’a, and Ka’imilani- and grandparents to Rylee. His family is his biggest support system and his inspiration for serving the people of Hawai’i as Governor of Hawai’i.