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’s degree in Pre-Law. Returning to Hawai’i in 1977, Duke attended the University of Hawaiʻi’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 Hawaiʻi. 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 Hawaiʻi. 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 Hawaiʻi 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.
As Lieutenant Governor for the State of Hawaiʻi, 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 Hawaiʻi’s executive office, Duke has continued his private law practice, served as the host for 808 State Update Talk Radio, and being an adjunct faculty at a local university.
Married to Vivian since 1981, they are the proud parents of four children and grandparents to eight. His family is his biggest support system and his inspiration for wanting to serve the people of Hawaiʻi as Governor.