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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 26, 2001

Big Island crucial to governor hopefuls

By Bob Dye
Kailua-based writer and historian

Harry Kim, the popular Republican mayor of Hawai'i County, will be neutral in the coming election, and so will his Cabinet officers.

"They can vote for who they want to, of course," he said. But there will be no endorsements nor public support from his people for any candidate, the mayor has decided.

That's good news for Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls Jeremy Harris and Mazie Hirono, who are actively organizing political forces on the Big Island. They hope that without the support of Kim and his top appointees, GOP standard-bearer Linda Lingle won't repeat her big success of 1998 on the politically crucial island. Hawai'i County voters gave challenger Lingle more than a 4,000-vote margin over Gov. Ben Cayetano then.

But how many of those votes were pro-Lingle, and how many anti-Cayetano?

Although it wasn't so the last time, more often than not voters in Hawai'i County have made the difference in statewide races. "As the Big Island goes, so goes the state" was a rule of thumb until Cayetano lost there but won the state.

How does it look there this Sunday? These representative comments are from folks in Hilo:

• Mazie Hirono: "She hasn't yet said what she believes in"..."If she's tight with Cayetano, then forget it."

• Linda Lingle: "She talks to everybody"..."As mayor, she did good for Maui"..."She knows the Neighbor Islands."

• D.G. "Andy" Anderson: "He's been quiet for so long. His old campaigners are retired, out of politics"..."Hard to come back. But he'd be good."

• Ed Case: "His being born in Hilo won't make any difference."

• Jeremy Harris: "Seems OK. But we don't know him".."There's something about him that's a little different. I don't know what it is."

Volcano resident Emmet Cahill, now 87, can't remember any Hawai'i election "heating up this early." At this stage, he thinks Harris and Lingle are in the lead. And as do others, he wonders when Hirono will define her candidacy.

Cahill is right about the heat being on high. The scramble for campaign workers is intense. With all major offices up for grabs, save Big Island mayor and the seats of the two Dans in D.C., some campaigns will be thinly stretched and under-financed if they don't get cracking.

The Harris campaign hasn't as yet named a Hawai'i County chairman. But Gerald DeMello, a member of the state Democratic Central Committee, and longtime grassroots organizer George Yokoyama are recruiting workers and are about to map a precinct by precinct strategy.

DeMello likes Harris because he empowers folks: "He works from the grassroots up, and not from the top down." He points to Jeremy's "visioning" program as proof. And he likes Harris' experience as mayor of a large American city. "He made it one of the best cities in the nation. That can be translated into the state."

And because Harris is a marine biologist by training, he will appeal to the many environmentalists on the Big Island, including members of the Green Party, DeMello believes.

The Harris campaign has done well so far. Both DeMello and Yokoyama are high-profile Big Island Democrats. Yokoyama has been politically active since the days of Jack Burns. So locally celebrated is he that he's on the menu at Fiascos' as Burrito Yokoyama, $7. (Grilled steak or chicken add $2.) They pour draft Guinness, so I had fish and chips instead, even though the big burrito was sitting in the next booth.

A pragmatist, George, who first met Harris just this year, is sure the Honolulu mayor is the only Democrat who can beat Lingle. "My motto: Support a Winner," he says unsmilingly.

The many strengths of Hirono's Big Island organization are just plain folks who helped on her successful campaigns for lieutenant governor, and workers from Insurance Commissioner Wayne Metcalf's former campaign organization.

Wes Suwa, the soft-spoken son of former legislator Jack Suwa, and a good friend of Metcalf, says he is attracted to Hirono because she reminds him of the old-style politicians: "She listens, relates to the average person, and has a commitment to Hawai'i."

Hirono aide Kate Stanley, who has recruited for Mazie on the Big Island, says their biggest success has been with low-key folks, people who will help in a quiet way. "They'll soon play a role in naming a leader," says Kate.

D.G. "Andy" Anderson, in the early stages of organization, has no Hawai'i County coordinator as yet. But Hilo's Bobby Fujimoto, a political power from the past, will be involved in the campaign, he says.

Andy's statewide "exploratory" committee already has two big names on it: former Campbell Estate trustee Fred Trotter and former UH President Fujio "Fudge" Matsuda. Other members will be announced in early September.

"There'll be some surprises," promises Andy. "Everything is going well." His Web page should be up and running this week.

Lingle's Republicans have not yet named a Hawai'i Island coordinator, but GOP executive director Micah Kane says he feels "comfortable" with their organization. Linda says the Big Island is "key to her election." She spends a good deal of time there, "because I like the independent spirit of the people. We're a good fit."

But all of the above could close down their campaigns if Mayor Kim announced for governor tomorrow. He has set a new and high standard for public service, and the voters seem to love him for it.

"We're really comfortable with him," is how Hilo folks nicely put it.

Harry is starting a new bumper-sticker campaign. It reads: "I'm a county worker. And proud of it!"

The first one will be on Harry's car. If any other county workers feel the way Harry does about his job, the mayor will have a few extras available in his office.

Is Harry already running for reelection? Or election to a higher office?

"No, this will be it. I'm not running again," says the remarkable Harry.

He'll serve out his term and retire, proud that he was a Hawai'i County worker.