The path to Washington Place
By David Shapiro
Gov. Ben Cayetano sees Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris as the front-runner to succeed him next year, but says Harris has hurdles to overcome before claiming the Democratic nomination.
Cayetano believes Harris or the other announced Democratic candidates, former state Sen. D.G. "Andy" Anderson and state Rep. Ed Case, would defeat Republican Linda Lingle in the general election.
"Unless there's some kind of catastrophe on the Democratic side, the Democrats are going to beat Lingle," he said
Cayetano said Harris "has a lot going for him. He's intelligent. He can be very innovative."
But he expects Harris to face sharp questions about city finances because of a perception that Harris has run up the city's debt on politically popular projects while neglecting essential infrastructure.
"I think Jeremy's problem is that there's a widespread belief out there that everything he does is politically motivated," Cayetano said.
The governor said Anderson, a converted Democrat after a lifetime of Republican activism, will need to give Democratic voters a good reason why he switched parties.
"Andy's a very capable leader," Cayetano said. "He's a doer."
He said Anderson stands to win support from major public worker unions that favored Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono before she dropped out of the race.
"Andy has always had good relationships with the labor unions," Cayetano said. "Harris has angered city workers like I've angered state workers."
Cayetano said Harris also will have to guard against Anderson poaching support from private-sector unions that have given the mayor early backing.
"Even though they might have endorsed Harris because they made a promise, the question is how strong is it," he said.
Cayetano, who has never lost an election, said all previous governors had a core of diehard followers "that would go to the wall with you."
He wonders if Harris has that. "Sometimes that makes the difference when the election is real close," he said. "It always did for me."
Cayetano said Case, his ally on civil service reform, needs to step up his campaign to make a serious run.
"Ed Case I like very much," the governor said. "He's smart. He's a big-picture guy. But Ed doesn't have the experience right now, and I don't understand how he's running his campaign. He's not doing much to act like a candidate for governor."
Cayetano said Lingle had him beat in 1998 until her overconfidence allowed him to score a narrow victory.
"Two weeks before the election, they started reducing their television buys, and we went in and bought them up," he said. "She blew it."
He believes that was Lingle's political peak. "If the Democrats can come together after the primary and not cut each other up, she's going to be beat."
The governor disputes reports that Harris' decision not to challenge him in 1998 was a result of a deal brokered by U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
"Everybody has this thing about Inouye calling Harris and me into a room ... and saying to Harris, 'You stay out of the race' and, 'Ben, you run for governor.' That's bull."
He said he did meet with Inouye and Harris, but that no deal was struck. He insists Harris didn't run because he saw a risky race.
"If he ran against me in the general election, he would have beat me," Cayetano said. But he said his polls showed that he would have defeated Harris in the Democratic primary "and he would have been finished."
Cayetano added, "Of course, Harris laughs and says his polls showed differently."
David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.