Case on uphill battle for governor
By David Shapiro
Is the state ready for a radical change in the way government works? This candidate hopes so.
State Rep. Ed Case is banking on a couple of key assumptions in his dark-horse campaign for governor:
- That voters are ready for radical change in the way state government does business and would rather get it from a Democrat than a Republican.
- That Gov. Ben Cayetano's tumultuous term hasn't left voters weary of an in-your-face executive ready to make war on lawmakers, unions and the entrenched bureaucracy.
It will be a daunting challenge for Case, who lacks name recognition and a big bankroll, to stand out as the candidate of change. Fellow Democrats Jeremy Harris and D.G. "Andy" Anderson and Republican Linda Lingle also represent significant change from the line of Democratic governors that descended from John A. Burns and will end with Cayetano.
But Case, 49, believes the Internet can help get his message out on a limited budget. And he thinks voters will be receptive to his blunt style and promise to confront Hawai'i's problems head-on. "The whole system is basically set up to defer the hard decisions," he said in a recent interview. "That's the first thing that has to change."
Case and Cayetano are not personally close and their styles differ Case is more polished and personable but they are soul mates on contentious issues such as civil service reform, privatization of government services and Hawaiian rights.
It was Cayetano who first suggested that Case would make a good governor. He was impressed by the heat Case was willing to take in the Legislature to reform civil service and find a fair way to resolve Native Hawaiian claims.
However, the governor believes Case may be reaching for the top spot too soon and needs to step up his visibility fast to become a factor in the race.
Case, a respected attorney, was born in Hilo and comes from a family of prominent lawyers and corporate overseers. He was elected to the House from Manoa in 1994 and rose to majority leader before resigning this year out of disgust with the slow pace of change in the Legislature.
Now a dissident in the Democratic caucus, he joined with Republicans this year to pass legislation to allow greater privatization of government services.
Case sees himself as a third-generation "new" Democrat. George Ariyoshi was the first, bringing a measure of fiscal restraint to the Democratic penchant for big government. Cayetano was the next, forced by a sinking economy to cut government costs.
"He really didn't finish that job," Case said. "He believes in reducing the rate of growth, but he still believes in a pretty big government."
Case wants to slash state government to a size Hawai'i's economy can support to free funds for tax cuts and to improve education and vital infrastructure. That means reducing payroll costs through attrition, furloughs and privatizing services.
"If government wants to help the private sector revitalize the economy, you have to reduce government costs," he said. "You've got too many employees. Government is too big in relation to total economic activity. We need to tell unions, 'If we don't revitalize the economy, you're not going to have your jobs in five years, you're not going to have your benefits.' "
He believes Democratic voters are ready for change. In fact, he thinks Cayetano would have won a bigger victory over Lingle in 1998 if he had campaigned on his message of change instead of turning back to his old labor union constituency. "He was on the road to change, but he went soft," Case said. "He just retreated."
David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.