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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Volcanic Ash
'Back to Future' with Andy?

By David Shapiro

Former Republican D.G. "Andy" Anderson has launched his campaign as a Democratic candidate for governor in the manner he says he would govern — boldly.

While other candidates work on the early logistics of building campaigns — raising money, lining up support and recruiting teams — Anderson, who has yet to formally announce, is running aggressive TV ads trying to stake out a position as a uniquely qualified leader for perilous times.

He's betting he can plant a winning message that Hawai'i is in serious trouble and needs to stop fumbling around with professional politicians whom he believes lack vision, real-world experience and the confidence to take risks.

Anderson, 71, a successful businessman and GOP top gun for 30 years, is backed by a diverse group of respected leaders, including former University of Hawai'i president Fujio Matsuda, former Campbell Estate trustee Fred Trotter, Hawaiian activist Bumpy Kanahele, former judge and Democratic chairman Walter Heen, labor attorney Peter Trask and former East-West Center president Victor Li.

The number of supporters with "former" in their titles raises the vital question: Is this a "Back to the Future" movement with real legs or the last gasp of a dying political generation?

A few weeks ago, Anderson didn't look to be a serious factor in the race.

The former state senator and unsuccessful Republican candidate for governor hasn't appeared on a ballot since 1986. His reasons for leaving the GOP remain murky.

But several things have potentially broken in his favor. The recent special session of the Legislature left many voters more worried than ever about the competence of state government. An unconventional candidate who strikes the right chord with fed-up voters can take off like a rocket.

Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono's public wavering on whether she's in the race or out already has some of her support moving to Anderson. If she opts out, he stands to gain key backing from top public worker unions that have a long record of enmity for the other candidates, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris, state Rep. Ed Case and Republican leader Linda Lingle.

Harris is still the clear Democratic frontrunner. He's a popular mayor with ample financing, a mighty political organization and a solid base of support on O'ahu. He has easily won re-election twice against attractive opponents backed by Democratic regulars and public employees.

But Anderson can test him as never before. Voters demand more of governors than mayors and have little inkling so far of Harris' vision for diversifying Hawai'i's economy, rebuilding our failing schools and seeing to our social welfare. Anderson will make Harris explain how his skills for fixing traffic flow and building parks translate to bigger-picture state issues.

Lingle will be a formidable opponent for any Democrat. She's adequately financed, well-organized and can cruise through the primary while Democrats spend money telling voters why it would be a bad idea to elect each other governor.

The former Maui mayor ran a remarkable race for governor in 1998, coming from nowhere to nearly topple Gov. Ben Cayetano. She brought thousands of new members to the GOP and led them to historic gains in last year's legislative elections. She's given Republicans a real chance to gain control of the state House of Representatives as well as the governorship next year.

She possesses the closest thing to real charisma in either party.

Lingle needs to sharpen her message from 1998, when her balancing act as a Republican in a Democratic state left voters a bit unclear on what she stood for and where she would lead Hawai'i. Anderson's early prodding on campaign messages should help her correct that.

David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net.