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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, June 1, 2002

Dems begin to pick up pieces after Harris exit

 •  You can call mood unconventional
 •  Hirono re-entry praised nationally

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

Hawai'i Democrats began the business of bouncing back yesterday, holding morning meetings of party leaders and launching their state convention in the afternoon to try to rally the troops.

Senate President Robert Bunda, left, discusses Democratic strategy with House Speaker Calvin Say at the party’s convention center.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

The message put out by Democratic insiders was that the party hit bottom Thursday when Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris announced he will not run for governor, and the thump has jolted the party awake.

"What happened yesterday now has everyone worked up, and so now the juices are beginning to flow again, and I think on Sunday it will be a good show for you folks," Gov. Ben Cayetano told reporters. "I'm really happy this has happened because I can just feel the excitement, you know."

Cayetano signed a package of bills yesterday morning to cap gas prices, regulate health insurance rates and provide less expensive prescription drugs to many senior citizens, new laws the governor said will be the centerpiece of the Democrats' efforts to retain control of the State Capitol.

"The Republican candidate is against the bills that I signed today, is against these laws, and she proposed to repeal them if she becomes governor," Cayetano said in a reference to GOP front runner Linda Lingle. "Well, these are bills which are pro-people and pro-consumer, and we're not going to let that happen."

The Democrats started the day with an 8:30 a.m. meeting of party leaders that included Cayetano, U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye and former Govs. George Ariyoshi and John Waihee at a law office in the First Hawaiian Bank building. It was called by Inouye in response to Thursday's announcement that the Democratic front-runner Harris was pulling out of the race, saying he was trailing in the polls by 22 points and did not believe he could beat Lingle.

Ariyoshi said the Democratic leadership met to reaffirm that, even after the Harris pullout, "the party is still very viable, that there are many options, many candidates, and that we need to go into the campaign feeling that we have a real chance, a real opportunity to present some of the issues to the people."

Cayetano said Democratic leaders agreed at the meeting they will not try to maneuver for a particular outcome in the primary.

"Sometimes in a case like this where an election looks difficult, there is a feeling, I think, that maybe the candidates should be manipulated so you can have the strongest team," Cayetano said. "We all agreed that we would not try to influence people into running or dropping out or whatever, that we would stick to the mantra or the creed of our party, and that it's going to be an open election, and everyone is going to have a shot."

He said he won't be much surprised if "one or two more" Democrats jump into the governor's race.

Exactly who might enter the race was the subject of much speculation at the lightly attended opening day of the state convention at the Sheraton Waikiki hotel yesterday.

During breaks from the technical floor procedures of accepting delegate committee reports and appointing convention officers, delegates tried to guess at who would enter the race and weigh the impact of the Harris pullout on the announced candidates. Those include Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, state Rep. Ed Case and former city Managing Director D.G. "Andy" Anderson.

State Sen. Matt Matsunaga, who has been considering a run for lieutenant governor, said he is now reconsidering his options, and that entering the governor's race is "a possibility."

But he added that "realistically, in order to mount a gubernatorial campaign one would need a great deal of money, a great deal of organization and a great deal of manpower, and I'm not sure if that's possible right now."

State Sen. Cal Kawamoto spent yesterday talking to other party delegates about drafting U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka to run for governor.

"I tell you, he is our best chance to win this gubernatorial race," Kawamoto said. "I don't think the Republicans could react to a candidate like him. People I've talked to like the idea, but no one wants to do anything about it."

Hawai'i Democratic Chairwoman Lorraine Akiba said the party will rebound from Harris' withdrawal from the governor's race.

"We're deep on the bench. We're not just one candidate or one person," Akiba said in an interview in a ballroom festooned with red, white and blue Mylar balloons.

As part of their strategy for winning, the Democrats plan to focus public attention on bills Cayetano signed yesterday to cap gasoline prices, provide less expensive prescription drugs and regulate health insurance premiums.

Cayetano said the cap on wholesale and retail gas prices, the first law of its kind in the nation, is justified. Production costs are as low in Hawai'i as on the Mainland, but Hawaii motorists have been paying 40 cents per gallon more for years, he said.

"Our people have had it up to here with this, and we did something about it," Cayetano said.

The gas price caps would take effect in 2004 because lawmakers plan to study the gasoline market further and make changes in the bill next year.

Lawmakers predicted another bill Cayetano signed to provide discounts on prescription drugs for lower income people will save hundred of dollars per month for thousands of Hawai'i consumers, and will be a hit with the voters.

Harris and some of his supporters are expected to put in an appearance at the convention this afternoon.

As word of Mayor Jeremy Harris' decision to drop out of the governor's race spread across town yesterday, with many people called City Hall to offer their views.

City spokeswoman Carol Costa said the calls received by Harris' office were largely supportive, running the gamut from some praising him for staying on as mayor to those urging him to jump back into the race for the top political job.

Cayetano said before the convention opened that Harris' comment that he could not beat Lingle "says more about him than anybody else."

"You've got to have the passion, you've got to believe you can win," Cayetano said. "Otherwise, you're not going to win, because the people will understand and will know how you feel about things."

Advertiser reporters Robbie Dingeman and Scott Ishikawa contributed to this report. Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.

Previous stories
May 31, 2002 Mayor Harris withdraws from governor's race
May 30, 2002 Companies agree to pay fines
May 27, 2002 Democrats to set agenda
May 21, 2002 Ed Case officially in governor race
May 17, 2002 Council struggles over final budget
May 8, 2002 Harris campaign to act on lost eight weeks
May 8, 2002 Other campaigns appraise effects of court ruling
May 7, 2002 Court clears way for Harris campaign
May 7, 2002 Harris' fund told to give up excess $98,000

Harris Profile
July 25, 1999 The Harris project: the first 5 years