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

Democrats now have to appeal to the voters

By Jerry Burris

Now, that makes for an interesting convention.

Go back a few months, and this weekend's Democratic convention was more than predictable. Jeremy Harris, the heir-apparent to the Democratic dynasty, would be anointed with the usual pomp and circumstance.

Yes, Ed Case and Andy Anderson would be on hand, asking for their share of attention, but it was clear that Harris was in line to get the official party slap on the back.

Now, all those well-laid plans are out the window. Harris' decision — not unexpected in some political circles — to quit the governor's race puts a whole new set of pieces on the chessboard.

As this is written, it is unclear whether the convention will take the time and trouble to designate a new favored candidate. Odds are, it won't. And that may be the best decision yet by a party that is struggling to find a way to hold on to its four-decade dynasty.

If the Democrats hope to do so, they will have to do far more than they have tended to do in the past: hand the job of governor over to the next in line. That was good enough for Burns-to-Ariyoshi, Ariyoshi-to-Waihee and Waihee-to-Cayetano. But it's not going to play this time around.

True, Ariyoshi, Waihee and Cayetano had to prove themselves to the voters. But it didn't hurt that they were seen as the natural inheritors of a system that had made a great number of citizens (voters, if you will) more than a little happy and content.

By all rights, Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono should be the next in line in this decade-by-decade march through power. But Hirono's "hokey pokey" routine of jumping into, and out of, the governor's race, the mayor's race and then — suddenly — the governor's race again will force her to re-establish herself as the candidate of choice.

Surely, Hirono's smarts, record, liberal credentials and friendship with the politically powerful unions should give her a leg up. But she will have to explain why Republican-turned-Democrat D.G. Anderson — by far the most seasoned politician in the race — and Ed Case, the champion of a "reinvented" Democratic Party, should not get the nod.

Whether or not the Democrats settle on Case, Anderson or Hirono (or perhaps yet another standard-bearer) this weekend, the work of keeping the Democratic Party tradition is far from done.

More than any time since Statehood, the Democrats will have to take their case not to the party faithful and the usual clutch of insiders, but to the voters at large.

It will be an interesting and unprecedented challenge — one that the Republicans will be watching with intense interest.