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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 31, 2002

Scorn for Cayetano is rife on Big Island

By Bob Dye
Kailua-based writer and historian

When referring to his attitude, they squint eyes and call him "Mr. King." When talking about his personality, they lift eyebrows and call him "Mr. Aloha." Gov. Ben Cayetano is not much loved in West Hawai'i, where I spent a few days recently talking politics.

Ali'i Drive in Kailua-Kona represents the challenge the next governor must face: reuniting a people divided by guests without going broke.

Advertiser library photo • Nov. 24, 1997

A few weeks earlier in East Hawai'i, the sobriquets used to describe Cayetano were less playful and more visceral. Politics is serious business for folks in Hilo. Once a Republican stronghold, now Democrats rally there on the eve of gubernatorial elections.

Partisanship is less institutionalized in Kona, which is too often bypassed by major candidates for statewide offices. "Politicians forgot Kona, so Kona lost interest in them," explains a Hawaiian woman in Keauhou. "Seldom do any of them take part in our parades or join us for community events."

A Kailua-Kona woman said in a soft Hawaiian voice, "The governor hasn't done anything for us." She wasn't talking about improving Kona's infrastructure. She was talking about preserving Hawaiian values. "If you are a guest in my house, you should follow the rules of my house."

When Republican Linda Lingle nearly defeated Cayetano in 1998, some pundits credited not her but an anti-Cayetano vote, coming from folks who wanted "anybody but Ben." In assessing the chances of the GOP front-runner in November's gubernatorial election, some of those same pundits speculate that with Cayetano off the ballot, Lingle won't get those votes again.

Don't count on it on the Big Island. There, anti-Cayetano has translated into anti-Democratic.

Since the last gubernatorial campaign, Lingle has worked hard for the GOP on the Big Island, apparently with positive results. "Kona is getting more and more Republican," a woman told me. "I think we're ready for a big change."

If Lingle beats Big Island Republican John Carroll, her lone opponent in the primary so far, her campaign strategy in the general election will be to split O'ahu and carry the Neighbor Islands; that is, if Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris is the Democratic standard bearer.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle has campaigned hard on the Big Island since her near-win in the 1998 race.

Advertiser library photo • Oct. 21, 1998

If her Democratic opponent is D.G. "Andy" Anderson, a businessman and former leader of the state Republican Party, she is going to have to do better than split O'ahu. She is going to have to take it big time. That is because Anderson has residual strength on the Big Island.

Whom newcomers will vote for is anyone's guess. But some longtime residents guess that it is none of the Democrats now in the race: It is Lingle. Despite her recent chairmanship of the state GOP, the former Maui mayor has a kind of nonpartisan persona with voters new to Hawai'i politics.

The newcomers have no local political history, of course. Mention of the Big Five oligarchy doesn't pull their chain. Hilo Massacre? Manzanar? The 1954 revolution?

They do know Cayetano, and they want to be sure to vote against him if he's running under an alias like Anderson, Case or Harris. That's why those candidates must identify and define themselves, drawing a distinction between their style and that of Cayetano and his policies.

Even if they do distance themselves from the incumbent, do they stand a chance?

• Anderson is Hawaiian, a political moderate and a successful businessman. He intuitively understands the problems of Big Islanders. He is likable. Veteran political campaigner Larry Mehau, a rancher and businessman who is helping him out, predicts Anderson will win Hilo because of the labor vote. He says he's not yet certain about West Hawai'i because of its many new residents. At this moment, however, Anderson seems to be better known and more positively perceived by longtime residents than either front-runner Harris or dark-horse Democrat Ed Case.

Gov. Ben Cayetano is not much loved by Big Island folks.

Advertiser library photo

• Case is now organizing on the Big Island, but it's too early to assess his chances of success. As might be guessed, cerebral haoles in Kamuela particularly find the articulate kama'aina lawyer and legislator an attractive candidate. Also, that's where he went to school, at the Hawai'i Preparatory Academy. Old school tie and all that comes with it may not be enough.

Waimea seems unusually politically apathetic to Kamuela businesswoman Patti Cook. The Democratic organizer said attendance at her last precinct meeting was a fifth the size of those before. It was pretty much the same story at other precinct meetings throughout the island, she said. As yet there is no Democrat challenging Jim Rath, who represents North Kona in the House.

Rath is being challenged in the Republican primary by political newcomer Cindy Evans of Waikoloa. She is an Outdoor Circle activist and advocate of public education. A spirited primary may keep North Kona Republicans from straying to Case or any other Democrat.

• The campaign spending controversy swirling around the Harris candidacy has not had much effect on Big Islanders. Voters are aware of it, but they will wait and see how it plays out. As one voter put it: "Anyway, we usually wait until August before making up our minds. That's when the politicians begin to make promises."

The physical aspect of Kailua-Kona and the long Kona coast has changed dramatically over the half century that I've been visiting there. Yet, two Hawaiian architectural jewels from the past — King David Kalakaua's Hulihe'e Palace and the missionary Mokuaikaua Church — continue to grace the bay front. Built at right angles to each other, they do not face off as did the Merrie Monarch and the somber evangelicals.

These buildings are maintained now by local folks to preserve various aspects of Hawai'i's past, and, through their devotion, to reconcile them. Only a street made busy by bumper-to-bumper rental cars now divides the buildings. That short portion of Ali'i Drive is a symbol for me of the next governor's biggest task: reuniting a people divided by guests without going broke.