Making A Case For Gov. Harry Kim

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - August 18, 2005

So maybe I’m wrong. It’s happened — rarely, of course, but it’s happened.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column on Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim and the speculation that next year he will run for governor as a Democrat. I said that I found his chances none too good against Gov. Linda Lingle: that she had a strong economy on her side, a low unemployment rate, and lots of campaign cash.

Within 24 hours someone said, “Sen. Whatchamacallit told me to tell you that you’re all wet. He says Kim would make a good candidate and could beat Lingle.” Sen. Whatchamacallit, needless to say, is a Democrat.

Then I attended a Mufi Hannemann fundraiser and state Rep. Shimadigger passed me and said, “As usual, Boylan, you’re wrong again. Kim would crush her.” Crush?

Last week Democratic state Rep. Brian Schatz called. Wanted to talk politics, he said: “Meet me at the Manoa Starbucks.”

Now I wouldn’t leave beautiful Pearl City for the Manoa Starbucks to talk to just anybody. But Schatz isn’t just anybody. He’s one of the few pols in town to whom it’s fun to listen. John Waihee’s another one. So too is Hannemann. They understand tactics; they weigh this against that, figure the odds, make you see things you’d never imagined.

To all his tactical acumen, Schatz adds a streak of Manoa/Makiki idealism.

What Schatz wanted to tell me, as apparently a lot of Democrats do, is that Kim would make a terrific gubernatorial candidate. Why?

“Everything that Harry Kim is,” says Schatz, “Linda Lingle is not.” For example? “Harry is about policy, not politics. From land use to public safety, Harry has demonstrated that he is a problem solver. From education to ice, Linda has demonstrated that she is skillful at blame shifting.”

(Now remember, dear reader, this comes from a member of the Democratic majority in the Legislature onto whom the eloquent governor has, at the end of three legislative sessions now, shifted some blame. He may be a mite touchy.)

Schatz contends that for an electorate tired of politicians, the former Hawaii County Civil Defense director — the man who stood for two decades between Hawaii residents and spewing lava (excuse my hyperventilated prose) — makes a perfect candidate.

“Harry has succeeded in politics without succumbing to becoming political,” says Schatz. “Harry has demonstrated that in times of crisis, he delivers. When things are their worst, he has led government, business, and community groups to keep people and their homes safe.

“Harry can handle pressure; Linda didn’t. Time and time again Harry has shown that he can literally take the heat. When the biggest public policy issue of her term — transit — came up, Linda flip-flopped.”

Flip-flopping presents something of a problem. Kim first ran for mayor of Hawaii County as a Republican; now he’s considering a run for governor as a Democrat.

“Harry’s independent,” Schatz insists. “Linda is not. Harry has a 30-year history of working with Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Greens. Linda, on the other hand, has become increasingly partisan, and her cozy relationship with President George W. Bush makes people uneasy.”

On that one, Schatz has a point. Lingle campaigned for Bush last fall, and there’s a segment of the electorate — independents and Democrats — who supported her in 2002 who, given her enthusiasm for an increasingly unpopular Bush, may not be with her in 2006.

Schatz’s strongest argument for Mayor Kim comes from the gut. “I met with him myself and found him extraordinary,” says Schatz. “People may underestimate him because of his low-key style, but not only can he win, he has the potential to be one of the best governors we’ve ever had.”

To convince others of Kim’s ability to win and to become “one of the best governors we’ve ever had,” a whole lot of voters are going to want to meet with Kim themselves.

But Mayor Kim has yet to decide whether he’ll run or not. Fourteen months remain before general election day 2006.

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