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Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Tuesday, August 1, 2000

Big Island mayor
has a tough job

First of two articles | Day Two

O rule the Big Island is to rule the unruliest constituency in the state of Hawaii.

Everything seems to be objected to:

Bullet A South Point spaceport, now dead despite being a superb equatorial launch site.
Bullet A major state prison. Probably won't be built because of voter opposition.
Bullet Irradiation of papayas to make them marketable outside Hawaii. Barely saved in a close referendum.
Bullet Genetic engineering of farm products. Criticized but used.
Bullet Expansion of the world's finest observatory site atop Mauna Kea. Finally negotiated but with significant limitations.
Bullet Exploiting the vast potential of its geothermal energy. Allowed only on a small basis.
Bullet Live-weapons military training in the Saddle area. Continuing but contested on both policy and environmental concerns.
Bullet Resorts, both generally and specifically, but still growing as one of the island's main economic strengths.
Bullet Wiping out the illegal marijuana-growing industry. It still survives despite regular spraying. Overzealousness would be labeled "police state" tactics.
Nature can be very unruly, too.
Bullet Kilauea Volcano is now in its 18th year of continuous eruption. It still occasionally burns up a home or two remaining near its path in Puna.
Bullet Giant Mauna Loa last erupted in 1984 and will again for sure.
Bullet More earthquakes than any other island, thanks to its volcanoes.
Bullet Tsunamis wiped out much of the Hilo waterfront in 1946 and 1960 and are sure to come again but will find parks where commerce used to be.
Bullet Regional droughts hurting crops and raising fire risks.

That said, it's a wonderful island and its mayor for nearly eight years, Stephen M. Yamashiro, thinks so, too.

Evidence the job can't be all that off-putting is that two Democrats, six Republicans, two Greens and two nonpartisans -- a total of 12 -- are candidates to succeed him. Yamashiro can't run again because of a two-term limit.

He will support a fellow Democrat, Robert Herkes. But the race seems quite open, especially since longtime former civil defense director Harry Kim, a master of crises and much in the public eye, has stepped in to contest for the Republican nomination.

YAMASHIRO came by the mayor's job the hard way. He was on the County Council from 1976 to 1990, but decided to run for mayor after the death of Bernard Akana, who became mayor with minimum campaign spending because enough voters were mad enough at his predecessor to want to "teach him a lesson."

Yamashiro lost by just 76 votes to Lorraine Inouye in the 1990 Democratic primary. She went on to win in November. Two years later Yamashiro turned the tables with a 3,871-vote win. She is now a state senator.

Yamashiro was re-elected by less than half that margin over a Green Party rival in 1996. He thinks his decline reflected bitterness from a public employee strike but says his campaign team always felt sure he would win.

The Greens so far have had only one winner -- a Council member from Puna-Kau. They are well-organized "antis," however, with strong appeal to intellectuals, substantial funding and a good staff.

Yamashiro's election in 1992 came at the same time as the Japanese investment bubble burst. He had to deal with reduced government income and set a policy of not filling vacancies rather than forcing layoffs. He made a significant planning shortcut in West Hawaii by using Shoreline Management Area rules to approve some key resorts in short order.

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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