Richar Borreca

On Politics

By Richard Borreca

Sunday, August 19, 2001

State Rep. Ed Case has
change on his mind
for governor’s race

On a good hair day Rep. Ed Case can look a lot like Robert Kennedy, but without that hungry gaze.

Appearances can be deceiving. Case, who will be 49 next month may not be hungry, but he wants a lot more out of politics.

Today he is looking at either governor or Congress.

Case, a private attorney with impeccable Democratic Party credentials, has become something of an enigma in the state House.

He grew up on the Big Island, attended public school in Hilo and Hawaii prep in Waimea. After clerking for former Chief Justice William Richardson, Case worked for the late Spark Matsunaga in Washington.

He was never a poverty or labor lawyer, but he was a political activist.

After winning a House seat from Manoa nearly eight years ago, he chaired a committee on Hawaiian affairs and ignited a firestorm of protest by suggesting that native Hawaiians might need a special autonomy bill in case a federal court or agency threatened the Hawaiian-only clauses in many state laws. After the Rice vs. Cayetano U.S. Supreme Court decision, Case's suggestions appear a lot more thoughtful than Hawaiians said they were four years ago.

Case then went inside, becoming Democratic leader for the state House. Repeated clashes with powerful committee chairmen led to Case stepping aside as majority leader and going outside of the mainstream to take up the call for government reform and moderation.

Others in the House note that while Case is in touch with the mood of young thoughtful legislators and voters, he is short on people skills.

"On a philosophical basis, a lot of us agree with him, but he has to learn to work with people," Rep. Sylvia Luke (D, Pauoa) says.

"My natural approach to problem solving whether it is personal or professional is to be pretty linear," Case said.

"Lets take the sum total of your experience and thought, try to identify the problem, try to understand why people feel the way they do, identify options and then try to find a solution for the most number of people," he said.

That's the sort of rational approach Case hopes will translate into support for a run at higher office next year.

Rep. Nestor Garcia (D, Waipahu) calls Case a "courageous and exciting new voice."

"He is not afraid of hard work and controversy. I think a lot of people in the Legislature say the same thing he does, but behind closed doors," Garcia said.

"I think people are looking for someone who is willing to be courageous," he added.

Although he can debate the reasons why he should run for either governor or Congress, Case really warms up talking about the race for governor.

"People are looking for someone with a moderate political philosophy, someone who is change-oriented, independent and with some character," he says.

To assure himself of that, Case is polling across the state to see if he has a chance.

If he does he is likely to announce this fall.

Besides being able to fit neatly into the definition of what he thinks Hawaii's voters will want next year, Case doesn't think the other major candidates are up to the job.

Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, Case says, is too liberal and believes too much in government to solve Hawaii's problems to be a good governor. Besides, he adds, Hirono just isn't a leader.

"Leadership means the capability to develop, articulate and sell a road map and then make the decisions on how to get there," Case said. "I don't think she has the ability to step up and be that leader."

He has an equal disapproval rating for Mayor Jeremy Harris, who he says has a character problem.

"People just don't trust him; I don't trust him. It is a visceral, internal gut reaction to the guy and it is born out of his transparent self-interest and self-promotion," Case said.

"I don't know where the guy's center is; what does he believe in?" Case continued. "I just don't want him to be my governor."

But if change is what people want, why not just go for a big change and elect a Republican?

Case figures that it won't happen. First he says Hawaii is a Democratic state and more importantly, he calculates, the Democratic primary next year will attract so many people, the winner is likely to go on and win the general election.

"It is going to be a quasi-general election, it will have Democrats, Republicans, Green and independents," Case predicts.

It is that last group that Case is hoping he knows. If he can find a way to convince independent voters that he is the only real candidate for change, then the case he makes could take him to the state's top office.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at

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