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Richar Borreca

On Politics

By Richard Borreca

Sunday, November 4, 2001


Leader of HGEA eyes
Hirono, Anderson

Russell Okata is displeased. Things are not going well, and he is concerned.

"Our members and leaders have been very upset at the political decisions that have been made recently and the way workers have been treated," Okata says.

The longtime leader of the Hawaii Government Employees Association has seen the state's Democratic governor ignore the public employee unions. Okata testifies before the Legislature only to have the new, young leaders vote against the public union position.

Okata is upset that the young Democrats in the state House changed the rules of the game, allowing public unions to strike, instead of negotiate with final offer binding arbitration, a process that has led to good pay raises for HGEA workers.

"It is the young leadership in the House, they made decisions that affected our economic future through our pensions, through the health fund and final binding arbitration. What lunacy," Okata says.

If there are problems in the state House, Okata has yet to find the perfect horse for the main event, the governor's race.

So far he's found two he likes.

Without making any endorsements yet, Okata is encouraging two candidates, Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono and former Republican state Senator and Honolulu Managing Director D.G. "Andy" Anderson, to keep running.

Okata told Anderson the HGEA thinks of him as a "viable candidate" but with problems with name recognition and the ability to raise money.

The HGEA likes Anderson's track record as the sort of politician who keeps his word and knows how to work within the system. Anderson, he feels, would listen to labor.

The sweetheart of the HGEA rodeo, however, is Hirono, a former state House member and two-term lieutenant governor.

"If anyone is trying to convince Mazie Hirono to stay in the race, that's me," Okata says.

If Anderson and Rep. Ed Case make the race in the Democratic primary election, Okata figures that Hirono has a better chance of beating the Democratic favorite, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris.

"Just by looking at the demographics, a Japanese female, in the public light, who has demonstrated that she can do the job," Okata says.

Besides, Okata says, if Hirono abandons the race for governor and goes instead for mayor, there is no guarantee that her name recognition will translate into votes over Mufi Hannemann, Duke Bainum and Keith Kaneshiro or Frank Fasi.

"I don't think by her running for mayor, she will be the strongest candidate," he speculates.

"If you go to the mayor's race, you strengthen Duke Bainum because Mufi Hannemann, who is running strong now, and Keith Kaneshiro and Mazie will all be fighting for a block of voters while Duke will obviously have attraction for Caucasian voters and newcomers to Hawaii," Okata said.

While some look for a charismatic candidate for the state's top job, Okata, who has been a vital link in local politics for 25 years, says Hawaii repeatedly voted for former Gov. John Burns and George Ariyoshi, neither of which Okata said were charismatic.

"If she stays in the gubernatorial race, you have certain strengths that are appealing: neighbor island votes, unionized worker votes and liberal voters such as women's groups," Okata concludes.

But he admits that so far his lobbying has been "more of a hope and a wish. Right now I don't think our advice and counsel is going to persuade her."

That decision brings the HGEA back to Anderson in the primary. The worry is that at 71, Anderson may not be able to reach enough voters.

"When you look at Andy's campaign right now, the ads they are showing, they are older people ... that is the group that Andy has been able to reach so far," Okata says.

If, as Okata puts it, Anderson is typed as "one of the tired old boys" he won't have a chance.

So Anderson has been meeting "tirelessly", Okata says, with different groups.

But, Okata sighs, so is Harris.





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



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