On Politics
Richard Borreca

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Is Democratic Party
ready for low-key Kim?

Spin cycle or line dry -- how do you like your politics? Big Island Mayor Harry Kim, the lanky, jeans-wearing, former civil defense director, is mulling over a campaign for Hawaii's top political spot.

Contrast the simple style of Kim with that of Republican Governor Lingle, whose appearances and public statements come with full line-ups of clapping and cheering supporters, glossy banners and a half-dozen public relations experts in attendance.

Word of a possible campaign by Kim excited local Democrats last week, who are eager to find a viable candidate against incumbent Lingle.

Although a political newcomer, Kim is a proven Big Island winner who has easily triumphed in two mayoral races. Last year he won with more than 20,000 votes.

Although the island is divided by Democrats in Hilo and Republicans in Kona, Kim won both areas. His first campaign was a model of straight-talking, populist sentiment that reverberated through a community that has weathered plantation closings, drug epidemics and economic stagnation.

"I am a little disappointed with Democrats, I am a little disappointed with the Republicans, I am a little disappointed with the Greens and I am a whole lot disgusted with the whole system," Kim told people.

To call Kim's campaign homespun would be too generous. He refused contributions over $10. The campaign consisted of Kim and his wife walking around and talking to people.

"I basically ran as myself," Kim says.

Supporters were so taken by the 16-year veteran civil defense director and former high school basketball coach that they printed up their own bumper stickers and found ways to campaign for him. When Kim ran for re-election, his cabinet took up a collection and chipped in $100 each to buy campaign ads.

Kim, who says he would be just as happy "talking to the fishes and flowers" as running for governor, is still thinking about the campaign, but just that opening has Hawaii Democrats excited.

Democrats last week relished the contrast between a Lingle campaign and Kim's low-key style. How Kim would fit into the Democratic Party, however, is an open question.

As the 65-year old mayor said last week, "I think the Democrats sort of strayed and lost track of where they were supposed to go."

Today Democrats seem anxious to grasp any viable popular candidate, despite the concerns that should raise.

How would Kim handle the sure-to-be-smothering touch of Democratic handlers and party bosses? It could be that voters would get a more consistent and coherent image from a unified Lingle campaign than from a Democratic Party generic campaign stapled to Kim's populist crusade.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

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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