Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, March 19, 1997


Harris weighs his options
for higher office

VERY tentatively, some things are starting to coalesce regarding the next race for governor and the future of the state's top local politicians: Gov. Ben Cayetano and Mayor Jeremy Harris.

Because of the geography of Hawaii, the head of the city and the head of the state occupy positions of power within 500 yards of each other. They are geographically bound to each other so that comparisons will always be made and one will always be in a position to challenge, irritate, collaborate and infuriate the other,

So even if Harris were not pondering a run for governor in 1998, his simple position in the media spotlight, in the state's circle of power -- drawing support and money from many of the major political players -- would make him a candidate anyway.

Neither man is a particularly charismatic leader, but both are consumed with both ambition and the desire to win.

Harris, however, holds an interesting set of cards.

Here's a fast outline of some of the options open to the 46-year-old former Kauai councilman, now running the city.

First, he can run for governor in two years. As mentioned here before, Harris has assembled a team that would help him raise money, solidify support and even bring in some Washington political muscle.

He has an ally in former Gov. John Waihee and has entry into his circle of friends and supporters. Harris also has a solid reputation among union leaders who helped him win re-election.

With a set of credentials like that, what is stopping him from ordering up the moving van for Washington Place right now?

Caution.

A race in two years against the incumbent would be a brutal fight.

Cayetano comes from the "scorched earth" school of political campaigning and thinks nothing about going into court to sue opponents who he thinks libeled him. Also in a company state like Hawaii it is always upsetting to oppose an incumbent Democratic governor.

Finally, Harris is seen by some union leaders as a reliable bet to win the governorship in six years, after Cayetano has had a second term.

Then the office would be without an incumbent because governors are allowed only two consecutive terms.

All this time would also give Harris a chance to watch other events unfold. There is speculation about how many more terms in office U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye or Dan Akaka might seek, so there might also be a senatorial opening.

HARRIS, however, is ambitious and young enough to feel that the next four years are too important to spend not campaigning for higher office.

On the side of caution, Cayetano took the unprecedented step of waiting his turn as lieutenant governor, becoming the first one in the state's history to spend eight full years as second in command.

Harris' final complication to running against Cayetano in two years is the reaction by the public if he resigns to run.

Although the resignation is required to run for another office, it is a difficult one for the public to understand. It almost seems that there is a certain abandonment or breach of contract when a politician leaves to run for another office.

So for Harris, even the appearance of many options means many dangerous decisions are ahead of him.



Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at rborreca@pixi.com



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