Tuesday, March 24, 1998

Why Cayetano
still thinks he can win

OPINION polls taken early in an election year can be deceptive. In 1986, outsider Cec Heftel had a huge lead over John Waihee in the campaign for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, but saw it evaporate at the finish. In 1994, Republican Pat Saiki led Democrat Ben Cayetano and independent Frank Fasi in early gubernatorial polls, but finished behind both of them.

Cayetano can cite those examples to justify shrugging off the Star-Bulletin-NBC Hawaii News 8 Poll showing him trailing both Linda Lingle and Jeremy Harris by wide margins. Only Fasi, the perennial candidate, fares worse than the incumbent. Not only that, Cayetano's numbers have been getting worse.

The obvious answer is that people are blaming the governor for the sour condition of the economy. That is not entirely fair; Cayetano isn't the cause of the state's economic problems. But like most politicians he would probably not be bashful about claiming credit for prosperity if it existed, even if he wasn't responsible for that either.

Of course Lingle and Fasi -- Harris is still playing coy, because he would have to resign as mayor in mid-term to run -- argue that they could fix the economy if elected, which is debatable at best. State governments have some ability to affect the course of the economy, but there are many factors beyond their control, a fact which politicians prefer to gloss over.

The governor says he thinks the poll numbers will change after the Legislature approves his economic reform proposals and conditions start to improve. Maybe. But the real reasons he doesn't have to panic are the same reasons the Democrats have monopolized the governorship for the last 36 years: As the incumbent party, they can raise a lot more money for their campaigns. As the party supported by the government employee unions, they have a built-in army of campaign workers.

This time Cayetano has a campaign war chest of more than $2 million, and that is sure to grow. Lingle has only a small fraction of that and Harris and Fasi even less. When the main-line Democrats get serious about saturation advertising, sign-waving and door-to-door distribution of campaign literature, they have been able to overcome an opponent's early lead. Cayetano did that to Saiki four years ago. He figures he can do it again to Lingle.

Will money and manpower be enough, or will Cayetano also have to show results in improving the economy to win? That may be the crucial question in this election.


Russian reshuffling

RUSSIAN President Boris Yeltsin has been known to bounce back from illness in a flourish, but the display of assertiveness following his latest recovery took some by surprise. Victor Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin's loyal prime minister for the past five years, is stripped of his power, first deputy and leading reformer Anatoly Chubais is jobless and other cabinet ministers are left wondering about their next paychecks. However, the reshuffling had less to do about change in Russia's policies than about soothing public frustration and positioning of politicians.

For too many Russians, market reform has meant obscene riches for the new robber barons, corruption linking organized crime with bureaucrats, and lower living standards for the vast majority, whose meager wages and pensions arrive late by months. For most, patience may be in as short supply as rubles.

Returning to the Kremlin after recovering from a cold, Yeltsin obviously wanted to show he is in charge and is dissatisfied with the progress of market reforms. His assignment of Chernomyrdin to organize next year's parliamentary elections may take the 59-year-old former Soviet gas minister out of contention for the presidential race the next year. The sacking of Chubais, tarnished by an alleged book bribery scandal, probably ends his political career. Boris Nemtsov, removed as the other first deputy prime minister, remains very much alive.

Yeltsin's selection of Chernomyrdin's replacement -- at least temporarily -- indicates he is not shying away from reforming Russia's economy. Sergei Kirienko is a 35-year-old ally of Nemtsov from the region of Nizhny Novgorod, where Nemtsov spearheaded reforms as governor. Nemtsov, who launched his own website on the Internet last week, has an agreement with Yeltsin to stay in the government for at least another year.

Yeltsin's assertiveness and all the political positioning of reformists may be of little use without effective measures to improve the quality of life for average Russians. Yeltsin's moves show his understanding of the political importance of Russia's middle class. All his government must do now is create one.


Bishop Estate rulings

IT didn't take long. Just one week after five judges were appointed to replace the sitting justices on the state Supreme Court to hear issues related to the state investigation of the Bishop Estate, the five dismissed several appeals by the estate from lower court rulings. They ordered that the estate must comply with subpoenas from Attorney General Margery Bronster for her investigation of allegations that the trustees mismanaged the Kamehameha Schools and engaged in improprieties in handling the estate's finances.

The sitting justices excused themselves only after seeking an advisory opinion from the judicial ethics commission. That shouldn't have been necessary, because they had appointed all the Bishop Estate trustees. In addition, the attorney general is investigating the selection process, and the justices could hardly rule on questions related to their own conduct.

However, the justices finally excused themselves and the results are already evident. The logjam in the Bishop Estate investigation is breaking up. The investigation can proceed, as it should.

Bishop Estate Archive

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