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Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, May 31, 2000

Party ties figure
in mayoral races

POLITICAL history is starting to play an important role in two elections for mayor this year. The questions being asked and the challenges being tossed out are not about opponents' platforms, but about what you used to be.

Here in Honolulu, having dipped a toe in Republican waters in years past is the sin, while, on the Big Island, having been in the other party is a boon.

First the Oahu race.

Mayor Jeremy Harris, running for re-election, suggests reporters should ask Mufi Hannemann whether or not he is really a Democrat and if he would run for office as one.

Last September Democrat Hannemann acknowledged that people have talked to him about switching parties.

"I'm not initiating any talks about switching, but I have talked to congressional leaders about it," he said at the time.

Hannemann's bio could raise a few eyebrows among loyal Democrats because he did work for Vice President George Bush as a White House fellow and he was a vice president of C. Brewer, not exactly the career path of a Democrat.

But Hannemann is also the sixth of seven children born to Samoan immigrants. He grew up in Kalihi and served in the administrations of former Govs. George Ariyoshi and John Waihee.

Hannemann responds by saying that Harris himself should be asked what kind of a Democrat he is.

"He applied for a job with a Republican mayor," Hannemann says.

As a Democrat from Kauai, Harris was hired by Frank Fasi, who had just switched to the GOP in order to win back his mayor's job in 1984.

Hannemann contends Harris was a Fasi supporter, attending Republican events for the former mayor and therefore by association worked against Democrats.

"Can he say he didn't campaign for a Republican?" Hannemann asks.

So in Honolulu being a closet Republican is the campaign red herring that both Harris and Hannemann would like to wave. On the Big Island, there is a certain benefit to having a multi-party political past.

To win the Big Island, a candidate must have a strong base in the union-dominated Hilo-Hamakua area. But Hilo politicians, usually Democrats, are threatened by the conservative Republicans living on the Kona side of the Big Island.

THE dream of Democrats, a candidate who can win in Kona, has been unanswered until this year, when Democratic State Rep. Bob Herkes announced he would run for mayor. He can win in Kona because he used to be a Republican. Democrats are figuring that he can also win in Hilo because he's a Democrat.

His campaign is countered, however, by former Democratic Rep. Harvey Tajiri, who is running for mayor as a Republican.

A Hilo businessman, Tajiri announced earlier this year that he was switching parties to run. He's a savvy politician who likes to tell Republicans that he used to be one of the Democratic "good old boys" until he saw the light and became a Republican.

The Big Island race, unlike the Honolulu contest, is a partisan election, so Tajiri and Herkes both have to make it past their primary opponents before they can face each other in a general election.

Can a Republican win in Hilo or a Democrat sweep Kona? Can a former Fasi supporter beat a former businessman who spent a year talking policy with George Bush?

The campaign bandwagon for this year's set of mayor races will need an extra car just for the baggage.

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

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