Richar Borreca

On Politics

By Richard Borreca

Sunday, October 21, 2001

Everyone loves the underdog

In Hawaii, not only do we love underdogs; most of the time we think we are the underdog. Even if our team is favored by three touchdowns, we worry that expecting to win will bachi the deal.

Of all the underdogs, political ones are the most peculiar breed.

Politicians quickly learn a double standard. They proclaim they are underdogs, but to themselves they know they entered the race because they expect to win.

Particularly perplexing are politicians who manage to take a front-running position and run themselves so far into the ground that they become underdogs.

For instance, Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono was one of the first to say she wanted to be governor. Right after winning re-election, she said she was looking at becoming governor. More than a year and a half ago, she had Gov. Ben Cayetano agreeing that she was tough enough, smart enough and qualified enough to be governor.

Hirono, 53, served 14 years in the state House before being elected lieutenant governor in 1994.

In testimony to just how tough Hirono is, before she announced, Cayetano, fearing that she would not help his campaign for governor, tried to talk her out of running.

In so many words, she told Cayetano to stick it.

"This is America, and I can run for anything I want," she reportedly told Cayetano. After he became governor, Cayetano wound up acknowledging her candidacy was one of the reasons he won.

Just as Lt. Gov. George Ariyoshi became Gov. Ariyoshi and Lt. Gov. John Waihee became Gov. Waihee and Lt. Gov. Ben Cayetano became Gov. Cayetano, Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono could see her destiny.

A funny thing happened on the way to that destiny.

As one top Democrat notes, "she had every opportunity and nothing happened."

Hirono served faithfully and quietly as lieutenant governor. But when Cayetano turned over airline negotiations, economic advancement and even parts of his civil service reform proposals, she was unable to get any traction. The job may have been accomplished, but somehow Hirono failed to be identified with it.

Her heart was in the right place, but she was never able to develop a charismatic persona or even raise her political profile.

Then she challenged Cayetano last year during a crucial step in the public employee pay raise negotiations. Although the challenge may have endeared her to the public unions, another major Democratic leader noted that Hirono already had the union support, but gave the impression that she wasn't loyal to Cayetano.

The end result of challenging Cayetano was to get the support of a group that was already supporting her, infuriate Cayetano and lose the support of voters who value political loyalty.

Then in a final sign of underdog status, the Hirono campaign wasn't able to pick up the big contributions. Lieutenant governors have little power, so it isn't natural for them to attract big donations. But a clever lieutenant governor can gather influential friends who can help raise the big bucks.

Hirono wasn't able to do that.

So now she is debating what to do. Her supporters say she is still "officially" running for governor but is thinking about taking up the race for mayor of Honolulu because she wants to remain in public service.

The official handicapping of the mayor's race rates Hirono highly because she would still have union support and, in a split four- or five-way race, Hirono might do well.

The other side of that equation is, as humorist Mark Shields notes: "Underdogs are underdogs for a good reason -- they usually lose."

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

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