Sunday, November 25, 2001

Gubernatorial candidates
pick different paths
to fix economy

3 Democrats say educational,
business and government
reforms are essential

By Richard Borreca

They believe in tough love, high-tech and finding our future in the Far East. They are the three major Democratic candidates for governor, who say Hawaii's economy must improve.

Mayor Jeremy Harris wants Hawaii to hitch its star to high-tech development bridging Hawaii and Asia, while D.G. "Andy" Anderson wants to start big trade fairs here for Asian products and Rep. Ed Case urges Hawaii to first get its government act in order before reforming the economy.

Because of the dramatic downturn after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Hawaii's tourist-based economy is faltering. Unemployment is at 5.3 percent, nearly a full percentage point higher than a month earlier.

Case (D, Manoa) and Harris are fast to say education is the No. 1 way to a bigger, more robust economy.

Both candidates look to dramatic improvements in the public schools and the University of Hawaii as the best way to improve the economy.

"We need to turn around our education system. We are never going to have the economy we want unless we have a first-class public education system and rebuild the schools," Harris says.

"Educational reform is very much part of our economic recovery," Case says.

In contrast, Anderson, the Republican-turned-Democrat who is to announce his decision on whether he's running tomorrow, argues that the economy has to get better before Hawaii can afford to improve the education system.

"If we do not improve, the teacher, the university professors and the other unions are all going to be on the street again," Anderson said, referring to the three-week education strike Hawaii endured earlier this year.

The three major Democratic gubernatorial candidates:

"I believe our future is going to be tied to the Far East and Asia."
D. G. "Andy" Anderson
Former Honolulu managing director

"Educational reform is very much part of our economic recovery."
Ed Case
State legislator

"The old approach of adding on and leaving the dead wood ... just isn't acceptable."
Jeremy Harris

To actually improve the economy Anderson says Hawaii has to look to the Far East, China, Japan and other Asian countries to lure visitors and businesses here.

He envisions Honolulu as the location for trade fairs that draw clients from Asia showing their wares, with businesses from the Mainland and Europe coming to make deals.

"I believe our future is going to be tied to the Far East and Asia," Anderson says.

He also thinks Hawaii, with the help of Congress, could offer high-tech companies special enterprise zones for foreign computer programmers and software engineers.

Harris offers his own foreign investment theme, saying Hawaii's unique, multicultural population is a natural to provide help for businesses wanting to plant a flag in several Asian economies.

For instance, he says, if a businessman wants help with a project in the Philippines, Hawaii can easily provide trained workers.

"We have people ... who can speak all the languages; what do you want -- Tagalog, Ilocano or Visayan?" Harris said.

"Our real destiny is not to just be a tourism center, but to be a center for knowledge-based industries. We are situated to provide a place for businesses in Hawaii, the mainland and Asia; we can have a multicultural economy."

Case cautions that before Hawaii can start moving new industry into place, the state government has to improve.

He calls for a cut in the general excise tax, to 3.5 percent from 4 percent.

"We have to reduce taxes $200 million a year," Case said.

The government reform that will lower the size of the state budget must come first, Case argues.

"They (other candidates) are looking for a silver bullet, but I think voters know that if we are throwing money at one thing we are ignoring others," Case says.

He insists that government reform is the only way to get Hawaii's economy to rebound. Tax cuts spur business, he says, but the government can't be asked to take in less money until the government is made less expensive.

"I would challenge anybody in the race for governor to realistically say otherwise to the voters," Case says.

Making government more efficient is also on the economic recovery lists of Harris and Anderson. Anderson points to his work in the 1980s as Honolulu managing director as a time when he got city cooperation with the big public worker unions.

"The first person I called in was Gary Rodrigues (United Public Workers executive director) and said, 'I don't want to have a lot of BS with you, where I get an attorney and you get an attorney and we fight every grievance,'" Anderson said.

Public unions have to "accept responsibility and become partners in government," Anderson says.

Harris, who lost much of the political support of the public unions after a bruising battle to reorganize city government, says he would look to also reform state government.

"It is not easy, it has been a fight every step of the way ... but this is what has to happen. The old approach of adding on and leaving the dead wood where it is just isn't acceptable," Harris said.

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