Harris gov campaign
getting back in gear

It will take a week to reorganize
after the mayor's legal victory

By Rick Daysog

Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris will restart his campaign for governor within a week, now that the state Supreme Court has ruled he does not have to step down until he files his nomination papers.

In a 5-0 decision yesterday, the high court reversed Circuit Judge Sabrina McKenna's ruling that Harris should have resigned as mayor when he filed his organizational papers with the state Campaign Spending Commission in May 2001.

Harris, who voluntarily suspended his campaign in March after McKenna's decision, can remain as mayor until the July 23 deadline for filing his nomination papers with the state Lieutenant Governor's Office.

"We're coming out of this stronger than when we came in," said Rick Tsujimura, co-chairman of the Harris 2002 campaign. "It really did not hurt us, but it helped us."

Tsujimura said he hopes to restart the campaign in the next seven days. To do so, the campaign has to recall hundreds of volunteer campaign organizers on Oahu and the neighbor islands, he said.

Campaign officials also have to meet with Harris, who is in Shanghai, China, for the Asian Development Bank's annual meeting. Harris is expected to return to Honolulu on Friday.

Harris recently canceled several campaign fund-raisers after McKenna's March 11 decision on a lawsuit filed by Russell Blair, a former state District Court judge and state senator. The Harris campaign has received political contributions since March but has not spent any of the money.

In yesterday's ruling, Chief Justice Ronald Moon and associate justices Steven Levinson, Mario Ramil and Paula Nakayama said McKenna failed to take into consideration the full context of Hawaii's 24-year-old resign-to-run constitutional amendment, which states that an elected official must resign for office before becoming "eligible for another public office."

Moon, who authored the majority opinion, said the case rests on the dictionary meaning of "eligible." The Random House College Dictionary defines "eligible" as "legally qualified to be elected," and that occurs when a candidate files nomination papers, he wrote.

"We hold that ... a public officer becomes 'eligible as a candidate for another public office' at the time he or she files nomination papers for the second office," Moon wrote.

Some legal experts have argued that McKenna's decision applied not only to Harris -- whose mayoral term ends in January 2005 -- but also to the campaigns of Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono and city Councilmen Jon Yoshimura and Duke Bainum, all running for other offices.

Scott Burnham, a visiting professor at the University of Hawaii's William Richardson School of Law, said the high court's decision falls within the "mainstream" of judicial interpretations. When a law or constitutional amendment is ambiguous, most appellate courts would take a close look at the context, which is what the Supreme Court did, he said.

"There's an honest attempt to construe the true intention from the best available sources," Burnham said.

Yas Kuroda, a professor of political science at the UH, said the Harris campaign will benefit from the momentum generated by yesterday's decision. But Kuroda said Harris has lost much ground after he suspended his campaign.

What's more, the Harris campaign faces the possibility of a drawn-out criminal investigation into past fund-raising practices, Kuroda said. Last week, the Star-Bulletin reported that city Prosecutor Peter Carlisle expanded his investigation into Harris' 2000 mayoral campaign.

"His chance of winning the primary and general elections is much better than it was the day before," Kuroda said. "But he's not going to get a back to full speed because of the lingering problem that he has."

Tsujimura questioned the motivation of Blair's suit, which he said was filed "at the 11th hour" and had no other intention than to "cause political problems."

"It just sort of smelled," Tsujimura said. "I think people saw it for what it was."

Blair said he had no political agenda in bringing the suit and is not interested in what happens to the Harris campaign.

"As I've said, I've had no horse in this race and that remains true," Blair said. "My interest was in making sure the Constitution was upheld. And to the extent that we now have a definitive ruling that says the mayor is not in violation of the constitution, then that's the end of it as far as I'm concerned."

Harris' political opponents said the issue is not settled.

State Rep. Ed Case, who is running for governor as a Democrat, challenged Harris to step down immediately. Case (D, Manoa) said Harris has been using city resources and city functions such as the popular Sunset on the Beach events to further his campaign for governor.

"If he wants to serve out the full four-year mayoral term he asked voters for and help clean up the city's budget mess, then say so and get to work," Case said. "If he wants to run for governor and leave the city's problems to others, then say so and let others clean it up. Just don't sit on the fence anymore."

Republican gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle said Harris broke a promise he made to voters two years ago that he would fill out his term as mayor.

"It's not the legal issue that's important; it's the ethical issue," Lingle said. "The public will have to judge him. And if he gets by the primary, the public will judge him again in the general election."

Gov. Ben Cayetano said he agreed with the Supreme Court's ruling, saying it "complies with the spirit and intent of the law."

"If Sabrina McKenna's ruling was allowed to stand, it would create chaos ... in government," Cayetano said.

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