author On Politics

Richard Borreca

Big Isle mayor heeds
nature’s gentle voice

He readily confesses to talking to fish, to including fish and birds among his best friends, relieving the stresses of the day with late-night naked ocean swims and wishing for the time when you could call haoles haoles and date Miss Cosmopolitan.

If Harry Kim, Hawaii County's self-effacing Republican mayor, were not the lanky 64-year-old youngest son in a family of self-described workaholics, you could instead imagine yourself listening to a flower child from the '60s.

Indeed Kim notes that as important as it is to work hard, he makes sure "to touch a flower every day."

Kim gave the luncheon speech to a county-sponsored leadership training seminar last week. For this reporter, it was one of the year's most remarkable speeches and made it easy to see how Kim's opponents two years ago walked away from the race talking about his near-mythic reputation.

Without a fund-raiser, shunning coffee hours and the usual campaign apparatus, Kim won his first election with more votes than the other two candidates combined. His reputation was made as the Big Island civil defense director for 24 years, where he earned an international reputation for meticulous disaster planning for blizzards, volcanic eruptions and tidal waves, and was known locally as the calm voice on civil defense broadcasts.

Last week, however, Kim talked not about battling nature, but his own semi-mystical relationship with the Big Island's forests and surrounding ocean. He ticked off the names for the fish that swarm around him when he skin-dives, not mentioning that the species, butterfly lionfish, is one of the most poisonous ocean creatures.

His speech, delivered with just the vaguest touch of structure, started with his love of nature, wound through his experiences as mayor and issues of the day, and came to rest on what he said were his two overriding concerns, the crystal meth epidemic and Hawaiians.

While drug use is a problem across the state, on the Big Island it affects almost everyone. Just the day before Kim spoke, county workers trying to evacuate a family of 13 from a small home threatened by high waves were frustrated because the father wouldn't leave, because of the fear that drug addicts would loot the home as soon as he left.

On the subject of Hawaiians, Kim was at his most eloquent, talking about how Columbia University-educated Nona Beamer until recently felt ashamed to be Hawaiian in her own homeland and how the importance of the Hawaiian culture marks everything about the state. Racial equality and ethnic pride are different, but respect for everyone must carry the day, Kim said.

Kim's speech then spiraled back through our relationship with one another and our relationship with nature, to Kim marveling at the insight of a pair of cardinals raising an orphaned baby bird.

It probably wasn't the sort of speech that would travel well off the Big Island, but Kim has established himself as the most interesting politician on the state's most interesting island.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

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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