Cynthia Oi
Under the Sun
Cynthia Oi

Kim might prove nice
guys can be governor

RAIN skipped the annual Fourth of July parade in Volcano this year, but Harry Kim didn't. Like the Hilo Marching Band, the mayor of Hawaii showed up as usual to saunter through the village from the post office to the community center amid the brigade of dogs and their owners, national park rangers on horseback, fire engines, ambulances, tractors, vintage cars with their ah-oo-gah horns, modest floats and a few odd riding mowers that made up the plain procession.

Kim, dressed in characteristic uniform of well-worn but pressed jeans, fresh aloha shirt and no-nonsense white sneakers, arrived early enough to wander around the parking lot of Volcano Store and down the road a bit, shaking a few hands and calling howzits to acquaintances and others who recognized him.

The encounters weren't a politician's stage-crafted "meet and greet" sessions. There were no buntings or banners scribed with his name, no entourage, no candies for the kiddies.

Kim's unfeigned pleasure of just being there on a cool, sunny day under a crystalline-blue sky was evident. A small smile lifted his face as his eyes scanned stands of Sugi trees and hapuu ferns as well as the faces of people along the parade route. He seemed to savor being the leader of such a beautiful island.

So a few days later, I was surprised to read my colleague Richard Borreca's report that Kim is considering trading the rain forests, lava landscapes and the yielding humidity of Hilo for the astringent heat of Honolulu's concrete jungle and the state Capitol.

Political operatives have chattered for years about Kim's attraction among voters and his strong potential as a candidate for governor. But the ostensible Republican could not be expected to challenge the party's chief who already has the job.

Political labels, however, are about as sticky as Post-Its in Hawaii. Democrats and Republicans come in all shapes and sizes with progressive and conservative views shifting across the spectrum. Except for maybe a few spiteful Republicans, Kim's re-affiliation as a Democrat would hardly be an issue for voters.

Kim has been content as mayor -- certainly most Big Island residents are happy that he is -- and it is worth his while to think about what he could accomplish if he's in charge of the whole state instead of a single county. But being governor isn't all it's cracked up to be, and getting there will present a whole set of compromises that he may find difficult to reconcile.

A campaign for governor costs big bucks. Kim has prided himself on not taking more than $10 from any donor, not wanting to be beholden. Upholding that principle would be a plus, appealing to voters, but might be unrealistic. Would that it wasn't.

As the current governor well knows, the head of the state is attached to legislative appendages with vexatious wills of their own. That for Kim most would be fellow Democrats guarantees little when push comes to shove.

Why any sane person would want to run for public office is a mystery. The scrutiny and loss of privacy would be off-putting enough. Then, if you win, the tasks are enormous, the responsibilities constantly demanding.

Still, there are some who are willing. Their reasons notwithstanding, their stands and goals aside, taking public office is truly public service.

Harry Kim exudes a charm few elected officials can claim -- that of a regular guy -- so much so that it's hard to refer to him as Mayor Kim. He's Harry, the former Civil Defense director who isn't too important to work a shift at the agency when need be, who pads to Wal-Mart in rubber slippers and boro boro clothes, the cool-headed fellow who diagnosed his own heart attack and drove himself to a fire station to get help.

If he becomes governor, Harry could be engulfed by the sheer mass of the political machinery. Or he could be tough enough and smart enough to maintain the integrity that makes him so likable and so electable. Maybe nice guys can finish first.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Cynthia Oi has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at: coi@starbulletin.com.

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