POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Oct 24, 2010
How do you solve a problem like Mufi?
Mufi Hannemann is a big guy, but he took a mighty pummeling last month in the Democratic primary race for governor. Still, he has promising potential.
The former Honolulu mayor was just blown up by the longtime, former Hawaii congressman Neil Abercrombie, as Hannemann could get only 38 percent of the vote in the primary.
The defeat is a big roadblock in Hannemann's dream to be a major player in local politics. And it could end his hopes to someday represent Hawaii in the U.S. Senate.
Still, Hannemann is a trouper and is scheduled to be out this weekend campaigning for the entire Democratic ticket. Every speech he gives for Democratic unity adds a little to his stock.
The question remains: What should Hannemann do?
He has toyed with the idea of maintaining his visibility by running for City Councilman Todd Apo's soon-to-be-vacated Leeward District seat. After being mayor for nearly two terms, a Council seat would be nothing but a definite step down.
Although Abercrombie and former U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink have used service on the Council as the way back to the political spotlight in Congress, it plays to his reputation for political expediency and not altruistic public service.
Plus, serving on the Council does not solve Hannemann's big political problem: how to win a Democratic primary. Since beating Abercrombie in the 1986 primary for Congress, Hannemann has not been a Democratic primary winner.
During the governor's campaign, Hannemann marveled at his ability to find consensus with competing groups. If he is as good a mediator as he claims, then why not take on the No. 1 cat-herder job in Hawaii, and run for Democratic Party chairman?
This is the kind of challenge that Hannemann could use. Linda Lingle, Brickwood Galuteria and Brian Schatz have all parlayed a turn as party chairperson to their own political advantage.
Hannemann has enjoyed a close relationship with local businesses, and if there is any group that has been on the outs with rank-and-file Democrats, it is business. Hannemann's challenge would be finding common ground between the Democratic caucus and the Chamber of Commerce.
And Hannemann would have to learn to get along with Hawaii's active environmental movement. Convincing the greens to accept him as party chairman would go a long way toward rehabbing Hannemann's own environmental reputation.
Finally, the biggest challenge would be for Hannemann to find a productive relationship between his own policies and the politics of the gay caucus. The GLBT Democratic wing is organized, energetic and loud -- and it is one group you cannot dismiss if you want to run in a Democratic primary.
Hercules had 12 labors. Hannemann would have 24 months of labor to show his readiness to unite the Democrats behind his own candidacy for higher office.
It is the sort of challenge that forges a new political future.