POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Dec 05, 2010
In the end, it was not the Democrats, it wasn't the economy, it wasn't even the state Supreme Court's Superferry decisions that so darkened outgoing Gov. Linda Lingle's eight-year term.
It was Lingle and her staff misreading their place in Hawaii's political landscape and the inability of a governor from a minority party to move the established majority.
On election night in 2002, an exuberant GOP Sen. Sam Slom declared: "The trend is clear. We have no way except to go up. We are the emerging majority."
As it turned out, there were no Lingle coattails for GOP legislators to ride and her 19 House Republicans now number only eight and Slom is the sole Republican in the Senate, down from five.
Among local business representatives, Lingle is talked about in terms of missed opportunities and failed programs.
"She failed to realize the tremendous amount of expertise that ran deep in the ranks of the civil service. She never took advantage of them," said Lowell Kalapa, president of the independent Hawaii Tax Foundation. Instead, Lingle repeatedly bashed the public worker unions, saying in 2004 that the Hawaii Government Employees Association was "appealing to the most selfish aspects of average citizens."
Lingle's expansive plans to redo the state's transportation system with upgrades to highways and harbors twice failed. Also, her plans to redo the land and natural resources department died in the Legislature.
The biggest failure was Lingle's eight-year struggle to revamp the state public school system. In the end, she was reduced to claiming credit for sparking voter anger over the school board, which led to the state constitutional change from an elected to an appointed school board.
"She was a contentious partisan. ... As the new kid on the block, I would try to make friends, but she came across like she was trying to embarrass them," Kalapa said. "She made little effort to reach out."
Even loyal GOP House member Rep. Barbara Marumoto noted that she often would see then-Gov. John Waihee prowling the legislative halls, unlike Lingle. "She may have been down here, but I didn't see her."
Also, Lingle will always be linked to the state furloughs, missed school days and laid-off state workers, even though Hawaii's poor economy was more the result of a national economic meltdown.
In 2004, Lingle devoted herself to building the party. She and her communications adviser, Lenny Klompus, incorrectly assumed that if the state would turn to a Republican, neighbor island woman as governor, her popularity would drive voters to pick more Republicans.
Instead, they should have talked to President Reagan's speech writer, Peggy Noonan, who said last week in a Wall Street Journal column that political leaders must be able "to bring people in and along."
"You can't just bully them, you can't just assert and taunt; you have to be able to persuade," Noonan wrote.
Gov. John Burns built Hawaii's Democratic Party and 56 years later it remains in power; Lingle's attempts at a viable second party are only a flicker.