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Experience as governor could be Lingle's strong suit

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 2:22 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

She is tan, trim and rested. Former GOP Gov. Linda Lingle last week showed off why she is one of the state's most formidable political leaders as she spoke to the conservative/libertarian Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.

Lingle, making her first major speech since leaving the governorship, told the audience of 50 that, yes, she was seriously thinking about running for the U.S. Senate next year when Democratic Sen. Daniel K. Akaka retires.

"I am talking to people all over the state about it. Obviously I am more enthusiastic about it when I see the terrible situation in Washington, because I do think just bringing common sense to the Senate right now is what is needed," Lingle said.

After eight years as governor and two years before that as a statewide political leader, Lingle has a honed, careful and coherent message, which she delivers well.

Lingle updated her campaign calendar last week, telling reporters she would decide in the fall and not this month as previously stated. She tried out a few campaign themes, in case she runs.

The overarching one is that Linda Lingle is a bipartisan Republican, tempered with real-world political experience learned on the job.

She's a decade-long Molokai resident, wants more jobs, better schools and, by the way, she and President Barack Obama are tight on education.

"You might be surprised to know that President Obama and I share a lot of the same views in the area of education," Lingle said. "He is a big supporter of the charter school movement, he's for merit pay for teachers, he's for closing failing schools."

That may be true, but I doubt that Democrat Obama would go as far as Republican Lingle is willing to go regarding school unions.

Last week, Lingle suggested that the Hawaii State Teachers Association leaders are interested only in "the status quo" and that many public school teachers are questioning their union leaders.

While that might be true, Lingle said teachers should be given the choice of whether or not they want to join the union in the first place.

The concept may be typical GOP rhetoric, but advocating open shops is not the sort of labor reform that will play well in Hawaii.

Putting that aside, Lingle appeared to be a strong opponent to whomever the Democrats select in the primary.

Against Rep. Mazie Hirono, Lingle brings both the obvious — she beat Hirono already — and a nice piece of political jujitsu, turning her governorship into an argument against congressional experience.

Lingle flips the experience argument on its head by saying she can operate in Congress because she was a governor, not a member of Congress.

"Governors bring a particularly different approach to the United States Senate. They are less ideological, they are more practical, they are more agenda-driven," said Lingle.

That argument also works against Democratic contender and former Rep. Ed Case.

Hirono is the absolute darling of Hawaii's labor unions and is likely to get most of their organized support. Whether that translates into votes is another question because she also had union backing in her failed 2002 gubernatorial campaign.

Case has never had strong union support and he and Lingle are on the same side of several labor issues, such as support for the Jones Act, which blocks foreign shipping between U.S. ports.

It is clear that the road to the Senate for Hawaii Democrats will run through a field designed by Lingle.


Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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