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U.S. Senate hopeful Lingle calls for unity

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 6:14 p.m. HST, May 18, 2012

Speaking of the need for bipartisanship on Capitol Hill and the need for Republican representation for Hawaii if both houses of Congress go to the GOP this fall, former Gov. Linda Lingle urged party faithful to support her campaign for the U.S. Senate and help overcome the Democratic Party's stronghold in the islands.

Lingle preached a message of unity as she helped rally party members Saturday at the Hawaii Republican Party state convention.

"We must rise above partisan politics in order to secure a strong, free, prosperous America," Lingle told a crowd of about 350 people at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. "It is critical that when we walk out of this ballroom later today we walk out as one — unified in our purpose."

Party members gathered for their annual convention to take care of business in preparation for the Republican National Convention this summer in Tampa, Fla.

The convention comes on the heels of the party's first presidential caucus, which was hailed as a huge success by party officials after bringing out more than 10,000 Republicans in March to cast their support for a nominee.

In addition to adopting planks of the party platform, convention delegates re-elected Ted Liu as national committeeman in a closely watched vote.

Liu, former director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism in the Lingle administration, defeated former state party Chairman Willes Lee by a 169-137 vote. Liu defeated Lee in a vote in January to fill the slot after Brennon Morioka stepped down.

Several Republicans had protested the vote, alleging, among other things, that some votes were cast improperly by proxy. A move to rescind the vote ultimately was defeated.

Regarding the platform, members reaffirmed their stance on the 2010 planks of liberty, limited government, individual responsibility, fiscal accountability and equality of opportunity.

Lingle was among the keynote speakers, along with former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, who is running for the 1st Congressional District seat he held for seven months in 2010.

"Linda Lingle and I have a record," Djou said, "a record of fighting not for our partisan masters whether they be in Washington, D.C., or the labor unions here in Hawaii, but fighting on behalf and for the people of Hawaii."

Lingle is in the GOP primary against former state lawmaker and retired Air Force pilot John Carroll, who said he did not attend the morning session out of protest because he was told he would not receive equal stage time as Lingle, who spoke for about 20 minutes.

"I just see a tremendous bias here, particularly against me," Carroll said. "She has had 16 years to make whatever kind of changes she wants. … I just think for the party to exclude me from even being able to say anything other than ‘Hi, I'm John Carroll,' is just plain bull."

Before her eight years as governor, Lingle was mayor of Maui County.

Lingle is widely expected to win the nomination and face the winner of the Democratic primary between U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case.

Noting the rare opportunity of a Senate seat coming open — U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka is retiring — Lingle urged party members to seize the opportunity and reminded them of the result the last time she faced Hirono. The two faced off for governor in 2002.

"Let's come together once again to make history like we did 10 years ago when I beat Mazie the first time," she said.

Lingle acknowledged the difficulty in running in a historically Democratic state, especially with President Barack Obama at the top of the ticket in the state where he was born and still is popular.

"I ask people to separate the presidential election from the race for Senate," she said. "Whoever you want to vote for for president, that's your right. But this is about Hawaii for the next generation.

"If I can win this race and I get to Washington, I don't go there to work for Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. I go to work for the people of Hawaii."

On the national race, she said she believes Romney's business experience in the private sector is likely to be a key factor.

"With the economy being the most important issue that our nation is facing, I think it's going to be a very competitive race," she said.

Democrats took the opportunity to tie Lingle to the national GOP and described her call for bipartisanship as "double talk."

"The bottom line is that Linda Lingle is part of the Republican Party machine which tried to sell us on the virtues of Sarah Palin and is determined to take over the White House and the United States Senate," Chuck Freedman, spokesman for the state Democratic Party, said in a statement. "There's nothing bipartisan about it and it is time for Lingle to end the double talk."

Lingle spokesman Lenny Klompus called the statement "ridiculous."

"It's a shame he has to dust off an old news release which has no relevance today," Klompus said. "We're living in the here and now. They're living in the past."

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