POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 18, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 6:03 p.m. HST, Jul 19, 2012
Former Gov. Linda Lingle thinks Congress has lost its way. The Republican sees a Washington, D.C., that places party label above progress, calculation over compromise. A fiscal conservative who is moderate on social issues, Lingle promises a more bipartisan approach if she is selected to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.
She is urging voters to look beyond partisan politics and Hawaii's deep Democratic tradition and consider the value of having "a foot in both camps."
"These people in Congress today have completely lost that their obligation is to the people, not to their political party. They should have known that but obviously they've really gone astray," Lingle said in an interview at her campaign headquarters off Dillingham Boulevard. "And so we felt it was important to reflect in my language what I hear from the public, which is, ‘How come they don't get along? How come they can't get anything done? Why don't they compromise? How come they can't come together?'"
>> Background: Born June 4, 1953, in St. Louis; graduated from Birmingham High School, Lake Balboa, Calif., 1971; journalism degree, California State University at Northridge, 1975
>> Religion: Jewish
>> Family: Divorced
>> Experience: Public information officer, Hawaii Teamsters and Hotel Workers, 1975-1976; founder and editor, Molokai Free Press, 1976-1980; chairwoman, Hawaii Republican Party, 1999-2002
>> Politics: Politics: Maui County Council, 1981-1991; Maui County mayor, 1991-1999; Hawaii governor, 2002-2010
ABOUT THIS SERIESThis is the last of three stories profiling the candidates running to fill the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Daniel Akaka, who is retiring.
MONDAY>> Ed Case
TUESDAY>> Mazie Hirono
TELEVISED DEBATEThe Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now will sponsor a televised debate between Demo?cratic U.S. Senate candidates Ed Case and Mazie Hirono from 6:30 to 8 p.m. July 26 on KHNL, KGMB and KFVE.
Lingle, 59, said U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case — the Democratic contenders — lack the kind of leadership experience she had as the state's chief executive.
"The other candidates have never had to make tough personal decisions in a public setting. Personal in the sense it was them — they couldn't hide behind a committee chairman or a caucus or a legislative body," she said. "I had to make the decisions, sometimes very difficult ones, but I had to do it."
Lingle, who is expected to win her primary against former state lawmaker John Carroll, could have trouble scrubbing partisanship from the campaign. Hawaii-born President Barack Obama will be on the ballot for re-election in November and will appeal to voters to keep the Senate in Democratic control. U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate president pro tempore, will remind voters that a vote for Lingle could mean a Republican Senate that would lessen his power.
Lingle may also have to outline a more detailed argument to convince moderate Democrats and independents that her bipartisan approach is authentic and not simply an election-year calibration.
Linda Smith, Lingle's former senior policy adviser, described her as a thoughtful but demanding chief executive who would listen to all sides of an argument before making decisions. "I do think that ability to bring in both sides, listen to it, find where there is some common ground, is clear in her track record as a governor," she said.
As a Republican governor with a state House and Senate ruled by Democrats, Lingle had little ability to advance a public-policy agenda through legislation. High job-approval ratings for most of her two terms and even a record state budget surplus did not give her enough political leverage to counter the raw numerical strength of the majority party.
Ideas to provide broad tax relief and to break the state Department of Education into local school districts with locally elected school boards failed to move.
Her most substantive legislative achievement was the Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative, the state's goal of achieving 70 percent clean energy by 2030 — 40 percent from renewable energy and 30 percent through conservation. Her administration worked with the U.S. Department of Energy and key Democratic lawmakers on what could be the catalyst that eventually moves the islands away from dependence on imported oil.
Her administration also sought to move more Hawaiians onto homestead land and encourage science, technology, engineering and math education to prepare students to compete in a global economy.
Lingle often asked not to be judged solely by her legislative accomplishments, but by her administrative actions, such as the emergency proclamations she issued to help provide shelters for the homeless on the Leeward Coast.
"My only role here is to do what I can to make things better in our state for the people who live here, and I think they know that," she said of the public's perception about her as governor.
But many voters will also remember the Lingle years for the Hawaii Superferry debacle and for teacher furloughs.
Lingle has never expressed regret about her administration's decision to exempt $40 million in harbor improvements for the Superferry project from environmental review. The state Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the decision was wrong as a matter of law. Internal records also showed that state staff closest to the project had recommended an environmental review and had warned that an exemption could doom the project.
Lingle did second-guess her decision to sign off on teacher furloughs on classroom instruction days, which caused turmoil for parents and was nationally criticized by educators. Yet Lingle insists she had been assured by educators that the furloughs, which were used to help close the state's budget deficit during the recession, would not be taken from instructional time.
LINGLE has mostly avoided the polarizing debates over social issues that have often been staples of national Republican campaigns. She has long supported abortion rights for women, although she opposes so-called partial-birth abortion and wants parental notification for minors who seek to end their pregnancies. Her veto of a civil-unions bill during her last year in office, however, is likely to follow her.
Lingle considered the civil unions that would have been allowed by the bill as equivalent to same-sex marriage, which she opposes, and thought voters should have the opportunity to settle the issue. (Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a similar civil-unions bill into law soon after he was elected.)
As a U.S. Senate candidate, Lingle has argued that states should be left to determine how to define marriage. The Hawaii Constitution gives the Legislature the power to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Lingle said she would not oppose the repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman. "My personal belief is that marriage is between a man and woman, but once individual states decide how they define marriage, I think those decisions should be respected by the federal government," she said on a Star-Advertiser questionnaire.
Intense partisanship in the Senate over the past few years has shoved many moderates to the sidelines.
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a moderate often instrumental in close votes, chose to retire rather than campaign for re-election this year after she concluded there was no realistic expectation that the polarized climate would change in the short term. U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., a bipartisan leader on foreign relations, was beaten in a primary in May by a state treasurer who thinks voters want Republicans to take a more conservative tack.
Jason Grumet, founder and president of the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, D.C., said Lingle, who serves on his governor's council, could help fill what he described as a "troubling void" of independent voices.
He predicts the party that wins a majority in the Senate in the November elections will have only razor-thin control, so majority votes — or the 60-vote threshold needed to break filibusters — could "depend on those dozen members who occupy the middle and are willing to vote conscience as well as party."
Many Hawaii Democrats concede that Lingle governed close to the center but have serious doubts that she could live up to her bipartisan promise in the Senate.
When invited onto the national stage, Lingle praised President George W. Bush's tax cuts as a key to economic recovery at the Republican National Convention in 2004, and enthusiastically introduced former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin at the GOP convention in 2008. She made several campaign swings on the mainland four years ago, during which she criticized Obama as unprepared for the White House and joked that he was a mystery to most people in Hawaii.
Lingle's actions nationally undercut what had been a carefully cultivated image at home. Despite the negative reaction, she said she does not regret standing with Palin, who at the time was the GOP's vice presidential nominee. She thinks the public will see through Hirono or other Democrats who continually refer to the Palin introduction as proof of her true colors.
In blue Hawaii, Lingle's election victories have been unlikely. She was in the islands only for a few years — "I was Republican, haole woman, Jewish from the mainland" — when she was chosen to represent Molokai on the Maui County Council in 1980. She served two terms as Maui County's mayor. She was the first woman, and the first Republican in four decades, to take Washington Place when she beat Hirono for governor in 2002. She won every state House district in her sweep to re-election in 2006.
"I hear this everywhere, from all kinds of people," she said. "They may be Republicans, they may be Democrats. They want something to get done."
No Hawaii Republican has been sent to the Senate in 36 years. Lingle is telling voters that their choices for president and Senate are completely different decisions. The next president will be in office for four to eight years, she says, but the next Hawaii senator could serve for a generation.
"This is a generational decision. This is not about who supports President Obama on any particular issue," she said. "This is about who can most effectively represent the people of Hawaii for a generation, who has done more for the people of Hawaii up to this point and who has the best vision for the future."