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Lingle scouts out a campaign for the US Senate

By Derrick DePledge

POSTED: 08:44 p.m. HST, Jul 29, 2011

Former Gov. Linda Lingle suggested today that she would fit well within a group of former governors in the U.S. Senate and would take a bipartisan approach to the nation's challenges.

"Governors bring a particularly different approach in the United States Senate than those people who have come just from the legislative side," Lingle, who is considering a Senate campaign, told a luncheon sponsored by the conservative Grassroot Institute of Hawaii at the Japanese Cultural Center.

"They are less ideological. They are more practical. They are more agenda driven. They are able to put forth something they'd like to achieve and then move to do it because as governor you have to. You can't hide behind a lot of other people."

Lingle — who serves on the governor's council of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a public-policy group in Washington, D.C., founded by former Senate leaders — said she spoke with several former governors who are now in the Senate during a recent trip to the nation's capital.

The Republican referred, as an example, to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a former governor who is part of the "Gang of Six," a bipartisan group behind a deficit-reduction plan.

"So the idea of bipartisanship is an important one and indeed is the only way for our country to move forward," she said.

Lingle, who had indicated she would announce her Senate intentions by August, has pushed her timetable into the fall. U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, is not seeking another term in 2012. U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, and former congressman Ed Case are running in the Democratic primary.

Lingle has started to position herself closer to the center politically after campaigning for conservatives such as former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin — the GOP vice presidential nominee in 2008 — and making unflattering remarks about Hawaii-born President Barack Obama. She would likely need to draw overwhelming support among independents and a healthy share of moderate Democrats to compete in 2012.

Lingle not only has to contend with the Democratic nominee in a traditionally Democratic state, but also with Obama, who will be up for re-election and has high job approval ratings in the islands.

In an interview at the state GOP convention on Kauai in May, and again at the luncheon today, Lingle explained how she shares similar views with Obama on critical issues such as renewable energy and education.

Case, who attended the luncheon, has for years described himself as a moderate who would have common ground with the centrists of the Senate. He said he agrees with Lingle that a bipartisan approach is necessary.

"I think we're on the same page on that," he said. "She's certainly testing it out and getting her rhythm going on it."

Lingle, whose speech focused on education, repeated her support for local school boards, charter schools, and science, technology, engineering and math education.

She recommended a pilot project where parents of students with special needs would receive vouchers for private schools, which she believes would help the students succeed and create a market for new private schools.

She also endorsed financial incentives for teachers who teach difficult subjects or work in low-income regions where schools are struggling.

She said she and Obama agree on issues such as promoting charter schools, merit-based pay for teachers, and closing poorly performing schools.

"You might be surprised to know that President Obama and I share a lot of the same views in the area of education," she said, adding that politicians should be able to agree on specific ideas even if they differ on ideology.

Lingle said the contract dispute between Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the Hawaii State Teachers Association could undermine the state's ability to deliver on the school improvements promised as part of a $75 million federal Race to the Top grant.

She said the teachers union has sought to protect the status quo and questioned why teachers have to pay mandatory union dues. She said the teachers union would not have as much influence politically without the dues income.

"Take another look at this idea of mandatory teacher union membership," she said. "Let teachers make that decision for themselves. We're talking about choice for children, let's have choice for teachers as well."

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