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Democrats’ ad ribs Lingle over 2009 furloughs

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 5:13 p.m. HST, Nov 2, 2012

Hawaii Democrats are playfully mocking former Gov. Linda Lingle for teacher furloughs, glossing over the role the teachers union — one of their major political allies — had in the controversy.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii has sponsored a radio advertisement urging listeners to “party like it’s 2009,” when teacher furloughs left public-school students with the fewest classroom instruction days in the nation. Democrats are also holding a King Street rally this afternoon dubbed the “3rd Annual Linda Lingle Furlough Friday Festival.”

Lingle, a Republican, is facing U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, a Democrat, for U.S. Senate.

Lingle, as the state’s chief executive, has received much of the public blame for teacher furloughs.

But the furloughs were part of a collective bargaining agreement between Lingle, the state Department of Education, the state Board of Education and the Hawaii State Teachers Association to reduce costs and help balance the state budget.

The teachers union chose furloughs over pay cuts or layoffs. Educators and teachers also chose to schedule the furloughs on classroom instruction days, a decision Lingle signed off on but soon regretted after public backlash over the disruption.

“Whether she’s solely responsible — I’m not sure that anybody has refined it that succinctly or not,” said Dante Carpenter, chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii. “But I’m thinking, if memory serves, that she was the titular head of the Republican Party at that time, as well as being the governor of the state of Hawaii, and was a key figure in the decision relating to that activity.”

David Chang, chairman of the state GOP, said it is unfair to lay the blame for teacher furloughs solely on Lingle. “She kind of got the bum end of the deal,” he said, noting that the governor alone does not have the authority to order teacher furloughs.

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, Lingle’s campaign manager, said Hirono is trying to “rewrite history.”

“Mazie Hirono is trying to recover from her televised debate losses and hide from the fact that she has never been able to pass a single bill to benefit the people of Hawaii, by continuing to put out false information about teacher furloughs that occurred two years ago,” he said in an email.

Betsy Lin, Hirono’s campaign manager, said Lingle has said that governors are personally responsible for their decisions. “The fact is that Furlough Fridays happened on Lingle’s watch and kept our keiki out of schools for seventeen days,” she said in an email. “And we know that in the U.S. Senate, Lingle would join national Republicans in supporting a budget that slashes education funding by one third.

Her decision was wrong for Hawaii then and her priorities are wrong for Hawaii now.”

Lingle had sought to unilaterally furlough other state workers to reduce costs during the recession but had proposed budget cuts for the Department of Education, which was overseen at the time by an elected school board. A Circuit Court judge ruled that the governor could not unilaterally order furloughs for state workers and had to instead bargain with public-sector labor unions over the issue.

The deal between the state and the teachers union was the first labor agreement after months of contentious talks over the budget. But Hawaii quickly received unwanted national attention for having the fewest school days.

After several months of debate and protest, including a sit-in at Lingle’s office in which parents were arrested, Lingle and state lawmakers agreed to use the state’s hurricane relief fund and teachers gave up some planning time to help end furloughs on classroom instruction days.

Lingle ultimately chose not to release any of the money from the hurricane relief fund because of budget concerns. Gov. Neil Abercrombie released the money on his first day in office in December 2010.

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