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Lee Cataluna

Lingle remains easygoing about civil unions measure

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That plane ride to China is pretty long, and after the drink cart comes by a few times and you’ve sat through a couple of David Spade movies on the on-board entertainment, there’s still a lot of time for reflection.

Gov. Linda Lingle left Friday for the World Expo in Shanghai and a stop in Japan. She has until July 6 to take action on the civil unions bill passed by the Legislature, but if she plans to veto the measure, she has to tell lawmakers by June 21. She returns to Hawaii on June 19.

The civil unions bill presents a complex situation for a governor in her last months in office with eight years of frustration behind her and not much to show for the effort. She has said she does not want civil unions to be her legacy, and she invoked the name of Gov. John Burns, who allowed abortion to become legal in Hawaii without his signature, saying that has never been seen as Burns’ legacy.

Lingle herself seems to be a live-and-let-live kind of person. She has said she is opposed to same-sex marriage, but never said it in the vehement way of someone who abhors the idea. She hasn’t taken the stage at Save Traditional Marriage rallies like her lieutenant governor has.

In general, she has never been overbearing about her personal beliefs. All the biographical things the public knows about her—living on Molokai, the island of rugged individualists, married and divorced twice, swimming alone most mornings to start the day—point to an open-minded, nonjudgmental person.

None of her acts as governor has had much to do with legislating behavior or moralizing about society. Her focus has been on administrative things like budgets and trade missions and dismantling the Department of Education. In contrast, Duke Aiona has spoken at religious services, prayed in public, joined in anti-same-sex marriage rallies and done every eat-right, stay-in-school PSA that came his way.

As a Republican and someone with the potential to go further within the national party’s structure, Lingle might be expected to veto the civil unions bill. Then again, one of Republican Charles Djou’s first votes in Congress was to repeal "don’t ask don’t tell," a move seen as making him more popular to Hawaii voters in the fall election.

After two terms of being frustrated and undone by Democratic legislators, Lingle is finally in a position of power, albeit on an issue she does not want to dominate her biography. On those long flights to and from China, Lingle should just put on those noise-muffling headphones, close her eyes and forget about all of the political metrics and do what she’s probably inclined to do anyway: live and let live.

Lee Cataluna can be reached at


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