Just for the sake of argument, say Gov. Linda Lingle’s decision on whether to veto House Bill 444 is made not on merit, but on politics.
I know, far-fetched and unrealistic, but let’s extend the discussion to more than a moral argument on dogma and civil rights.
After spending a week talking to fellow political cynics, here’s the consensus:
Lingle benefits from either signing the civil rights bill or allowing it to become law without her signature, if she wants to run for office again in Hawaii.
If, in 2012, Lingle wants to run statewide for the U.S. Senate, she cannot get elected without at least some Democrats voting for her. So if she appeals to progressive Republicans and Democratic moderates by not stomping on the civil rights of a well-organized and politically savvy minority, that’s a win.
The downside of allowing the civil unions bill to become law is that it would show that she is disrespecting both her lieutenant governor, who asked her to veto it, and her party, which passed a resolution at its convention this year also asking for a veto.
It is a simple rule of politics that you save your first dance for the person who brought you to the party, so Lingle would hurt herself with the local GOP if she doesn’t veto the civil unions bill.
There are also political benefits from vetoing the bill.
The state Capitol halls are filled with rumors that Lingle wants a bigger national political role after her term in office ends in December.
Presidential adviser Karl Rove has been out here twice and is a perpetual motion machine of praise for Lingle, her administration and every breath she has taken for the last eight years as governor.
The national GOP satraps even came out for their annual winter meeting and Lingle was honored, feted and used to raise political dough.
She likes the GOP back in Washington and they like her back.
Remember how Lingle gave the warm-up speech for Sarah Palin at the national GOP convention?
Lingle could easily take over for Michael Steele as chairwoman of the entire national GOP, she is that good.
But, Lingle will get no national thumbs up if Hawaii, because of her action, allows civil unions.
If she were to veto it, the Business Roundtable gives her no cover after it stumbled all over itself on whether she should veto it.
First it said spike it, then about two dozen members said they disagreed with that advice, then the Roundtable said it didn’t mean veto, in like the biblical sense, but maybe just think about it.
So that leaves Lingle with no coherent advice from the business community, a split decision among pro and con political activists, and a decision that will reverberate through her own political future.