Lingle’s failed legacy

I’ve been asked why I didn’t join in analyzing the legacy of outgoing Gov. Linda Lingle. In all honesty, I don’t think she’s left one that will be judged of much significance.

I hate to be uncharitable, but 25 years from now, I doubt that the Republican Lingle’s eight-year break from Democratic rule will be remembered much more than Eileen Anderson’s brief stint as Honolulu mayor between Frank Fasi’s two extended terms.

Lingle has taken much criticism for not extending coattails to other local Republicans, saying it wasn’t her job to get GOP lawmakers elected.

The number of Republicans in the state House fell from 19 to seven and in the Senate from five to one while Lingle was busy padding her own nest in national GOP politics by spending more time than any other governor from either party out of state on the presidential campaign trail.

Lingle didn’t understand — or didn’t care — that her only chance of shaping state policy and changing Hawai‘i’s political culture was to break the Democratic super-majority in the Legislature in order to force her bills to the floor and have her vetoes sustained. Without that leverage, the Democrats could, and did, walk over her at will.

You don’t have to be a Republican to see the value of a healthy political balance.

I thought one of the most astute assessments of Lingle’s failed legacy was made by former Democratic Gov. John Waihee in a Star-Advertiser story by Derrick DePledge:

Waihee said Lingle’s biggest missed opportunity was the chance to lay the groundwork for a true two-party system. Despite Lingle’s historic victory in 2002 and her sweep to re-election in 2006, Republicans have lost seats in the Legislature and appear weaker as a party than before she was elected.

Waihee said Lingle — a moderate on social issues, more conservative on fiscal policy — could have helped create a Hawaii Republican brand. Instead, he said, she gravitated toward the kind of mainland conservatism that has proved unpopular in the islands and “ended up, at the end of her term, palling around with (former Alaska Gov. Sarah) Palin.”

“She really didn’t define what a Hawaii Republican would be like,” he said. “And, actually, I think that’s a loss for the entire state. She started off very committed to building a two-party system, but she ended up with it being more one-party than ever.”

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20 Comments on “Lingle’s failed legacy”

  1. hugh clark Says:

    Though not a big Waihee fan, I have to concede his analysis of the failed GOP governor is pretty close to being right on. Why a Jewish woman in a state that embraces diversity would allow hard-nosed Christian rhetoric to help drown her buddy Aiona will remain a real mystery to me.

  2. hipoli Says:

    Wow, Dave, I read the exact same passage to my other half when I was reading that article. Waihee nailed it. ‘Nuff Sed.

  3. Kolea Says:

    Wow, hipoli. I thought I was your other half!

    Ben Cayetano’s book was very interesting. It is good to have a well-written account of political events, even if it is written from a particular viewpoint. So long as the account is a frank articulation of that view point, it can serve help put things into an orderly framework.

    I would LOVE to read a frank account from John Waihee’s perspective. For all his flaws, Waihee is a major political talent, dismissed a bit too casually be folks who have settled upon a convenient one or two-sentence summary of his career.

    Come on, John, write that book! I would almost advise you to use Chuck Freedman’s considerable skills to help get the job done. But I fear Chuck would be too careful in shaping the message and the book would lose some its potential value. I don’t want a safe account. I want a free-flowing, unguarded, idealistic account of what you first dreamed about, what you attempted, where you fell short (and why) and what you think might still be done to salvage Hawaii’s future.

  4. Household God Says:

    We must convince everybody that Lingle is irrelevant inorder to make sure she doesn’t get elected to the Senate in 2012.

  5. Richard Gozinya Says:

    You guys be careful. If Linda achieves a big time job in Washington she may just have the urge to show just how relevant she can be.

  6. Kolea Says:

    Guys, Lingle had eight years to prove her relevance and DESPITE a Teflon coat which protected her from media criticism for her entire first term, she has no accomplishments to show for it!

    OK, I will give her some credit for placing more Hawaiians on Hawaiian Homelands. That was both smart and just, compared to the failure of successive Democratic administrations. And she SPOKE A GOOD GAME on “Clean Energy,” though in practice, she got little done except taking steps towards creating new, highly centralized monopolies with the undersea cables.

    Lingle got off lightly, given the clear corruption in DLNR’s Historic Preservation and DBEDT. The press refused to go after her on those scandals. We can attribute that to “no money for investigative reporting,” but I think the evidence was being laid out pretty clearly by Donna Kim’s hearings.

  7. David Shapiro Says:

    Richard, you’re right that she may well get another chance in some significant capacity.

  8. Michael Says:

    lingle was a female with a chip on her shoulder.
    her legacy is she has none, unless she becomes palin’s running partner as vice president or gets in the Senate. Either way I don’t give a hoot. knowing her accomplishments as mayor for Maui, all I remember her is she legalized hitch hiking. Her other legacy I will remember her for, is her Veto Speech.
    “This is a decision that should not be made by one person sitting in her office or by members of the Majority Party behind closed doors in a legislative caucus, but by all the people of Hawaii behind the curtain of the voting booth”. (Just a part of her speech.)

    It is said that she was too much of a Mainland Republican and not a Hawai’i Republican. Didn’t I hear this thinking before? Is one or the other dumb or dumber?

  9. Michael Says:

    P.S. lingle not helping Aloha Airlines created a domino effect. Whether she could help or not, she did not and thousands got laid off in a domino effect. 2008 economy was not the best but she had years of plenty and when came the famine, no moa money.

  10. ppcc Says:

    Aloha Air would have gone bankrupt regardless of what Lingle had done or not done. Even if Lingle is like Abercrombie who just gave $100 million in taxpayer monies that was supposed to be used for hurricane and emergency relief to the DOE to end furlough fridays, the core problems with both DOE and Aloha Air continue to exists and that is management that is utterly incompetent and/or has personal agendas completely contradictory to the welfare of the organization itself. With the DOE the core mission is to educate Hawaii’s children and NOT an open piggy bank using taxpayer funds to receive fat paychecks for themselves, their families (ie Myron Thompson school principal hiring family members) and connected contractors given the DOE’s TRUE budget is > $2 BILLION per year. DOE management doesn’t care cause they can and have used Hawaii’s children as leverage to grow their budget WITHOUT any financial oversight such as a comprehensive independent audit which Abercrombie promised would never occur while he is Governor.

    With the former Aloha Air management they were just incompetent AND greedy. Instead of reinvesting their profits to upgrade their planes and looking out for their employees and their company they were running that would allow them to compete with Hawaiian Air and survive the serious economic lean years during that time, all Aloha management did was to siphon off the profits to enrich their own pocketbooks. At the time both Aloha and Hawaiian were struggling and allowed GO to come into the picture, Aloha execs did not protect sufficiently protect Aloha air when they revealed their vulnerability to Go. You don’t have to be an insider to figure this out given when Go revealed their true predatory nature to both Aloha and Hawaiian it was Hawaiian that aggressively pursued Go in court and won millions against Go, even though Go’s vicious predatory attack was aimed primarily at Aloha and only secondary to Hawaiian. It should have been Aloha to take the lead on the court case against Go and reap the millions in damages. Instead Aloha air’s management solution to their problems was to, after the fact, beg for taxpayer monies from Governor Lingle. Lingle should NOT be blamed for the demise of Aloha, it was Aloha’s incompetent management that drove the company into the ground but made sure to take whatever money they could for themselves in the process.

    The tragedy of Aloha is neither new or ground breaking. From Virgils Aeneid and rehashed in the movie Troy with Brad Pitt and Eric Bana, like the battle between the Trojans vs Greeks, if Aloha execs had done their homework they would have realized Go’s CEO’s dark predatory history, and then for GO to offer Aloha their “trojan horse” in the form of the bailout should have immediately sent warning flags to Aloha execs. Instead Aloha execs welcomed Go with open arms and readily exposed themselves to their competition WITHOUT fully protecting themselves in the event GO had ulterior motives, which they did.

  11. Michael Says:

    So what is new with what you say?

    “Aloha Air would have gone bankrupt regardless of what Lingle had done or not done”. you said.

    “Whether she could help or not, she did not and thousands got laid off in a domino effect.” this is what I said.

    There is still that domino effect and thousands got laid off.
    You get a penny for your thought and you pay 2 cents, you lose.

  12. manoak Says:

    The real question is how did this stiff, lazy but; well funded, conservative Republican get elected in the first place?

  13. WooWoo Says:

    Lingle’s performance as Gov may be a completely different animal as her performance as Senator. No legislature to block her, just her vote on the floor and her influence within her party and with her senate peers.

    Let’s be honest, she got to dabble on the national GOP scene because she has some big league talent. You really think that Cayetano got invited to speak at the national convention and turned it down?

    The fact is that she would wield more clout within her party than any other Dem candidate for the seat in 2012 will. And that is the best outcome for Hawaii.

  14. Kolea Says:


    I will try to be honest. I do not think she has “big league talent.” I see no evidence of that. And your evidence appears to be simply that they wouldn’t have chosen her UNLESS she had some sort of talent. Kind of a circle argument.

    She was extremely wooden on the podium when she gave her speech. Central casting needed a type and she fit some of the criteria. Had they given her a screen test in advance, I doubt she would have gotten the role. As it was, they didn’t have many options. They can only put onto the field what small stable of talent they ahve available to choose from.

    Lingle was a western state moderate female governor. And Jewish to boot. She satisfied several niche market demographics. But her dazzling charisma or electrifying speech-makiong were NOT the reasons she was tapped to speak.

    You are entitled to have a flight of fantasy and let your imagination soar: what would she be like on the Senate floor. But how the heck can you weave together a vision of great success in that arena. She has no history of having been a successful legislator, building coalitions, inspiring colleagues around visionary legislation. As I have said, she is not an effective presence as a public speaker or as a television character. And her personal life is a source of troublesome speculation which would undermine any national stature.

    Why should we spend our votes to send her to Washington if the net effect is to empower the Mitch McConnells, the Jim Demints? She might be able to win if people decide it is time for Senator Akaka to retire and he disagrees. But it certainly won’t be because of silly expectations she has some “Big League talent” which has evaded detection the past eight years.

  15. Augustus John Says:

    When Lingle lost in 1998 she was rumored to be in line to do local TV, she couldn’t make it past the News Presenters test….wooden to the core. Her deliveries have only moved slightly past that state since then – and she went to school at Steve Forbes Candidate’s Training College too, with numerous GOP Congressional junkets to get her chops up. But, there is still the wooden visage – so I assume that there will be more training in speech delivery coming to her during her time out with a ‘bipartisan think tank’. Again I echo Kolea – what successful legislation – BIG IDEA – etc. will she be able to say she addressed or accomplished? And when will we be hearing more about Bob Awana?

  16. ppcc Says:

    Kolea/Augustus John:

    WooWoo has a point, except for Hawaii, California and Washington State, on the national level the Republicans have taken over the House and will probably take over the Senate and White House in 2012. At that point will Hawaii be represented by the “awe-inspiring”, “dynamic” “BIG TALENTS” of Hanabusa and Hirono?? Besides being Democrats the two 80+ year Dan’s are like the old turtle master Oogway (voice of Daniel Duk Kim) in Kung Fu Panda that are just about to fade away into the wind. At that point you think Mufi, Ed Case, Hirono and Hanabusa are going to make ANY headway for Hawaii in such a Republican environment? WooWoo has convinced me given those conditions Lingle, despite her shortcomings as Governor, would better represent Hawaii than either Demo’s Mufi, Ed Case, Hanabusa, Hirono, etc. In fact maybe what is BEST for Hawaii in 2012 and beyond, given it appear Repubs will gain FULL control of the White House and Congress, that Hawaii be represented by two Republicans Lingle and Djou and two Democrats.

  17. ppcc Says:

    In order for Lingle and Djou to make it to D.C. in the they need to seriously ASSESS what their mistakes have been in the past, learn from their mistakes and play the political game CORRECTLY. Just one point; Lingle better run as far away from the religious fanatics in her inner circle or she will NEVER represent Hawaii in D.C.

  18. Kolea Says:


    As you probably know, I am a very active Democrat and not privy to GOP social life. Nonetheless, I know (and actually get along with) some of Lingle’s longtime supporters. In general, they strike me as pretty reasonable folks. I kinda doubt Lingle’s “inner circle” includes many “religious fanatics.”

    \Lingle was at her best when she was allowed to “be Lingle,” a moderate, barely partisan politician. I think she used the phrase, an “accidental Republican” to describe herself fairly early on. People voted for her mostly because she was seen as only nominally Republican, but enough to represent a break from the stagnationa nd corruption of the “Democratic Machine.”

    I think she was HELPED by being Jewish, as it protected her from any confusion as to whether she was a “born again” zealot.

    But she lost her way, whether it was due to circumstances beyond her control or her willingness to throw herself into the currents flowing most strongly in national Republican circles. It would be good for Lingle if the currently popular hard right tack of the national GOP burns itself out, allowing room for a moderate female Jewish ex-governor like herself to re-emerge.

    If she spends the next two years on the national “talking head circuit of Fox News,” she will damage herself longterm. To the extent she cares about the local GOP political culture, she is also in for a tough fight. The GOP under Jonah Kaauwai and Dylan Nonaka relied too much upon the conservative Protestant churches for their recruitment and it drove away a lot of moderate and independent voters and disaffected Democrats who had supported Lingle.

    I don’t know if Lingle cares enough about fixing the local GOP or if she thinks it is safer to disappear to the mainland and let other folks work things out here. But if the GOP in Hawaii remains identified excessively with the born-agains, it will hurt Lingle’s prospects.

    So her future is at risk by excessive rightwing activism by either the National GOP or the local GOP. How she will navigate that and survive, in tact, I dunno.

  19. WooWoo Says:

    I agree that the local party probably relied more on the churches than Lingle was comfortable with, but it is hard to argue that this year’s election was any worse than 2008, when the party under Willes Lee failed to contest most of the seats.

    It’s also worthwhile to note that Waihee’s criticisms of Lingle, at least in the above quote, focus on her failure to build her party and bring a two-party system to hawaii. In general, most criticism I have read of her legacy has focused on a failure to achieve stated goals, not the worthiness of those goals themselves.

  20. Eric Ryan Says:

    Great posting Dave. You nailed it. The last eight years were a forgettable diversion from the one-party state Hawaii is.

    Reading the comments above, you sure have some far-left readers who consider Lingle a “conservative”. Yeah, right!

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