CAN a political party find success uniting behind the ambitions of one woman? The state Republican Party is asking that question today. Finding the answer will be a fascinating, although dangerous, journey.
Lingles task in
While Democrats appear happiest when they are dividing into warring tribes and clans to battle over the spoils of political leadership, Republicans tend to put on a mask, pretending they are united behind a new and great leader.
Democratic leaders, perhaps already tempered by intraparty warfare, make alliances and forge relationships that they take out into the battlefield against the Republicans.
Democratic leaders also have a powerful uniting feature: Lots of government jobs are occupied by Democratic Party members. And lots of boards and commissions are stocked with Democrats. Could be cynicism, but I doubt it is a coincidence.
In comparison, Republican leaders are forever offering up party unity while trying to avoid a fight. When you are a decided minority, the number of people you can offend and drive away is limited by the number of new people you can attract.
Now Linda Lingle, a bright and polished politician, is the GOP leader. She got the job, according to party insiders, because she attracted her own group to Kauai, which enabled her to win the election for GOP chairwoman. That sort of political action will serve her well.
Before Lingle gets to battle the Democrats, she has to clear the usual GOP mine fields. A portion of the GOP has always relished the clubby insider nature of the party and sought to keep it their private domain. There's another group that enjoys being close to political power without ever having the responsibility of being in the majority.
And finally, there are those interested in seeing a conservative Christian political dogma supported in Hawaii. Add all that to the GOP traditional public perception as the party of the rich and white.
Lingle comes at the proposition with a strong talent for unifying groups in a single cause. The trick for her, however, rests not with the cause but the calendar. She can't run for governor again until 2002.
Before that she has to run the GOP. So Lingle must keep her own team intact, while running the GOP through the 2000 elections. The big race will be for mayor of Honolulu, which is nonpartisan, but the incumbent is a strong Democratic party member.
THE Legislature and the neighbor islands offer the most promise. During her unsuccessful campaign for governor last year, Lingle worked the grass roots well. She had an extensive neighbor island operation and was the first GOP gubernatorial candidate to do well in the traditional labor-union territory of rural Hawaii.
Starting now, however, the Democrats won't be hanging back, wondering what Lingle is going to do. They will attack her and her former Maui administration. They will also work to drive a wedge between her and her financial backers.
Lingle as party leader has stressed that many of today's problems stem from the Democrats. Previously, hoping to negate the state's deep-seated uneasiness with Republicans, she urged voting for the person, not the party.
If this were not about politics, these would be mutually contradictory views, but this is politics and Lingle is a politician. She will have to show just how well she can keep it all balanced in order to survive to run again in 2002.
Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org