Richard Borreca

On Politics


Sunday, February 9, 2003

New lobbyist-in-chief
has a different style

Just as border collies are born to herd sheep, some politicians are just born to move legislation.

The smart ones can look at an issue or event and figure out the angles, who likes it and who will work all night to kill it. The master politicians are those who can see the whole chess board and really love the game.

So when you talk to legislative veterans about former Gov. John Waihee a sort of misty, happy gaze crosses their faces, because he was one of those who just loved the dynamics and balance of power politics.

Waihee had spent little time in office before becoming governor. He was a leader in the 1978 Constitutional Convention, served a term in the House, did four years as lieutenant governor and then moved to the governor's office.

It wasn't his time in office so much as his love of politics that showed. As lieutenant governor, Waihee would prowl the state Capitol corridors, gossiping, trading stories and pushing his own pet bills.

One night after he become governor, I recall sitting in the Senate clerk's office going over a mound of last-minute bills. It was nearly 10 p.m. when Waihee sauntered in to make the same inspection. At other times he would slip into the old House radio room that looked out onto the House floor, to sit in the dark, sneak a smoke and listen to the floor debate.

Later, when he started to push through his own legislation, all the bits of happily gathered random political trivia helped Waihee deliver on his own administration's wish list.

In comparison, former Gov. Ben Cayetano believed that the separation of powers was best exercised with vigorous debate. His training was not so much in persuasion as in courtroom combat and, like other lawyers, he thought a healthy cross-examination was good for the soul. Too bad it was rarely good for his legislative agenda.

Now lawmakers are confronted with a new sort of gubernatorial lobbyist. Republican Linda Lingle is approaching the job with an "Up With People" sort of enthusiasm. She loves to talk about how her job is politics, and she believes it is an honorable profession. In some ways, there is a "Ms. Smith Goes to Washington" air about the administration's lobbying efforts.

Lingle reasons that if you have a position on a bill, you can come down to the Legislature, appear before a committee and you will get a fair hearing.

"That's where things get a little spongy," one veteran lobbyist remarked when told of the Lingle lobbying style.

When any governor appears before a formal legislative hearing, it is like the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson docking in Hanauma Bay -- suddenly all the space is gone. Lingle, for instance, travels with a chief of staff, at least one or two senior advisers, two security guards and as many department directors as she can stuff into the hearing room.

In comparison, Waihee, who lobbyists fondly recall as "a player," traveled light and moved fast, mostly behind closed doors. If Lingle is able to move her agenda in the committee room and negate the back room, she will score a victory for the power of open lobbying.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at

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