Sunday, May 9, 2004

GOP aims to block
House overrides

Control of next year's Legislature
is the goal after Democrats sink
the governor's agenda

This year may be a good one for the status quo.

That's the opinion of several public opinion experts, who say the flurry of vetoes and veto overrides and battles between Gov. Linda Lingle's administration and the Democratic legislative leaders may not register with voters.

The prize is control of next year's legislature. Today Democrats control both the House and Senate. Because they have two-thirds majorities in both chambers, Democrats have been able to block any Lingle vetoes.

If Republicans increase the number of House members from 15 to 18, they would have enough to both block overrides and also call bills locked in committee out on to the House floor for a vote.

In the Senate, Republicans need to increase their numbers from five to nine to accomplish the same.

Lingle and the GOP have set their sights on the state House, figuring that gaining three more GOP representatives is a more realistic goal, but public opinion experts say it won't be easy.

Don Clegg, a veteran Democratic pollster who has helped on several statewide campaigns, said Republicans had the public primed for change in government, following Lingle's gubernatorial victory.

"But the Republicans didn't come out with a real story to tell. They didn't come up with bold actions," Clegg said.

The public is going to feel frustrated after having voted for a change in government and then not feeling that much has happened, Clegg says.

"When there is such a feeling, the voter usually goes with the status quo. They go with the incumbents because it gets confusing as to who is to blame for the frustration," Clegg said.

He said he would have advised the Republicans to come out with a broad program for reform, "a bigger set of issues that they could tell with an aggressive story."

Without that effort, Clegg says, the Democrats are controlling the upper ground in the public policy debate and it is up to the GOP to charge up the hill.

Democratic leaders this year devised a strategy to come together early on bills regarding education, drug abuse and low-cost prescription drugs and then pass the legislation early enough to still be in session and ready to override any Lingle vetoes.

"The Democrats had a very orchestrated session and they had a lot of Democratic imagery coming from the session, even if the reality is mini-solutions or delayed solutions to major problems," Clegg said.

"But at the same time, the Republicans didn't propose any big changes," Clegg said.

"So the Republicans are in a position to be defensive, they will have to try to destroy the image of what the Democrats did," Clegg said.

On Friday in Kona, Lingle was proving Clegg's point, as she told a solid GOP crowd that Democrats shot down her administration's efforts to reform such things as education and workers' compensation.

"We thought they had a higher responsibility to the people in this state. You're not just voting against me, you're voting against the will of the people across the state who voted me into office," she said.

Business pollster Wanda Kakugawa, president of Market Trends Pacific Inc., said Lingle will have to answer the voters' question of "what have you done for me?"

"One comment I hear is that she will be criticized for not being able to get a lot done, even though there are also comments that 'what do you expect, there aren't enough Republicans in government,'" Kakugawa said.

"My sense is that if she were to get a grade for how much she has been able to get done, I don't think it would be that great," Kakugawa added.

The veteran pollster, however, added that Lingle and the Republicans do have the opportunity to sell a message that if "you want to see the change you voted for, you need to consider who you elect to the Legislature."

Lingle told the news media on Thursday that she would attempt to hold Democrats responsible for the demise of her legislative agenda.

But Kakugawa said that will be a difficult discussion to have with voters during the campaign session because Republican charges and Democrat countercharges will blur the issue of who is actually responsible.

Also, the expectations of an improving economy will also help the incumbents.

"I am unsure of how restless voters are, in light of the economic confidence levels. . .

"My sense of the business community is that, yes, they feel things are getting better and that is usually good for incumbents," Kakugawa said.

Finally, Democratic and Republican incumbents are likely to hear no complaints from senior citizens and retirees, a key voting group, because of the work done this year on prescription drug costs.

Greg Marchildon, Hawaii AARP executive director, said Democrats would be praised for working for more than three years to pass a bill to lower prescription drug costs. He said that Lingle then came on board and also supported a modified version of the program.

"There is enough credit to go around for everyone," Marchildon said.

Because the bill had been approved this year and the lawmakers of both parties voted for it, it is a natural for the campaign season, Marchildon said.

"It remains to be seen which party will have the better message on the bill, but this is definitely an issue that will help incumbents," Marchildon said.


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