Union takes aim
Lingle fires back with the
charge that the HGEA is not
keeping isle interests in mind
Hoping to preserve a Democratic Legislature that can override Linda Lingle's vetoes, the state's biggest union has opened up an attack on the Republican governor.
In a recent mailing sent by the Hawaii Government Employees Association to its members, the union warns that Lingle "wants a veto-proof Legislature to kill any bills benefiting your salary, retirement and health benefits."
Lingle last year vetoed a HGEA pay raise even though it was the product of mandatory arbitration. The Legislature overrode the veto.
The governor blasted the HGEA, which represents more than 23,000 white-collar public workers, for its latest attack.
"They are appealing to the most selfish aspects of the average citizen, and they are narrowing the election to what this specific group will get as a personal benefit, as opposed to what is good for the state," Lingle said in an interview.
If Republicans increase their numbers in the state House from 15 to 18, they would be able to block attempts to override Lingle's vetoes.
Russell Okata, HGEA executive director, said the union is not selfish; its concern for union benefits translates into concern for all voters.
"There is no difference between the working family and the public -- every poll shows they want the same thing: better school, lower taxes and honest government.
"For her to separate union-family needs from what the rest of the community wants is just not correct," Okata said.
The battle between the HGEA and Lingle is particularly intense this year, Okata acknowledged.
In the battle over the HGEA contract, Lingle said the state could not afford the 8 percent raise won by the HGEA, but then bargained with other unions for larger raises, although the payments were spread over more years.
Okata said the difference in pay hurt.
"We don't feel we are being treated fairly. How can you treat the University of Hawaii and the police different?
"I think if you are honest and fair, the employer would put something on the table for all the unions," Okata said.
The difference, Lingle said, is that the HGEA refused to look past the benefits of its own members.
"The HGEA leadership has not changed in the entire time I have been in politics," said Lingle, who was first elected to the Maui County Council in 1980. "I take a broad view and they don't. They want candidates who will take a very narrow view when these issues come up."
Union leaders disagree.
Jackie Ferguson-Miyamoto, HGEA Oahu political action committee chairwoman, pointed to the Democrats bill on education reform, saying Lingle vetoed it and "has the power to kill good bills."
But Lingle has argued that the Democrats' education measure didn't give the public schools enough support and failed to make school principals accountable.
Okata said the HGEA will be helping endorsed candidates with sign-waving, rallies, mailers and donations.
Union endorsements carry weight, especially in small races where there isn't much information or publicity about the campaign, he said.
For instance, Okata said, the union supported incumbent Rep. Romy Mindo, (D, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), who had a difficult primary race against community activist Tesha Malama, but Mindo was able to win the primary race.
His opponent, Republican Kymberly Pine, discounted the HGEA support, noting that Mindo won by just 89 votes.