On Politics
Richard Borreca

Sunday, April 3, 2005

Left-leaning Lingle
picks up speed

With the general election 18 months away, it may be too early to define a complete strategy, but Gov. Linda Lingle is already putting up road signs.

While the Democratic opposition is still largely unformed, Republican Lingle has managed to move her administration to the left of Hawaii's Democratic centralists.

What must really be confounding the Democrats is that as she moves left she holds firmly to her GOP base, including conservative Christian groups.

As the Legislature starts to enter its final orbits, Lingle is flying high with a trio of bills that in normal times would be embraced by most Democrats.

In December, Lingle said housing for the homeless, helping the working poor and nurturing preschool education would be her big three this legislative session.

She wants to raise the standard state tax deduction and bring it into line with the federal rate, taking thousands of working poor off the tax rolls. She wants immediate tax credits for developers willing to build affordable housing and increase the housing inventory. And finally, she wants millions more spent on early childhood education.

Working to help the poor, extending advantages to children and assisting the disadvantaged are all normal parts of the Democratic repertoire. So far this year it is Lingle plugging away with a new round of public appearances and moving her cabinet into position to continue the lobbying cannonade.

Even Kurt Kawafuchi, state tax director, is passionately talking about how "Our first priority should be to ease the state tax burden of those who need the most help, our fellow residents who are living paycheck to paycheck."

Without a strong and visible candidate for governor, if even only a rumored one, Democrats are having another one of their "deer in the headlights" moments.

As if to underline their present weakened state, House Democrats, feeling a need for more recognition, have been debating and finally withdrew a resolution to name a two-year-old drug bill for its two sponsors, Rep. Roy Takumi and Sen. Ron Menor. It is nice to be remembered, but the question "What have you done for me lately?" might reasonably spring to mind.

Lingle, in the words of Hawaii Kai Republican Sen. Sam Slom, "is a moving target."

"She is very astute and gains from going out talking in the community," Slom says.

What must frustrate Democrats is that while Lingle picks up support with a traditional Democrat agenda, she continues to court conservative groups and has never wavered in her support for all of President Bush's positions, from the war in Iraq to changing Social Security.

Politics, like real estate, is all about location, and today it appears that Lingle is moving herself into a very strong position for next year's campaigns.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

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

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