In Democratic waters, Lingle still swims against tide
AS WELL KNOWN as Gov. Linda Lingle is among voters and residents, that high profile also makes critics see her as overrated.
In a new survey of political insiders conducted by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, Lingle topped the list when we asked, "Who is the most overrated Hawaii politician?"
The survey is patterned after the Insider Poll publicized in the National Journal. We asked legislators, lobbyists and Neighborhood Board presidents to answer four questions:
Who is the most overrated, who is the most underrated, and what are the most over- and underreported political stories in Hawaii?
In all, 12 legislators, 28 registered lobbyists and 10 Neighborhood Board presidents answered.
Eight of the 12 lawmakers are Democrats, while 20 of the lobbyists are Democrats, six say they are independent and two are Republicans. Among the Neighborhood Board presidents, four Democrats and six independents responded.
AT ISSUE with the whole group is a concern that Lingle's statements and performance don't match up. The feeling had bipartisan support, as one strong GOP supporter said Hawaii's first Republican governor in 40 years was overrated because she had no political coattails.
He complained that Lingle was at fault for not getting more Republican legislators elected.
Two Democrats also complained about the local Democratic Party's only national star: U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
They said that while Inouye is third in line in seniority he falls short of capacity and could deliver more "federal monies and programs."
Many Democrats took the opportunity to get in a few easy shots at Lingle, such as one Democratic worker who said "she is taking credit for many things that are not her doing; many programs as well as the economic growth should not be all attributable her and this administration."
The group of insiders felt that Lingle was "all show and no go" as controlled media events reaped the good press, but her actual performance on the job is not as strong. Other said they were dissatisfied with attempts to talk to her in person.
Democrats in the survey thought Lingle had not done enough to "reach across the aisle." Instead of working with Democrats, her critics say, she has either ignored them or claimed credit for existing Democratic accomplishments.
Others said Lingle's articulate, forceful style helps her get publicity, but members of her administration are still learning their jobs and are not yet proficient.
Lingle declined to talk about the survey, but Bob Awana, her chief of staff, said the partisan nature of the group caused Lingle to get poor marks.
"Every public opinion poll has resulted in high approval ratings for Governor Lingle. The people of Hawaii think highly of Governor Lingle because of her steady success in addressing the problems facing the state.
"Because the governor has restored hope and given people a positive outlook about the future the public believes she is doing a good job.
"Her ability to turn a budget deficit into a healthy surplus, her continued focus on improving education, and her call for tax relief for Hawaii families are just some of the reasons her popularity remains high," Awana said in an e-mailed response.
Neal Milner, a University of Hawaii political scientist, says it is "significant that insiders see her so critically," but adds that insiders have different expectations from the general public.
"They think about production in a more concrete way," Milner said.
"That of course is not just a function of her abilities. It is a function of the limits she faces having a Legislature fully controlled by Democrats," Milner said.
AMONG THOSE viewed as underrated, Reps. Calvin Say and Roy Takumi had the highest ratings.
Milner called them "hardworking, longtime legislators who have the skills and the power to deal with insiders. None is known for appealing to the crowd."
In fact, Takumi, who at 53 is completing 14 years in the House, agrees that legislating is not always flashy. He says finding just one or two good ideas a year and working to make them sustainable and easy to implement are the keys.
The list of underrated politicians should give the GOP pause, Milner warned, because hardly anyone thinks about them at all.
"For Lingle the good news is that she is visible and important enough for insiders to care significantly about her," Milner said.
Except for City Councilman Charles Djou, a Republican occupying a nonpartisan office, the GOP just doesn't set off much fireworks.
"This lack of visibility is an indication of how far the Republicans still have to go in this state to have a presence," Milner said.
writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org