Under the Sun
Clink-clank goes a new machine as the old one keeps chugging along
WHEN anyone talks about a political machine in Hawaii, it generally pertains to the Democratic Party. But there's another set of levers and pulleys in operation, a smaller, leaner, quieter apparatus patented by its leader, Linda Lingle.
The Republican governor is so formidable that Democrats had to churn deep, wide and long to find someone willing to take her on this year. Her popularity ranges across a spectrum of political interests, from conservative and corporate to environmental and progressive.
Short a major scandal or miscalculation, Lingle will likely win re-election, but the governor's ambitions do not stop at the state Capitol.
That's why the way her party chose state Rep. Cynthia Thielen to run against Daniel Akaka for the U.S. Senate doesn't quite pass a smell test.
After the favored Republican nominee, Jerry Coffee, exited the race due to health problems, Lingle encouraged party members to vote for him anyway because Coffee's win would let her and her people pick a replacement.
Judging from a comment from Republican chairman Sam Aiona, the party's leaders seemed to have made up their minds about Thielen before the primary. Unopposed for her current seat, she could campaign against Akaka without jeopardizing her legislative post.
The tactic essentially usurped the party faithfuls' right to nominate one of their choosing, but apparently Republicans trust their leader to make the choice for them. Nevertheless, I can understand if Mark Beatty, the candidate who came in a distant second to the to-be-named player, felt like chopped liver.
It's not that Thielen isn't a good candidate. She has strong credentials and has a solid election track record. She is appropriately moderate for Hawaii's tastes, supporting abortion rights and Hawaiian issues. Thielen also has the support of environmental groups for her advocacy for renewable energy -- a rare badge for a Republican to wear in a federal race -- and can use it to prick at Akaka's vulnerability, his votes to open the Arctic wildlife refuge to oil drilling.
But underlying is an acknowledgment that she cannot beat Akaka, which would leave the field clear of incumbent Republicans.
Lingle certainly deserves the privilege to command the party she's built almost single-handedly. But despite her individual strength, she hasn't been able to increase Republican numbers significantly in the Legislature; in this, the behemoth Democratic mechanism remains chugging away.
That might not matter much. By the end of her term in 2010, the political landscape of Hawaii could be different as newcomers and younger people with weaker ties to the Democratic tradition enter the voting booths. And if nothing else, Lingle has proven to be persistent, cultivating and guiding a band of bright and appealing adherents, such as Hawaiian Home Lands director Micah Kane.
Through them, the Republican Party could see some gains, but at present it could more fittingly be called the Lingle Party for it seems its basic purpose is to promote the governor.
Democrats have long held sway in Hawaii. Even as its membership spans a wide array of sometimes conflicting political philosophies, the party has maintained a steady groove. Winners and losers manage to return, albeit ostensibly, to the fold through bitter elections.
That's a machine, one that has stuttered and faltered from time to time and taken hits -- valid and otherwise -- from critics, opponents and those who have felt left out. Though its foundations have grown shaky, it clanks along regardless because there are people who like its candidates.
The Lingle device operates nimbly, maybe because it's more focused. Forged from different parts, it is a well-oiled machine, too.
Yet, for all the noise of and about political cartels, a voter stands alone in the booth, each with the capacity to lower the din and choose a person, not a party. That's the best way to shut off a machine.
has been on the staff of the Star-Bulletin since 1976. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org