Obama-Lingle relationship survives campaign hostility


POSTED: Thursday, March 12, 2009

A picture is worth a thousand words. In Gov. Linda Lingle's case, a picture could bridge a gap of many heated, campaign-fueled words.

Almost five months ago the two-term Republican was barnstorming the mainland on behalf of Republican presidential candidate John McCain and vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, telling audiences that Democrat Barack Obama was “;indecisive”; and “;not comfortable with leadership.”;

At another point she derided Obama's economic agenda, saying he would “;devastate our economy.”;

But 10 days ago a smiling Lingle was posing side by side with President Obama as they offered friendly shaka signs for a photo taken by Guam Gov. Felix Camacho.

Lingle's administration liked the visual so much they placed it on the governor's Web site under the headline “;Strengthening Federal Partnerships.”;

And while Lingle has avoided becoming tangled in the tangy dispute among other Republican governors over how best to respond to Obama's economic stimulus plan, she has offered generally positive reviews.

Lingle's transition from strident Obama critic to apparent friendliness toward him and the signature economic policy of his young administration is not lost on those who observe Hawaii politics.

“;It's a logical evolution,”; said Brian Schatz, Hawaii Democratic Party chairman. “;It's clear that Hawaii needs the stimulus funds and that it would be unwise to refuse any help from the federal government.”;

State House GOP Floor Leader Kimberly Pine said Lingle's current approach to Obama is a sign that the governor believes last year's campaign is in the past.

“;Once the campaign is over, I take nothing personal. I just see it as what they had to do ... for their team,”; said Pine, of Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point. “;I think she's doing the same thing.”;

Adam Deguire, executive director of the state Republican Party, indicated no surprised at Lingle's new stance toward Obama.

“;Just because the governor had a preferred candidate during the presidential campaign, I don't think that implies she will insert politics in her job of governing,”; he said.

Still, the picture of Lingle and Obama that the governor's aides distributed to the media might assuage some constituents who were miffed last year by her strong criticism of the Hawaii-born Obama, a flap over whether she said he could even consider Hawaii one of his home states, and her decision to skip a National Governors Association meeting with Obama in December.

“;She lost a lot of credibility,”; said University of Hawaii political scientist Ira Rohter. “;I don't know if she is kind of tacking back ... but she certainly was catching a lot of hell.”;

The photograph was taken at a formal White House dinner.

Lingle opted to attend last week's governors association gathering, as she said she would when she missed the December meeting.

This time, the governor brought along several senior aides to confer with top Cabinet officials who were not in place during the earlier meeting three months ago.

After hearing the president speak about the enormous economic challenges facing the country, Lingle said she felt some of his burden.