Political effects on Lingle debated


POSTED: Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Hawaii Superferry continues its up-and-down course through uncharted, local political waters.

Almost as controversial is Gov. Linda Lingle's solid support of the Superferry.

“;If there is blame to go around, it rests with the (Lingle) administration, who gave them an illegal exemption and until this day insists that it was right,”; says Sen. J. Kalani English (D, East Maui-Molokai-Lanai-Kahoolawe), who voted against assisting the Superferry in 2007.

The Superferry's sailing to Kauai in 2007 ignited storms of protest, and citizen groups on Maui sued to block the ferry's operation.

The large, fast passenger and cargo vessel is once again at the dock after state Supreme Court rulings saying that it needed an environmental impact statement before operating and that a state law to allow the ship to continue sailing is unconstitutional.

English, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, said Lingle's defiant reaction to the Supreme Court is going to hurt her.

“;Politically, this will hurt the governor. The state spent nearly $50 million on the Superferry,”; English said.

On the other side is Rep. Joe Souki, also from Maui and the Transportation Committee chairman in the House. He says Lingle's political reputation is unscathed by the Superferry debacle.

“;None of the environmentalists like her anyway,”; said Souki (D, Waihee-Wailuku-Waikapu). “;They never supported her in any election. So what does she have to lose?”;

Souki said Lingle can count farmers and Maui residents as her supporters because they used the Superferry service.

Lingle, a Republican, declined to talk to the news media yesterday about the Superferry issue.

According to Souki, a former House speaker, Lingle is scheduled to meet with Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa to examine if there is anything that can be done to keep the ship sailing.

But Souki said he thinks it is not likely, noting that the firm announced it would start laying off employees on Friday.

For English, the controversy highlighted Lingle's insistence to push for the ferry without getting the required permits.

“;I was amazed when I heard the governor said, 'We were right at the time.' I'm sorry, you were not right. The Supreme Court said you were wrong. This kind of spin is mind-boggling,”; English said.