Lingle can be obstinate or show some leadership


POSTED: Sunday, October 04, 2009

In the normal scheme of things, what state legislators have to say about Gov. Linda Lingle's proposals doesn't carry much weight, except to perpetuate the back-and-forth feuding politicians seem to believe is legitimate substitute for reasoned discussion.

Imagine, then, Maui Sen. Shan Tsutsui's surprise when his public criticism about the administration's plans for a new jail on his island so moved the governor that she said, “;k-den,”; and pulled the plug on the project.

Lingle hasn't been known to back away from a fight, as evidenced in her epic battle for the defunct Superferry. Lawmakers shouldn't mistake her action as acquiescence, as bowing to the will of legislators. She's drawing a line in the sand.

After nearly eight years of being boxed about the ears by Democrats and their allies, she's calling one of them on it. She's saying, “;If you don't like what I've come up with, then no new jail for you, Mr. Tsutsui; no new jobs, no new contracts for businesses, no easing of overcrowding in the bussed-up Valley Island facility. Are you happy now?”;

The whole episode would be funny if not for the consequences.

It seems as though Lingle has something against prisons. When she ran for re-election in 2006, she declared she had abandoned building new prisons, one of the many objectives on her “;Agenda for a New Beginning,”; the principal document of her inaugural term. This summer, without even a courtesy heads-up, the governor peremptorily closed Kulani prison and forthwith shipped 123 inmates from the humid, forest-surrounded facility outside Hilo to the federal detention center next to Honolulu airport.

There wasn't much county or state officials could do, besides complain and ask for reconsideration, since the governor had a near-impregnable shield: the lack of money.

Closing Kulani, she said, would save about $2.8 million of the $6 million the state spends annually to operate and maintain the prison, which doesn't sound like much when the projected deficit stands near $1 billion.

Still, a few million here, a few million there adds up, though the administration hasn't been able to come up with hard numbers, leading to questions about why some programs are taking major hits and others aren't.

The trust factor eroded further with the discovery that her bean counters did a double tally of the garbanzos and that instead of ending the last fiscal year with about $8 million on hand, they are short about $37 million.

No one's disputing that the governor had the authority to close Kulani, nor does she have to move ahead with the Maui facility. However, power is one thing and petulance another.

Lingle — whose political future is unclear — has less than a year and four months to go before exiting Washington Place.

Her popularity initially gave her high hopes for achievement of those new beginnings before stumbling on political realities and, finally, a wounded economy. Understandably frustrated, she can leave the building throwing bombs or showing leadership skills.

Lawmakers, meanwhile, better watch their mouths.


Cynthia Oi can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).