Lingle shows leadership by reversing direction


POSTED: Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Gov. Linda Lingle has struggled for years with her powers of leadership.

After winning the top political job against all the institutional odds, Lingle set out to lead Hawaii to the land of low taxes, home rule, decentralized authority and two-party debate.

Hawaii was told about being “;open for business,”; about how Hawaii unfairly taxes the poor, how the “;top-down”; school system doesn't work. As GOP cheerleader, Lingle held hands with every sentient being wanting to run for office as a Republican.

It wasn't leadership; she was on the bench hollering at the team.

She may leave office presiding over a state with higher taxes, an unchanged centralized education system and one-party domination — but her actions on the disastrous Furlough Fridays plan show Lingle knows the difference between coaching and leadership.

If you want to win, don't ask Michael Jordan how to play; get him in the game to make the play.

The furlough plan was an astounding bit of misjudgment. Taking 17 days of school a year away from Hawaii's public school students should have popped up on everyone's radar screens.

Pat Hamamoto, state schools superintendent, and the Hawaii State Teachers Association can't be faulted for just trying to do their jobs, but the 13 elected school board members and Lingle are there because their election is supposed to be about reflecting the will of the people. And in that reflection is supposed to be enough political instinct to know what lines can and cannot be crossed.

So that is why there was little snickering when Lingle backtracked and said she regretted giving approval to the Furlough Fridays contract. No one was saying Lingle should stand by her signature and toss those children out of school.

Sailors practice coming about in “;man overboard”; drills, but when political leaders have to reverse course, they have to do it on instinct.

So Lingle's weekend announcement that she was ready to go back and pick up the kids and then set in motion a way to do it puts her back in the captain's chair.

The deal now goes to the unions — at least two of them will be involved — and also to the Legislature's leaders. Lawmakers were already noting that if something isn't done quickly to shore up the teachers' contract, every human service group in the state will line up with a plea for money.

There is every chance that those powers could collectively blow it, but at least it has gotten Lingle suited up and off the bench.