Tuesday, March 2, 1999

Lingle smear charge
shouldn’t be dismissed

DURING last year's gubernatorial campaign, Democrats were accused of spreading a rumor that Linda Lingle was a lesbian. Now another charge has surfaced regarding the Republican candidate, who narrowly lost to Ben Cayetano. This time the accusation has to do with the fact that Lingle is Jewish. The co-chairwoman of the Republican National Committee, Pat Harrison, charges that Hawaii Democrats warned voters that Lingle would abolish the Christmas holiday if elected. She made the allegation most recently in a speech in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Info Box Michael Levy, Harrison's chief of staff in Washington, said he spent two weeks in Hawaii last August helping with the Lingle campaign and the "abolish Christmas" allegations surfaced frequently. "It was a whispering campaign," he said. "We've been talking about this since October," Levy added. "They (the Democrats) should denounce it."

Instead, the allegation drew a strong denial from Walter Heen, chairman of Hawaii's Democratic Party. Heen responded: "This is an age-old ploy: Blame it on a whispering campaign ... This is reverse English on a dirty trick."

But Donna Alcantara, the Hawaii Republican chairwoman, said Lingle campaign workers frequently fielded questions dealing with rumors spread about the candidate, including a few about doing away with the Christmas holiday. "Rumors were just rampant" during the campaign, particularly near the end, Alcantara said. "There was some serious stuff: unions telling workers they'd lose their jobs. There was so much filth put out about her. I wouldn't put anything past those guys."

Those were exactly the sentiments of Cec Heftel, who was elected to Congress from Hawaii five times as a Democrat but ran into a smear campaign when he sought the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 1986 -- unsuccessfully, as it turned out. Although the source of the smears against Heftel was never established, he had no doubt that Democrats opposed to his candidacy were responsible.

Last September, on a visit to Honolulu from Las Vegas, where he now lives, Heftel warned Lingle that the Democrats might resort to smears to defeat her, too. He defended Lingle's accusation against the Democrats on the lesbian smear, saying they would be the only ones to benefit from it.

Smear campaigns are often anonymous; rarely are their sources uncovered. That doesn't mean they do did not exist or that they are somehow spontaneous. The Democrats vehemently denied responsibility for the lesbian smear against Lingle and they are doing the same for the latest allegation.

Perhaps the denials are sincere. That doesn't mean there is nothing to the charge. It's possible that the smears were circulated without the knowledge or approval of the candidate or party chairman.

If people were asking Republican workers whether Lingle would abolish the Christmas holiday, someone was spreading that rumor. Who else but the Democrats?


Helmets for bicyclists

SAFETY helmets have become commonplace although not required in Hawaii among motorcyclists and, to a lesser extent, bicyclists. Motorcyclists have successfully resisted legislation that would require them to wear helmets. Legislators this year are considering imposing the requirement on children riding bicycles and an assortment of other child-propelled vehicles.

Thirteen states and about 25 communities require children to wear helmets -- two states for those under 18 years old, five under 16, two under 14 and four under 12. Nationwide, only 15 percent of bicyclists under 15 wear helmets more than half the time, according to a 1991 study.

About 250 children die each year and an additional 400,000 require medical treatment for injuries incurred in bicycle accidents. Sixty percent of the deaths and a third of the medical treatments result from head injuries. Helmets are said to reduce the risk of head injury by 85 percent. Required usage of helmets could result in a further decline in accidental deaths and injuries; studies in Oregon and Australia have shown reductions of 30 percent to 50 percent following enactment of helmet ordinances.

The state Senate Transportation Committee is considering a bill that would require the wearing of helmets by children under age 12, not only while riding bicycles but while using in-line skates, skateboarding or any other of "wheeled apparatus," including tricycles and toy bicycles.

Safety helmets for very young bicyclists clearly can prevent injury and should be encouraged. However, making it a crime for a child not to wear a helmet would be going too far down the road of Big Brotherism. A more reasonable approach would be to promote education of parents on the value of helmets.


The Marcos fortune

THAT tentative $150 million settlement between the heirs of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos and thousands of human rights victims doesn't get the Marcoses off the hook. The Philippine government has pointed out that the deal does not exempt the Marcos family from criminal prosecution -- or from civil suits by the government or other private parties.

Under the compromise, the $150 million payment is to be drawn from Swiss bank deposits by the Marcoses now held in escrow by a Manila bank. However, the Philippines is claiming the balance of $440 million in the escrow account. A statement from the office of President Joseph Estrada said, "The government's position that this account is ill-gotten and should revert to the national treasury remains unchanged."

The effort to reclaim the stolen Marcos millions is far from over.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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