Capitol View

By Richard Borreca

Wednesday, March 17, 1999

Lingle’s challenge
as GOP leader

JUST do the math and you have to wonder why any sane person in Hawaii would want to be a GOP politician.

Republicans rarely win elections. Since statehood, only one Republican, Bill Quinn, won the governorship. Just two Republicans have served in Congress, Sen. Hiram Fong and Rep. Pat Saiki. The Legislature, the Honolulu City Council and the county councils, since statehood, have not had a GOP majority.

The only spot of elected success has been neighbor island mayors. Linda Lingle, Hannibal Tavares, Bernard Akana and MaryAnne Kusaka all served as executives.

The voter demographic base is just as discouraging.

Hawaii's a multi-racial, cross-cultural and slightly xenophobic sort of place. So when Republicans run, they usually appeal to just one group: whites. The GOP has shown some increases among some business-oriented, newly arrived immigrant groups, but it appeals to the same demographic groups that it appeals to across the rest of the U.S.

Enter now the former Maui mayor and unsuccessful GOP candidate for governor, Linda Lingle, who after first declining it has now decided to run for GOP state chairwoman.

On the first level, of simply attracting media attention, television face time and remaining a household word instead of a "whatever-happened-to," Lingle needed a venue like the GOP chair.

But, on a more important level, she still has to answer the "are you nuts" question. The GOP just came off a politically fracturing and failed presidential impeachment trial in Washington. The GOP appears to be getting little public opinion support for its tax-cut plans in Congress. And it is still perceived as the party of the rich and white, two groups in the minority in Hawaii.

There are, however, some interesting points for a politician like Lingle to make.

There is the Republicans' Christine Todd Whitman example. When she was courting the National Organization of Women feminists during her first campaign for governor of New Jersey, Whitman was asked how she could support gay rights and be pro-abortion and still be in a "homophobic, anti-woman party."

"I'm a Republican...I don't believe that when something is wrong you leave. I'm staying inside, and I am fighting. If I walk out, they win and there's nobody left to fight," Whitman said.

Lingle says she will be GOP chairwoman in order to "create a more balanced political system."

She will first have to create a more balanced GOP.

For one thing, Hawaii's Republicans have their own special bipolar disorder. While the Democrats have succeeded in painting them as the party of the rich, the big businesses in town contribute to and sometimes even openly support Democrats. So the local GOP gets all of the bad press and little of the good money.

And then there is something about those who have few shingles missing from their roof. They seem to holler the loudest from within the local GOP.

Another mainland politician, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, is having great success with something called compassionate conservatism, which appears to be a variation of the cliche espoused by all who proclaim they are "social liberals and fiscal conservatives."

Finding and highlighting those conservatives with compassion, hauling a tarp over the wackos and curing the bipolar fiscal problems will be Lingle's first projects.

Then, all she has to do is win some races next year and the governorship in 2002.

Richard Borreca reports on Hawaii's politics every Wednesday.
He can be reached by e-mail at

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