Monday, May 24, 1999

Star-Bulletin file photo
Linda Lingle, new head of the state GOP,
vows to boost party strength.

Lingle, backers
take control of GOP

They vow to add muscle
to the party by increasing

Campaign spending panel
looks at donations to GOP

By Mike Yuen


POIPU, Kauai -- The Hawaii Republican Party has been transformed into the Lingle Lingle campaign for governor in waiting.

Lingle and lieutenants from her campaign that nearly unseated Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano last year easily took control of the state Republican Party yesterday. As the party's annual three-day convention ended, they vowed to add muscle to the GOP by increasing party membership and by recruiting strong candidates who could increase the GOP's minuscule numbers in the Legislature and county councils.

Laying the groundwork for a stronger party in next year's elections will undoubtedly help her if she makes another run for governor, said Lingle, the former Maui mayor. She's been candid about using the chairmanship to launch a gubernatorial bid in 2002, when there will be no incumbent.

Lingle reiterated that she will not seek elective office next year, as party building will be her focus. "It'll be very clear whether I'm successful or not," she said.

Convention mood was upbeat

Lingle has declined to say what goals she'll be setting for gains in party membership and elective offices. The state GOP now claims a membership of 24,000. That's 4,000 more than the Democratic Party, which has dominated isle politics since the mid-1950s.

And while Lingle lost the gubernatorial election by a little more than 5,000 votes and while Republicans made no gains in the Democratic-dominated Legislature last year, the mood at the convention in Poipu was upbeat. It was unlike the despair that haunted the 1995 convention after former U.S. Rep. Patricia Saiki finished third in the 1994 gubernatorial race that many fellow Republicans expected her to win.

"Back in 1995, the (convention) turnout was smaller. It was like the air had gone out of a balloon," said state GOP counsel Rick Clifton. "Now, with Linda Lingle staying involved, keeping her organization going, the feeling is not like we're victims. People are marching forward. People are staying engaged."

Lingle was elected party chairwoman with the support of both party old-timers and many first-time convention delegates -- so-called Lingle Republicans who are independents and disenchanted Democrats drawn into the GOP after backing her 1998 gubernatorial run. She crushed the party's former Oahu County chairman, James Kuroiwa Jr., whose anti-abortion views reflect the party's conservative wing. The vote was 325 to 63.

The party's new officers under Lingle, who's pro-choice, resembled a de facto slate. But Lingle preferred to describe them as part of "a team. I've worked with them before. I know what they can do."

Attorney Shelton Jim On, a longtime party activist who was the Lingle campaign's downtown region grass roots leader, was uncontested for first vice chairman. In that position, he is responsible for candidate recruitment and training.

Lingle did ask him to seek the post, but he had decided even before then, Jim On said.

Lingle, however, did recruit engineer Gary Ishikawa, the Lingle campaign's state grass roots coordinator, for second vice chairman, the liaison to the party's county committees.

Ishikawa, once "a lifelong Democrat," is new to the GOP. In his first race for party office, he defeated former congressional candidate Tom White of Mililani, who also supported Lingle's gubernatorial bid. And while Lingle said either man would have been good in the party post, she delivered the nominating speech for Ishikawa. He won, 270 to 119.

Roland Lagareta, a construction company vice president who was Lingle's coordinator for the Nuuanu and Pali region, was elected third vice chairman, defeating a more seasoned GOP activist, Bob Chung, 302 to 84.

"I will encourage and use the political excitement and energies of the last election to expand Hawaii's Republican Party and (to) elect Republican candidates throughout the state," said Lagareta. He is married to Kitty Lagareta, who was Lingle's campaign publicist.

"Linda brought me into politics," said Roland Lagareta. "She showed me that politics can be idealistic. It doesn't have to be cynical. She told me I could vote and make some difference or I could become involved and make a lot of difference."

Winning uncontested races were state Board of Education member Noemi Pendleton, to fourth vice chairwoman; former city of Honolulu Finance Director Linda Smith, to treasurer; and Sue Canter, a former Los Angeles County prosecutor, to secretary.

By Lingle's estimate, about 200 of the 411 delegates were her supporters from the gubernatorial election who had no prior involvement with the GOP.

One of them was Conchita Stewart, 66, of Mililani, a retired Hawaiian Telephone project administrator who worked as a volunteer in Lingle's campaign headquarters. "I was a Democrat all my life. Now I'm happy to be a Republican. I'm so fed up with the Democratic Party and what has been happening around us," Stewart said, alluding to the state's economic woes and situations of questionable ethics involving current and former Democratic elected officials.

Weak points were evident

The composition of convention delegates reveals several weak points that Lingle must rectify if her chairmanship is to be a success. While the party rules were changed so that the smaller 51 House districts will be used for party organization to get more people involved, under the fewer -- but larger -- 25 Senate districts, the GOP was still unable to organize two districts. There were no delegates from Aiea -- which is represented by Senate President Norman Mizuguchi, whom several Republicans and Democrats believe could be vulnerable next year -- and Waipahu, whose incumbent Democrat, Cal Kawamoto, won't be up for re-election in the year 2000.

Moreover, while Oahu accounts for 80 percent of the state's population, a little less than 50 percent of the convention delegates were from Oahu.

"We've got a lot of work to do," said new party secretary Canter. "Let's go do it."

Campaign spending panel
looks at donations to GOP

By Richard Borreca


A series of transactions that resulted in more than $100,000 in new money for the Hawaii Republican Party has raised the curiosity of the state Campaign Spending Commission.

Although no formal investigation has been set, Robert Watada, Campaign Spending Commission executive director, says he and his staff have been looking at the filing by state Republicans because of four large contributions from Republican Party organizations in Nevada, Arizona, Idaho and Missouri.

"I think there are sufficient grounds to say there are some curious things going on," Watada said.

No formal charges have been filed nor has there been a call for an investigation, Watada said. The probe also is looking at contributions made by David Murdock, chairman and CEO of Dole Food Co. and Castle and Cook, and Pleasant Hawaiian Holidays, which Watada says are over the limit for campaign contributions.

The new GOP chairwoman, Linda Lingle, former Maui mayor and unsuccessful 1998 candidate for governor, said this morning that the investigation has been under way since March.

The commission's concerns, she said, involve a series of checks that were entered twice by campaign volunteers.

Linda Smith, newly elected GOP treasurer -- she was assistant treasurer last year -- said the confusion came about because the campaign checks had two names on them and were entered twice, thereby artificially raising the contributions.

As for the out-of-state contributions, Smith said they came because the former GOP chairwoman, Donna Alcantara, had been successful in asking for money from GOP organizations in western states.

"It was all definitely reported," she said.

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