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First, there was Pat

Before Lingle's star ascended, Pat Saiki
made her bid for the state's highest office

After two terms representing Hawaii in the U.S. Congress, from 1986 to 1990, Republican Pat Saiki ran for the U.S. Senate in 1990, losing to Democrat Dan Akaka. She also ran for governor in 1994 and lost to Ben Cayetano.

This week, after Governor-elect Linda Lingle's victory, she talked politics with the Star-Bulletin's John Flanagan.

Pat Saiki flashed her trademark smile for the camera, at a beachside spot near her East Oahu home.

Pat Saiki: First of all, let me tell you, it's great to be a Republican in Hawaii today. We waited 40 years for this day and thank goodness for Linda Lingle and Duke Aiona.

"The Wave" came through for the Republicans on the mainland and now we have three Republican neighbor island mayors -- that was the frosting on the cake!

Wasn't it tremendous? Fifty-one percent of the vote! I mean, that is better than (Governor) Cayetano ever, ever had. When I ran and Frank Fasi ran, Cayetano had 37 percent of the vote, not a majority. In 1998, he didn't have a majority either. So, Linda's coming in with 51 percent of the vote, 17,000 votes -- it's a mandate!

John Flanagan: What was the difference between Linda Lingle's 1998 campaign and this year's?

PS: I think she was well organized. She planned this thing out -- her strategy was excellent. She raised the money that was necessary and, of course, she had a little help from people like Mr. Cayetano and those eight people who are in jail today. There was dissension within the Democratic ranks that was not as prevalent four years ago.

We talk about The Wave. I've seen The Wave come in on the Democrat side so often that I almost expected it to happen again, you know?

JF: On election night, after the second printout, Lingle was ahead by less than 3,000 votes.

PS: That's when I thought, The Wave is going to come!

JF: In 1994, you were buried under that wave?

PS: Frank Fasi, is what I got buried under.

But it's true, you know, in the (1990) U.S. Senate race, running against (Sen. Daniel) Akaka, I was so far ahead in the polls. Then, at the last, The Wave came in and knocked me out.

PS: The Wave is a concerted, organized effort at the grass-roots level by the Democrats, when they had leadership, you know, people like Bobby Oshiro and union leaders working together. They would quietly set up their phone banks, organize their troops and go out after votes. There would be an undercurrent. Then the sweep would come in. All of a sudden it would crest on Election Day.

This time it didn't happen.

Besides dissension and lack of organization there was Mazie Hirono herself, jumping from the governor's race to the mayor's and then back. I think it created a lot of questions in the minds of voters.

The way Linda carried herself the last four years was brilliant, organizing the party, doing so well with the (Republican) legislative group two years ago, but the timing was perfect for her.

Pat Saiki, who beat Mufi Hannemann for the 1st District seat in Congress, got a congratulatory hug from then-Republican D.G. "Andy" Anderson in 1986.

JF: It was better than in 1998?

PS: Politics is all timing, all timing. Under the conditions that exist today, her time was right.

JF: Frank Fasi was running in 1998, too, right?

PS: Yeah, Frank was in there, but he was a non-entity at that point. He didn't matter anymore and I'm glad he stayed out of this one. He's a spoilsport.

In 1994, 1992, 1990 ... The Wave was always there because they were organized. The unions were together. This time the unions were split. HSTA (Hawaii State Teachers Association) never endorsed!

JF: They were worried about that constitutional amendment, bonds for private schools.

PS: Didn't have anything to do with them.

The Democrats had that messy primary. They had Ed Case and Andy Anderson, you know, and HGEA (Hawaii Government Employees Association) split its endorsement in the primary. Now, that shows you they weren't together -- they couldn't even endorse Mazie in the primary.

So please, give me a break. How can you expect the troops to be solidly behind Mazie? It was too little, too late and unorganized. They didn't have a cohesive plan. Her platform was all over the place -- more reactive than active.

Another thing Linda had this time was an enthusiastic lieutenant governor candidate. That Duke Aiona was a pleasure to watch on election night. That fresh, new energy was a joy to watch.

JF: Lingle didn't really have a coattail effect in the Legislature, though.

PS: No, not yet. She has to be a governor first and create the coattails. It's like George W. Bush at the national level. Using his time and effort, he created the coattails to bring in all those people and win all those seats.

Don't misunderstand me. It isn't luck. She worked. She created the circumstances under which she won. When I say timing, I mean on the other side there was such great dissension and disruption.

Their candidates fought each other in the primary and all of their nasty words were used against them in the general. Linda capitalized on it.

So, it isn't luck. She didn't create luck, but she took advantage of the natural timing. She was smart enough to do that.

JF: As one of the pioneers of women in government ...

PS: Yeessss, that's me, baby!

JF: I bet it felt good to look out there and see ... what, 10 women running for governor across the country?

PS: We already cracked the barrier where women were considered foreign. Now I think women are embraced as part and parcel of the political world. It's not strange to have a woman governor. When Geraldine Ferraro ran for vice president, that was so unusual at the time. Now people think that's OK.

When I ran for the House back in 1968, there were only two women in office. So I had to run on the campaign slogan of, "This district needs a woman in the House."

Today, you don't have to push that anymore. It's acceptable to be a woman in politics.

In 1982, Saiki cut a cake commemorating what she said was the last time she would celebrate her "30th birthday." She was 52.

JF: Think there will be a woman president?

PS: Not for a while. It will take a little more time. It took us 40 years to get a Republican elected, much less a woman (president).

JF: Lingle didn't limit her campaign spending to $2.7 million and run out of money this time. She spent about $5 million, but she campaigned really hard, too. Is the money overrated?

PS: Never, never, never. The money was well spent. People grumble it's too expensive -- somebody spent $1,800 a vote on the mainland -- but it takes a lot to get your message out. A full-page newspaper ad is at least $3,000, right?

A TV spot, just 30 seconds, is terribly expensive and you've got to run a TV ad at least five times before anybody really remembers it. The media costs, printing costs, mailing costs are astronomical -- what do people expect?

JF: What did you spend in 1994?

PS: Oh, I spent about $3 million.

JF: You served two terms in the House and then ran for Spark Matsunaga's Senate seat in 1990 and lost. Do you ever regret that?

PS: No. Because whenever you have an open seat and you're in position to offer a good challenge in politics, you've got to take that chance.

My husband was alive then and was very supportive. He said, "Pat, you don't want to go through the rest of your life saying 'I should have done it.'"

Politics is not your whole life. You have a family and other interests. You don't have to live and die with politics. You don't owe anybody anything in politics. When you have this opportunity, you gotta take it. If you win, you win. If you lose, you lose -- but what do you lose?

JF: With the GOP sweeping both houses in Washington, what does having a Republican governor mean for Hawaii?

PS: Linda will have their ear. We're the 50th state, way out in the Pacific. We don't have much clout, but she's the first Republican governor in the state in 40 years.

So she got a phone call from George W. Bush, and they would like to see her stay in office. They're going to help her as much as they can.

For instance, when George Sr. asked me to run for the U.S. Senate, he asked, "What can I do to help?"

I said, you can stop the bombing of Kahoolawe.

He says, "Kah-ho-ho-what? How do you spell that?"

I said, don't you know about the RIMPAC exercises?

He says, "That's right! We bomb the heck out of this island."

I said, yeah, it makes the hotel windows on Maui rattle and one of these days there's going to be a mistake, Mr. President, and it's time for them to stop that.

And he says, "OK."

JF: But you didn't get elected.

PS: No, but that was my fault. Some of it was circumstance, too. Remember, that was the year he went back on his pledge, "No new taxes," and I paid for that. I'm not saying that's why I lost -- there were other things, like The Wave, that just destroyed my campaign.

But that's what I mean about Linda being able to just pick up the phone and say, "I've got a problem. Can you help me?" She can call the White House, the Labor Department -- any of these departments.

Trying to get that Akaka Bill through, for instance, she can lend her support. If we had a Republican member of Congress, especially a Republican senator, it would be even more helpful.

But at least we've got a governor.

John Flanagan is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
He can be reached at:

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