Denial keeps Democrats
on the defensive
This is an awkward time for Hawaii Democrats, who, while controlling both chambers of the Legislature and all four congressional slots, still need a strategy to rebuild the party after losing the governorship last year.
So far it appears they are failing to face the fact that they dropped the big one, which in many instances is the only state office that matters. Continuing that denial means the Demo-crats are putting themselves at a political disadvantage.
Take the recent dust-up regarding the appointees to the University of Hawaii Board of Regents. Governor Lingle came down with six regent appointees. All six were political pitches, although of different types. The appointees ranged from a first-year law student who works for Senate President Robert Bunda, an inside pitch; to Kitty Lagareta, trusted Lingle adviser and CEO of a top local public relations firm, a fastball.
Lingle got four past the Senate, but struck out with attorney and longtime GOP loyalist Shelton Jim On and businessman and GOP supporter Edward Sultan. Among the reasons given for the rejection was a sudden worry about politics rearing its fearsome head in regent appointments.
Lingle played ball with the Senate president and then appointed five political supporters. After losing two, Lingle stepped back up to the mound last week to serve up two more political pitches: Ted Hong, her chief labor negotiator, and Jane Tatibouet, a former GOP state chairwoman, hotel executive and state representative.
While Democratic senators worry about the admittedly political nature of the regent selections, they don't have a history of objecting to past regent nominees who were big-time Democrats, including Joe Blanco, who served in former Gov. Ben Cayetano's office while heading the Board of Regents. Others included former Democratic legislators John Ushijima, Dennis Yamada and Stan Roehrig. Democratic heavyweights Stan Mukai, Roy Takeyama and Donna Tanoue also were regents.
For Senate Democrats to make a case that political involvement applies only to GOP nominees assures Lingle with talking points for a summer's worth of speeches.
Over on the House side, Speaker Calvin Say has been beefing up his public relations efforts as the Democrats face the articulate and PR-savvy Republican governor.
The speaker is said by observers to take the GOP control of the governor's office personally. He probably should, because as one of the Legislature's veterans he knows that Lingle and the Republicans are not playing for a tie, they are looking to win the House next year.
Say is confronting a new political geography next year without the comfort that Demo- cratic leadership from the Governor's Office has provided for the past 40 years. The question for Democratic leaders in both the House and Senate remains how to shape a Democratic agenda while not appearing to be blocking a popular liberal Republican.
Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at email@example.com.