Lenny Klompus and Gov. Linda Lingle set up a photo shoot with some visiting children.

Lingle masters the art of
controlling the message

Democrats fume that
the governor's every action
appears staged

Aided by a top national sports promoter and assisted by a crew of public relations and marketing executives from private industry, Gov. Linda Lingle has raised the level of political stagecraft to new heights.

Adding to the mix is a statewide series of "talk story" sessions, a weekly radio show, monthly features on cable television and a polished interactive Internet site.

With choreographed, television-friendly public appearances complete with sophisticated sound systems and a ready lineup of folks to deliver sound bites, Lenny Klompus, Lingle's senior communications adviser, directs a new structured message for the Republican governor on a daily basis.

The same crew, however, causes critics to howl that Lingle's administration is stuck on a spin cycle.

Democrats grumble that even while performing a government duty such as signing a bill or announcing new Cabinet officers, Lingle turns it into a campaign spot as she searches out photographic locations for news conferences with big custom-made banners behind her proclaiming her interest in education, safety or new jobs.

"Whether it's a '100 Day Cake Celebration' or inviting press to watch the governor put on a military helmet and fire rounds, this administration moves from one gimmicky photo op to the next," complained Jackie Kido, communications director to former Gov. Ben Cayetano. "It's the campaign that never ends."

Another Democrat, Kate Stanley, a former state representative and department deputy under Democrat John Waihee, compares Lingle's administration to a TV ad.

"I think the emphasis is on presentation and message, rather than looking at some of the real, hard challenges of state government," Stanley said.

Lingle says if she were governing just to be re-elected, she would not have devoted so much of her first seven months in office to cutting the state budget and vetoing bills that handed out grants and money.

"I made some of the tough calls right away. They are not the sort of calls you would make if you were worried about re-election or campaigning," Lingle said.

Stanley, who has worked both for former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono and as deputy director of human services, recommends that the chief executive "has to select programs to work on and start slogging away."

"I know a lot about state government, and I don't see a lot of slogging away and engaging in the hard work.

"I don't see a lot of policy discussion with people who are working on the details of programs," Stanley said.

Lingle, however, points to her new statewide procurement proposal pushed into law during her first legislative session, plus success in steering the long-stalled animal quarantine law to completion and "making a strong statement for job creation" as early accomplishments of her administration.

Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Waimanalo-Kailua) says Lingle is forcing the Legislature to deal realistically with state expenditures and that that is another significant accomplishment.

"For anyone to say the Lingle administration is campaigning is laughable. It must have been incredibly painful for her to cut the budget. It certainly wasn't politically popular, but it was necessary," Hemmings said.

Other observers say politicians should get used to the changes in local political styles.

Communication has changed because Hawaii's population has changed, says Ira Rohter, University of Hawaii political scientist and co-chairman of the Hawaii Green Party.

"Hawaii is becoming less grass-rooted. People don't hang out with each other as much as they used to, so the old-style campaigning is becoming less important," Rohter said.

Now there is what Rohter calls a "24-7 political campaign."

"It never occurred to the Democrats, in their own arrogance or just unconsciousness, that they would need to have a permanent campaign," Rohter said.

Another political observer notes that Lingle's predecessor, Cayetano, was "a communications director's nightmare."

"He (Cayetano) was capable of being baited by the press on almost everything ... and that pugnacious, feisty need for combat made for stinging statements that reporters love," said John Radcliffe, University of Hawaii Professional Assembly associate executive director.

Lingle, however, carefully weighs her words.

Veteran Republican Rep. Barbara Marumoto (Kalani Valley-Diamond Head) says Lingle has been lucky to have someone like Klompus to give her advice.

"He is really out there trying to get Linda's message to the community and give the press more access to the governor," Marumoto said.

And, she added, "the governor is a master communicator herself."

"We are in an age of mass media. You have to be able to get your feelings across electronically. If you are not a good speaker and a good writer, you will not be a good leader," Marumoto said.

But Democrats argue that Lingle is selling the sizzle instead of doing the hard work of running the state.

Klompus himself has come under fire, arranging for the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau to pay air fare for KITV to travel with Lingle on a tourism promotion trip to Japan.

If all the local media had spent their own money to cover Lingle, "it would have been tremendous," Klompus said, adding that in the past, government-sponsored tourism organizations have paid for TV news organizations to accompany politicians.

"The question was asked, Should we have known that the media doesn't do things like that? I guessed I missed that class.

"Based on what I knew, based on past experience with other television stations, we were suggesting that HVCB could pick up some of the expenses. It is not going to happen again, so the point is moot," Klompus said.

Lingle looks to her communications adviser to coordinate how the public gets information not just about her administration, but also about Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona.

To coordinate and consolidate the message coming from the fifth floor of the Capitol, Lingle's staff took over the press functions for Aiona, even though previous lieutenant governors have always had their own public relations staff.

"He doesn't have one agenda and I have another agenda. We have one agenda of what we are trying to achieve," Lingle said.

Counting the positions that usually would go to the Lieutenant Governor's Office, Lingle's communications staff totals seven, one more than the combined total of the previous administration, Lingle says.

This week, Lingle and Aiona launch one of the most extensive communications efforts of the new GOP administration as they plan 27 community meetings across the state.

"These talk-stories are one big way to communicate. I felt a real need to get out there once the Legislature was finished," Lingle said.

Noting that she regularly appears on talk radio, the administration is featured on an 'Olelo cable television program and Cabinet officers attend neighborhood board meetings, Lingle says she can understand why the Democrats are complaining.

"It is a measure of how effective we have been, and I think the public enjoys it, likes it and appreciates it," Lingle said.

Lenny Klompus and Gov. Lingle confer after a photo shoot.

Former Hula Bowl
promoter stays focused
after switching arenas

Lenny Klompus knows running backs, shooting guards and the crowd appeal of an option offense.

Now, at 52, the former University of Maryland broadcasting and communications major puzzles out promoting the latest findings on state revenues and the Invasive Species Council.

Klompus came to state government after successfully steering several local football bowl games, including the Hula Bowl, and promoting sporting events around the world.

As a candidate for governor, Linda Lingle asked for his help two years ago. Klompus and his wife, Marcia, put the bowl business on hold and jumped into local politics.

After Lingle's successful campaign, Klompus heads up Lingle's six-person communications team, saying his job is making sure the people of Hawaii get the message from the governor.

The switch from sports impresario to government spokesman is not without its own perils, as other public relations experts advise.

"I am sure he is finding this a difficult transition," said Jim Loomis, a veteran advertising and public relations expert who served as information director to former Mayor Frank Fasi. "Promoting a football game is one thing. Promoting the viewpoint of a governor is something quite different."

With the stakes much higher in government, Loomis advises Klompus to remember that in politics you build enemies along with friends.

"Nobody is out there rooting for the Hula Bowl to fail ... but when you get into the political arena, you have people who are actively opposing what you are trying to do," Loomis said. "There are people out there who will try to cut you off at the knees."

Klompus said sports fans are just as rabid as politicians, and he is "just very competitive."

"I just do what needs to be done to get the job done. ... You want to be successful, you want to grab the trophy."

He recalled that when he took over the Hula Bowl, he called the managers of other all-star football bowls to introduce himself.

"The guy with the Senior Bowl said, 'You don't know anything about doing an all-star game, and you will fail. And I will do everything I can to assure that you do,'" Klompus said.

"I hung up and got everyone together and said, 'We will succeed. I don't know what it will take, but we will succeed,'" Klompus recounted.

Lingle talks

Gov. Linda Lingle and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona are hosting "talk story" sessions this week, gathering information on issues important to Hawaii residents, according to a news release. Aiona is gathering information for the Hawaii Drug Control Strategy.

>> Tomorrow: Lingle, 5:30-8 p.m., Kailua High School cafeteria

>> Tomorrow: Aiona, 5:30 -8 p.m., Hilo High School cafeteria

>> Thursday: Aiona, 5:30-8 p.m., Pearl City High School cafeteria

>> Saturday: Lingle, 4-5:30 p.m., Royal Lahaina Hotel, Maui


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