author On Politics

Richard Borreca

Lingle gets together
her own definition
of consensus

Several years ago Linda Lingle, then chairwoman of the Hawaii Republican Party, stood in the background listening with growing irritation to a long, complicated and mostly meaningless debate about a possible plank for the GOP platform.

"You know, the older I get, the less patience I seem to have," the not-yet 50-year-old Lingle confessed.

Now, as governor, Lingle has celebrated her 50th birthday, and the concern has moved from impatience to concern about moving her agenda.

First-term governors know they have perhaps two years to consolidate power, form political allies and rack up some accomplishments before they have to start running for re-election.

So it is not surprising that Lingle is taking a new look at one of the most tested political bromides: consensus.

Consensus, Lingle said in a pair of speeches last week, is not all it is cracked up to be.

State leaders know that if you don't move until you have total agreement on an issue, you may be stymied and unable to move at all, but charging ahead without total agreement only provokes a fight.

"Leadership is recognizing that consensus is important, but it is a rare case when you can get 100 percent consensus. A leader has to get the greatest consensus possible, then make a decision and move forward," Lingle said.

Living on small islands also forces Hawaii residents to value consensus, Lingle said, adding that "if everybody knows everybody, nobody wants to make waves."

Politicians, of course, are genetically imprinted to get as many people as possible to like them.

"But sometimes you realize that some groups are never going to agree and you just have to move on," the governor added. The trick is to make sure that when you move, someone is following you.

Hawaii's recent political history shows initiative after initiative failed or was ignored because no consensus materialized. While most states have built prisons in the last decade, Hawaii has gone almost 20 years without any prison construction, although the population and public demand for tougher sentencing has soared.

Traffic jams have so clogged Honolulu that beating the morning rush hour now defines how many people live, but politicians have been unable to forge any consensus on how to fix the problem.

Finally, the long-criticized public school system has defied a consensus solution.

Lingle is attempting to build community consensus to resolve state education problems by forming a new task force, that, while not pleasing everyone, would appear to be able to produce results.

Initial cries from legislative leaders such as House Speaker Calvin Say that she "moving too fast," just make convenient sound bites for Lingle to campaign against.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, "A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus."

The challenge for Lingle is to develop the consensus that what the state wants is change.

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at


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