Lingle takes criticism
from Democrats
as high praise

On the eve of a year in office,
the governor prizes keeping
the public informed

To hear the state's Democratic leaders tell it, Republican Gov. Linda Lingle's first year in office has been nothing more than a carefully orchestrated statewide public relations blitz with little substance nor achievement.

Lingle's response: Thanks for the compliment and stay tuned for more.

"I think for (Democrats) to speak in those terms shows that they know that the public is getting a much better grasp and that's why we've had some success in our first year," Lingle said in an interview with the Associated Press. "Clearly we want the people to know what's being achieved for all the tax money that they are spending."

Tuesday marks one year since Lingle became Hawaii's first GOP governor in 40 years, creating an awkward two-party political environment for Democrats who, during 50 years of dominating the state Legislature, were content to fight among themselves.

"The impact is that we Democrats have now redefined our core values as Democrats," said Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Wahiawa) recalling the Legislature's override of Lingle's veto of a bill providing $3.6 million for various nonprofit health and social service agencies.

Bunda, whose legislative tenure spans four Democratic governorships, said "this governor appears to be more public relations than the others. It seems that she's trying to convey a message of control and directly to the media."

"I think when you have control of the message, the question from the public would be: Is it a sincere and honest message?" he said, adding that the Legislature will scrutinize the governor's proposals through what he said is the Democrats' tradition of open debate.

House Majority Leader Scott Saiki (D, Moiliili-McCully) said he thinks Lingle is now "realizing the full extent of the challenges that face our state and how complex these challenges are."

"The emphasis thus far in the administration appears to have been more on the public relations battle than anything else," he said. "In terms of substantive policy, the governor has seemed to latch on to Democrat initiatives such as our prescription drug program, education funding initiative and programs such as our drug house strike force."

Former two-term Democratic Gov. Ben Cayetano, who narrowly defeated Lingle in the 1998 election, agreed.

"I think she works hard, but it seems her problem at this point is she has only surface knowledge about the workings of state government," he said. "As long as she relies more on her PR people than the professionals in her cabinet and the state government, she will have a tough time finding out what's going on."

Lingle responds: "I think we've done just such a great job of communicating with the public. But it must be frustrating to them because for so many years, they didn't do a good job of that. The public wasn't clear on so many issues."

The governor said after taking office, she was surprised at the number of invitations she receives to speak or participate in events, putting the figure at over 400 a week, many more than she could ever accept.

"Whenever I go, the public is so appreciative," she said.

Lingle measures her first-year successes beyond legislative terms.

"One of the greatest accomplishments was the cabinet that we were able to assemble. I was a little surprised at the caliber of the person that we were able to attract across the board," Lingle said.

She said having "very high caliber people determines your ability to be effective in areas across the whole spectrum of issues that you deal with in a large organization such as state government."

"Our advantage in the second year is that we have the experience of the first year" especially for several cabinet members who had no previous experience in government.

"It's really a learning experience for all of us. And I think you'll see that experience put to good use in the second (legislative) session," she said, adding that includes what she and her cabinet learned through a series of "talk story" community meetings held throughout the state.

Lingle lists what she considers to be some of her administration's other successes -- keeping the state spending under control, immunizing the award of state and county contracts from political influences and implementing the reform of the pet quarantine system despite bureaucratic resistance.

The governor noted an improving economy in the islands propelled by anticipated military spending, construction and a recovering tourism industry. She feels that a "less obvious" part in that recovery is her administration's positive attitude toward business and job creation.

The former Maui County mayor said one thing that bothers her about state government process, as opposed to county governments, is the magnitude of the part-time Legislature's brinkmanship, holding some bills hostage until the other side agrees to approve other bills.

"It's when you get down to the end of the legislative session and everything is still being in play, never resolving anything throughout the process.

"I think that there are some issues that should stand alone, that should be dealt with in a way that pays due respect to the importance of the issue rather than just holding everything as a possible trading chip later on for some other issue that may be totally unrelated," Lingle said.


E-mail to City Desk


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --