Lingle uses low-key
tactic in reform push

The governor urges residents
to phone a key lawmaker

"Call Senator Sakamoto -- 586-8585" is the message Republican Gov. Linda Lingle spreads during her many public and private appearances in trying to get the Democratic-run Legislature to buy her version of education reform.

Her low-key strategy of telephone calls and e-mail targeting key lawmakers pales in comparison with lobbying tactics used in the past to get lawmakers' attention on controversial issues, including several mass rallies at the Capitol.

"Clearly, people making their voices heard is important. Whether they do it at a rally or via e-mail or telephone calls, it is very important, and we will continue to work at our grass-roots phase," Lingle said Friday. "For now, I think, that will be very effective: Call Senator Sakamoto -- 586-8585."

Sen. Norman Sakamoto's office staff said they get up to one call a minute on the education reform issue, but it's about equally divided between support for Lingle's decentralization plan and the Democrats' plan to retain the current Board of Education.

The politically powerful 40,000-member Hawaii Government Employees Association, which represents principals and administrators, and the Hawaii State Teachers Association, representing 13,000 public school teachers, oppose Lingle's plan.

Sakamoto (D, Salt Lake-Foster Village) is chairman of the Senate Education Committee, which did not take up Lingle's proposed constitutional amendment to set up at least seven school districts, each with an elected school board.

"The process goes on and I'm the chair, but I'm one person and there are many other people who need to go 'yea' or 'nay,'" he said when asked if Lingle's lobbying effort would be effective.

"We need to have good policy as opposed to public calls. We are cognizant of when people feel an issue is important, so by no means are we discrediting people calling, but how do we improve the policy as opposed to pressure?" Sakamoto said.

Lingle said she has no plans for any Capitol rallies or marches, and will bank on a quieter campaign.

"We want to keep at the forefront the issue of putting local school boards on the ballot," she said. "People really, really want to vote on something this important."

She is counting on lawmakers realizing just that -- without seeing and hearing the crowds of protesters that have rallied on past issues.

In 1995 several hundred business owners staged a lively and noisy rally at the Capitol with petitions carrying 4,000 names urging reform of the workers' compensation insurance program. Lawmakers responded.

One of the most emotional rallies came in 1998 when 1,000 Hawaiians and their supporters marched in to stage a 24-hour vigil to protest turning state-run Hawaiian programs into private trusts. The beating of drums during the rally was so intense it gave the massive concrete Capitol a pulse. The bill died.

Old-timers at the Capitol remember a 1988 rally-turned-riot by Korean vendors when the International Marketplace in Waikiki was picked as the site for the state convention center. The plan fell through.

Rep. Roy Takumi (D, Pearl City-Pacific Palisades), chairman of the House Education Committee, said his staff is getting calls and e-mail supporting Lingle's plan, some of it obviously orchestrated. Takumi sent Lingle's elected school board plan to the House floor, but it was voted down in a 30-20 vote. It would be up to Sakamoto's committee to resurrect it.


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