Gov. Linda Lingle (R)
Elected: 2002, term expires Dec. 2010, 2nd term.
Born: June 4, 1953, St. Louis, MO .
Education: CA St. U. at Northridge, B.A. 1975.
Elected office: Maui Cnty. Cncl., 1980-90; Mayor, Maui Cnty., 1990-98.
Professional Career: Founder and editor, Moloka'i Free Press, 1977-80.
Linda Lingle is the first woman elected governor of Hawaii and the first Republican elected to the post since 1959. She grew up near St. Louis and in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley. Her home life was difficult. Lingle’s mother, Mildred Cutter, suffered from bipolar disorder and sometimes had manic episodes that required she be restrained and hospitalized. Lingle lived with relatives during her teen years, but she and her mother were close until her mother’s death in 2008. After graduating from California State University, Northridge, in 1975, Lingle moved to Hawaii, where her father owned a Ford dealership. She worked for the Teamsters and Hotel Workers unions in Honolulu and then founded the Moloka’i Free Press on that island, which is part of Maui County. In 1980, she was elected to the Maui Council and represented Molokai for six years; she held an at-large seat for four more. Lingle was elected mayor of Maui in 1990 over House Speaker Elmer Carvalho, and she won re-election in 1994.
|Linda Lingle (R)||215,313||(63%)|
|Randy Iwase (D)||121,717||(35%)|
|Linda Lingle (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (52%)
In 1998, Lingle ran for governor. She hailed what she called “the Maui miracle” during her tenure as mayor—job growth in at least one part of Hawaii—and said, ‘‘It’s time for a change, and change is about joining the other 49 states with economic revitalization that is taking place across the country.’’ Lingle led in polls throughout the campaign, but incumbent Ben Cayetano appealed to Hawaii’s ethnic groups and Democratic tradition. In August, Lingle accused the Cayetano campaign of spreading the false rumor that she is gay (she is twice divorced). The outcome may have been determined by Lingle’s decision to take state matching funds and abide by a $2.7 million spending limit. Cayetano heavily outspent her in the last two weeks, and he won narrowly, 50%-49%.
Lingle immediately set out to run again. She became Republican state chairman, traveled extensively in Hawaii, and built an organization for the 2002 campaign much stronger than what she had in 1998. In 2000, Republicans made notable gains in state House representation. She raised plenty of money, much of it from the mainland, and tried to change the mind-set in Hawaii that Democratic victories were inevitable. In the meantime, Cayetano struggled with budget problems. In 2001, teachers in the state’s single public school district went on strike seeking a 22% raise. Prominent Democrats were caught up in scandals. Against this backdrop, Lingle led in the polls from the start. She was by no means conservative on all issues. She called for 20% of energy to come from renewable sources by 2020 and backed Native Hawaiian groups’ claims for some form of sovereignty. She favored parental consent for abortions for minors and a ban on partial-birth abortions, but she did not oppose abortion rights altogether. Her campaign’s chief theme, however, was change.
Cayetano was prevented by law from seeking a third term. Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, part of the ruling Democratic machine and the favorite of the powerful public employees union, won the September 2002 primary with 41% of the vote. Hirono had an appealing life story. She was born in Japan and raised by a single mother who came to Hawaii to escape an abusive husband. She was a legislator from 1980 to 1994 and lieutenant governor from 1994 to 2002; one of her main accomplishments in the latter post was setting up a state-owned workmen’s compensation insurer. When Lingle ran an ad highlighting Hawaii’s poor test scores, low rate of job creation and growing poverty, Hirono said that Lingle was “always putting our people down.” But Democrats remained on the defensive on corruption, and Hirono was far behind Lingle in fundraising. With the Democrats no longer seen as inevitable winners, business interests were no longer ponying up for the party that had held the governorship for 40 years. Ethnic balance for once helped Republicans. They had a ticket with a white Caucasian (Lingle) and a Native Hawaiian (retired state Circuit Judge James “Duke” Aiona), while the Democrats had a ticket with two Japanese-Americans, Hirono and former state Sen. Matt Matsunaga.
Hirono did manage to narrow the gap by appealing to party loyalties and by evoking now ancient memories of the state’s Democratic tradition that had rallied late victories for Cayetano in 1998 and Gov. John Waihe’e in 1986. But it wasn’t quite enough. Lingle won 52%-47%.
Lingle proclaimed her governorship a “New Beginning” and held a series of talk-story town meetings around the state, where she ate stew and rice with participants and listened to citizens’ complaints. With Democrats controlling the state Senate 20-5 and the state House 36-15, the new governor had little leverage. The Legislature overrode Lingle’s veto of a raise for 23,000 white-collar state employees and did not act on her calls for changes in workmen’s compensation and for reducing business fees. Hawaii has the nation’s highest gas prices, and the Legislature passed a law capping wholesale prices. Lingle warned that it would lead to higher prices while diverting attention from the real problem as she saw it—an overdependence on oil. The effective date was postponed until September 2005, but the governor could not persuade the Legislature to repeal the law.
She was determined to change education in Hawaii. Lingle called for the creation of seven local school boards to replace the statewide board, which would require a constitutional amendment, and she called for giving school principals control over 90% of operational money. The Legislature rejected the constitutional amendment, but in April 2004 it passed a bill with a new spending formula and giving principals power to oversee 70% of operational money. Lingle vetoed it, and asked for five changes. The Legislature overrode her veto. She was also able to enact a new junior kindergarten program for children who turn 5 after August 1.
In November 2004, Republicans lost five seats in the state House and after that Lingle took a different approach to governing. She found common ground with Democrats on alternative energy, education, and affordable housing. In 2005, Lingle approved a 9.6% pay raise for public school teachers and a bill appropriating more money to charter schools. She rolled out a plan for building 17,000 units of affordable housing within five years, and the Legislature gave her $100 million in bonding authority. Her budget also included money for shelters and additional services for the homeless. In 2006, with a projected $574 million budget surplus, she proposed $300 million in tax relief but was pleased enough when the Legislature approved $50 million and directed much of the rest of the surplus to education. After gas prices rose in nine of 10 weeks beginning in February 2006, the Legislature suspended the gas cap. Later that year, Lingle signed into law her energy initiative providing financing and tax credits for renewable-energy projects.
Not all of Lingle’s stands pleased her few fellow Republicans. She said that Oahu should raise taxes to finance its $2.64 billion light-rail system, and her failure to veto a tax increase for mass transit or increases to the cigarette and real estate conveyance taxes angered conservatives. Still, Lingle’s standing in the polls remained strong, and no top-tier challenger emerged when her first term was up in 2006. Democrats sought to crimp her national fundraising by passing in 2005 a campaign finance law that placed limits on mainland donations. The ploy did not work: Lingle ramped up her mainland fundraising before the law took effect in 2006, holding events in Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, and Philadelphia. Her effort put her on a pace to meet her ambitious goal of $6 million. In January 2006, former state Sen. Randall Iwase announced he would seek the Democratic nomination, but he was little known and the party continued to solicit candidates right up until the July filing deadline. By then, Lingle was well financed, the economy was strong, and unemployment was low.
Iwase won the Democratic nomination over two political newcomers. His performance, however, was uninspiring: A quarter of primary voters cast blank votes for governor. In the fall campaign, he argued that Lingle exaggerated her accomplishments and took too much credit for the state economy and the budget surplus. He criticized her for sending Hawaii inmates to mainland prisons, while she touted her crime-fighting efforts against sexual predators. Iwase also seized on the Iraq war issue, calling for a timetable for a troop withdrawal, and he sought to tie Lingle to President Bush. Lingle responded that she had visited Iraq to support the troops but that she would not back a withdrawal timetable. The election wasn’t close. Lingle won 63%-35%, impressive enough for a Hawaii Republican, but especially so in the face of a strong Democratic wind both nationally and in Hawaii. In the concurrent Senate race, incumbent Daniel Akaka won re-election 61%-37%. Lingle’s victory was built on her appeal to independent voters. Exit polls showed she won them by 66%-29%.
Lingle started out her second term with high hopes of passing tax cuts, including a $1,000 exemption for families with children, deductions for college savings, a reduction in the state’s cellphone tax, and a plan to exempt the first $25,000 in income from taxation for people 65 years and older. But the economy softened in Hawaii along with the rest of the country, and the Democratically controlled Legislature balked. Lingle looked to the spending side as state revenues dropped, and in 2008, she eliminated Hawaii’s universal health insurance program for children, which cost the state $50,000 a month and was mostly free to recipients. Her substitute plan charged parents $55 a month for each child enrolled. She also tried to stimulate the local economy in December 2008 by speeding up nearly $2 billion in capital improvement projects for highways, schools, public housing, libraries, and college campuses. The Legislature overrode four of her vetoes, including her rejection of a program to import cheaper prescription drugs from abroad and of a bill to limit her ability to suspend state workers’ wages. By early 2009, the shortfall in revenues had become acute, and Lingle proposed to cut discretionary spending by 14% and to reduce wages and benefits for state workers. Democratic lawmakers called for raising taxes to help close the gap, but Lingle resisted.
One of the highlights of her second term was a 2008 agreement that Lingle reached with Hawaiian Electric Co. to buy a third of its electricity for Oahu consumers from wind farms on Moloka’I and Lana’i. An undersea cable will carry the electricity to large population centers on Oahu and Maui.
As the Republican governor of a state that produced the Democratic nominee for president in 2008, Lingle was a much-sought-after spokesperson for John McCain’s presidential campaign. But she was sharply rebuked by prominent Democratic Hawaiians after she said in October that Barack Obama had been largely unknown in his home state and was indecisive, as demonstrated by his votes of “present” when he was in the Illinois Senate. Lingle introduced running mate Sarah Palin, the Alaska governor, at the Republican National Convention in August. Like Lingle, Palin was the first woman elected governor of her state. After McCain lost, Lingle said that the national party should be less ideological and try to attract more women and ethnic minorities. She told the Associated Press, “If someone looks up and they don’t see anybody who looks like them in the party hierarchy or power structure, by nature they are not going to feel attracted there.”