September 3, 2008

Lingle sets her sights on Washington scene

While she has courted national spotlight, GOP has lost ground here

By David Shapiro

It was hard to stifle a guffaw when speculation surfaced about whether our Gov. Linda Lingle was considered for vice president before John McCain selected Sarah Palin, another obscure female governor from a small state.

Right, Lingle would have been just what McCain needed to shore up his conservative flank a socially liberal, pro-choice running mate who's put up little fight at home as Democrats in the Legislature have walked over her by squelching her initiatives, rejecting many of her appointments and gutting the powers of her office.

If Lingle can't handle the featherweights in the Hawai'i Legislature, imagine how she'd fare with the Democratic heavyweights who control Congress.

Lingle is increasingly on the outs with conservatives in the Hawai'i Republican Party, many of whom call her a RINO Republican in name only. And they're mellower and mostly without the religious zeal of the national right, which would have excoriated McCain if he'd nominated somebody like Lingle.

She was quick with a quote to quell the VP speculation, saying, "I let it be known very early on that I had no desire or willingness to run for vice president," and adding that she's not interested in a Cabinet appointment, either.

"It's a great honor to even be talked about in those terms, but my commitment is to the people of Hawai'i," she said, serving the dual purpose of fanning the thought that she's important enough for such consideration while shutting down the talk before it became embarrassing under closer scrutiny.

At the GOP convention this week, Lingle has taken on a major role in selling Palin as qualified to assume the presidency after serving as mayor of a town of about 7,000 and two years as governor of one of our least populous states.

The crux of Lingle's argument is that Palin is a lot like her, again encouraging the notion that she is herself qualified for such high office after leaving a light footprint during six years as Hawai'i's governor.

Lingle has courted the national spotlight since she was elected in 2002 as Hawai'i's first Republican governor in 40 years.

In 2004, local Republicans were making cocky noises about winning the 26 seats needed to control the state House, but instead lost seats as Lingle chose to devote herself to President Bush's re-election rather than lead the charge in the local contests.

The local GOP now holds only seven House seats compared with 19 before Lingle was elected.

This presidential year, she'll again spend a lot of time on the Mainland campaigning for McCain, but it won't make much difference in Hawai'i legislative races; the local GOP she leads isn't even fielding candidates for 22 of the 51 House seats or six of the 12 Senate seats up this year.

Her currying of favor in Washington hasn't paid dividends on her most visible priority, passage of the Akaka bill for Native Hawaiian recognition. Neither the Bush administration nor most Republicans in Congress including McCain have shown her ideas on that issue much respect.

Nevertheless, Lingle's national party activity suggests that Washington is exactly where her personal political radar is pointing presumably toward the U.S. Senate as Hawai'i's octogenarian Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka near retirement.

The only question seems to be whether she'll take the seemingly suicidal step of running against the iconic Inouye if he follows through with plans to seek another term in 2010 or wait until 2012 and duke it out with Ed Case and Mufi Hannemann for Akaka's seat.

Or she can hold out for vice president on the next Republican ticket.

David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net. His columns are archived at www.volcanicash.net. Read his daily blog, Volcanic Ash, at http://volcanicash.honadvblogs.com.