(Jim Clark) – My bride and I decided to spend the Incline’s winter-spring-winter-again season in Hawaii, so I missed a couple of columns. However I did learn quite a bit about the 50th state.
Back when Eisenhower was president and there was a push to get the union up to 50 states, it was just a fact that Republicans were not going to allow a predominantly Democratic state into the union. Conversely, Democrats vowed they would kill any attempt to admit a reliably Republican state into the union.
The compromise was to admit both states simultaneously. Hawaii was the reliably Republican state and Alaska predominantly Democratic, so the deal was made and our flag got two more stars.
Then a couple of funny things happened. Huge oil deposits were discovered in Alaska bringing the energy interests to the Arctic Circle and Hawaii began to phase out agriculture and industry in favor of a tourism economy.
Energy resources brought Republicans to Alaska and tourism brought service and maritime unions to Hawaii, so the two switched dominant political parties. The Aloha State supported Nixon’s reelection in 1972 and Reagan’s reelection in 1984, but has voted reliably Democratic in every other presidential election since statehood. Currently it is estimated that Hawaii has a 31% Democratic voting margin.
How then do you explain the phenomenon of the former Mayor of Maui, Linda Lingle? Linda was born in Missouri, graduated cum laude from California State University, Northridge in 1975 and moved to Honolulu with her family where she worked for the Teamsters and Hotel Workers Union. Later she moved to Molokai and started a community newspaper.
In 1980, she was elected to the Maui County Council (which included Molokai). After 10 years in office, the mayor’s seat became vacant and she filed as a Republican to run against Democrat Speaker of the Hawaii House of Representatives and former Maui Mayor Elmer Cravalho. Trailing in the polls, she pulled an upset victory in what the Honolulu Star Bulletin called “one of the biggest upsets in Hawaii political history.”
As the youngest and first woman mayor of Maui, Lingle starred. She implemented performance-based budgeting, attracted tourism and brought about job growth.
She first ran for governor of Hawaii in 1998, losing in a recount to incumbent Ben Cayetano by less than 1% in the closest election in Hawaiian history. From 1999 to 2002, she served as chair of the Hawaiian GOP, instituting successful reforms. In 2002, Cayetano was termed out and Lingle again ran for governor against incumbent Lieutenant Governor Maizie Hirono, winning handily.
Lingle’s first term was a constant battle with the Democratic legislative majority, but her approval ratings were in the 70% range. In 2006, Lingle filed for reelection. All of the Democratic political stars declined to oppose her and the party had to settle for former State Senator Randy Iwase as its candidate. Lingle raised $6 million to Iwase’s $340,000 and won reelection by the largest margin in state history, 63% to 35%.
Lingle was termed out in 2010, but US Senator Daniel Akaka (D –HI) announced that he would be retiring in 2012, so in October, 2011, Lingle announced that she would run for the open senate seat left by Akaka’s retirement.
Lingle was married and divorced two times. She was the only Jewish Republican Governor and is active in the Republican Jewish Coalition. Hawaiian Democrats will pick their US Senate candidate next month, but regardless of who that turns out to be, the prestigious Cook Political Report rates this race as a toss up.
This will be one to watch.
(Jim Clark is President of Republican Advocates and a member of the Washoe County & Nevada State GOP Central Committees)