- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 15, 2006

HONOLULU — When Gov. Linda Lingle addressed leaders of the state’s top 250 corporations during a banquet earlier this month, she might have been expected to brag about the state’s booming economy and her promise to cut corporate taxes and government regulations.

After all, Mrs. Lingle, a Republican, is running for re-election next month, and her audience included many potential and current contributors.

Instead, she spoke about her efforts to alleviate homelessness, get welfare recipients back to work and reform the state’s troubled public school system, even as she acknowledged that most of those in the audience send their children to private schools.

Hawaii residents readily remark that on the mainland, Mrs. Lingle, who has a 66 percent approval rating, would be a liberal Democrat. But in a state that hadn’t elected a Republican governor in 40 years, she is expected to be re-elected by such a wide margin that Hawaii’s leading Democrats preferred to campaign for other jobs, leaving the challenge to Randy Iwase, a 58-year-old former state senator.

During the campaign’s only televised debate, Mrs. Lingle, 53, promised to serve out another term and is expected to challenge Sen. Daniel K. Inouye in four years, when he is expected to be seeking, at 86, his ninth term. Mr. Inouye, like the rest of Hawaii’s congressional delegation, is a liberal Democrat.

“Lingle is the future of the Republican Party,” said Ira Rohter, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii. “I think eventually the party will move back to the center, and people like Lingle will take over.”

Larry J. Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, agrees.

“Candidates who succeed despite being from the heavily minority party on average are stronger and with greater talents than those nominated by the majority party,” he said. “Lingle is a perfect example. Hawaii is such a Democratic bastion that it’s amazing any Republican was ever elected statewide, and that she’s a heavy favorite for re-election is even more amazing.”

Mrs. Lingle also is an observant Jew in a state with a minuscule Jewish community. She is the first female governor and the first not to be born and raised in Hawaii in 40 years.

Mrs. Lingle is from St. Louis and was educated in California. She came to Hawaii in 1976, first working for a Teamsters boss in Honolulu. She then moved to Molokai Island and edited a community newspaper.

In 1980, she left the newspaper, joined the Republican Party and was elected to the Maui County Council, where she served 10 years. In 1988, she was elected mayor of Maui County, which includes Molokai. She served for another decade and consolidated a reputation for efficiency and merit appointments, denouncing cronyism in the unions and government.

After winning the 2002 election, in which both houses of the Legislature retained large Democratic majorities, she behaved, said state House Majority Leader Marcus Oshiro, “more like a dictator than a governor.”

Democrats dismissed her proposed constitutional amendment to change the school system and, by all accounts, she accomplished little in her first two years except streamlining the executive branch.

But she remained popular because, as Mr. Oshiro put it, “her timing was perfect.” The recession that hobbled the previous administration turned into a boom that brought one of the country’s lowest unemployment rates and allowed her to turn a budget deficit into a surplus.

Mrs. Lingle backs the Bush administration on the Iraq war. She opposes a withdrawal of U.S. troops because Iraq would “become a sitting target for terrorists” who would “be able to take over this country again and rule it in terror,” she told a small group of journalists.

“We need a good strategy to make certain that democracy gets up and running as soon as possible so that they can take care of their own security and we can bring our troops home.”

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