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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Monday, December 24, 2001

Island Voices
Can labor stop Lingle from getting governor's seat?

By Dick A. Ornellas
Dick A. Ornellas lives on O'ahu.

Linda Lingle probably stands her best chance ever of becoming Hawai'i's governor next year, and the state's labor community knows it. But the community faces the Herculean task of trying to stop her.

Within 11 months, union leaders statewide must convince tens of thousands of their disenchanted rank-and-file members (and retirees) that the Democratic Party — and union officers themselves — did not let down Hawai'i's working people after all.

To be sure, the feeling of betrayal runs deep among union members against their leaders and the party. Their wounds have barely healed from the Great Democratic Lies of 1998 when Gov. Ben Cayetano promised unionists the ground below and the sky above if they would give him one more chance.

After Cayetano squeaked to victory over Lingle, he soon forgot all his promises. During his closing years and months in office, the governor has behaved more like a Republican than most Republicans. The latest example of his closet Republicanism surfaced during the aftermath of Sept. 11, when scores of workers both union and non-union suddenly found themselves jobless.

Cayetano quickly huddled behind closed doors with Hawai'i's business elite while shutting out labor. An official from my own union, HERE Local 5, AFL-CIO, waited for more than 10 hours outside the governor's office for a chance to plead labor's case but was dismissed without a word with the man who promised four years ago to save working people from the Republican devils.

Before they can defeat Lingle, labor officials will have to persuade their own memberships that union leaders are trustworthy and out to help the members rather than themselves. This crucial turning point from basic rank-and-file distrust to trust must happen before the union masses will follow their leaders to help elect a Democratic governor.

Yet, those high union-leader salaries that members keep hearing about, coupled with the recent federal grand-jury indictment of UPW Local 646 state director Gary Rodrigues on fraud and other charges, likely steered legions of union members unalterably toward Lingle.

So, how can Hawai'i's labor community stop Lingle?

High-priced union and Democratic Party media ads and blitzes. Maybe. The same old "give us another chance" speech by the next Democratic gubernatorial hopeful and "we really do care about our members" routine by the union hierarchy. Maybe.

In the middle of all the union and Democratic Party hoopla next year, God help labor and the party should President George Bush come riding into town.