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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 1:43 a.m., Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Lingle leads historic change as new governor

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

Republican Linda Lingle shakes hands with supporters after her gubernatorial victory is announced. Fueled by solid voter turnout in Republican areas of O‘ahu, Maui and the Big Island, Lingle defeated Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono on every island except Kaua‘i.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Mazie Hirono hugs Gov. Ben Cayetano as Vicky Cayetano looks on following her concession to Linda Lingle in the election for governor. Hirono thanked her supporters and said that "my commitment to Hawai‘i remains strong." Cayetano called for cooperation between the parties, saying it is the public that loses if there is partisan bickering.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

Linda Lingle made political history last night, winning with a hefty margin of about 17,000 votes to become Hawai'i's first woman governor and becoming the first Republican to lead the state since 1962.

Fueled by solid voter turnout in Republican areas of O'ahu, Maui and the Big Island, Lingle defeated her Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, on every island except for Kaua'i.

For weeks, Lingle had predicted the election would make history as "the time the change finally came," and she did indeed break the 40 years of the Democrats' near-absolute lock on political power in Hawai'i.

However, she will be greeted by a state Legislature that is dominated by the opposition, with the state House and Senate still firmly in the Democrats' hands. The Republican Party not only failed in its bid to take control of the House, but actually came out with a net loss of four House seats to end the election with only 15.

Republicans increased their numbers in the state Senate, winning two new seats for a total of five.

Voter turnout trailed the record number of voters who participated in the 1998 election, but the 378,700 who voted was an improvement over the particularly poor turnout in the 2000 election.

With her running mate James "Duke" Aiona standing beside her, Lingle thanked her screaming, cheering supporters at her Honolulu campaign headquarters in a speech shortly after midnight. She also thanked Hirono for a hard-fought race.

"The most important message that we both wanted to send out tonight to the people of Hawai'i is our commitment to work with all the people of Hawai'i," Lingle said. "We face some very tough challenges in the years ahead, and it's going to mean all of us working together regardless of party, regardless of island, regardless of who you supported in the campaign.

"We have got to put all that aside and do what's right for the state of Hawai'i. I want you to know that even though the challenges are great, there is nothing we can't do if we work together, nothing."

In her concession speech, Hirono thanked her supporters and said that "my commitment to Hawai'i remains strong."

"All across the state, the good people of Hawai'i came together, and we did our very best," Hirono said. "My heart is full of gratitude to each and every one of you. I know you are disappointed, but you have resolved to give back to the community, and that is not going to stop."

"And I congratulate you, Linda Lingle. I know you are going to do your very best and you are going to put your best foot forward, because if I was in your shoes, I'd do the same."

Gov. Ben Cayetano, a Democrat who will leave office next month after two terms as governor, called for cooperation between the parties last night, saying it is the public that loses if there is partisan bickering.

"I hope they'll try to work with her," he said. "I think that anyone who assumes this office will soon discover the realities of what faces the people of Hawai'i. I have read Linda's platform; it will be interesting to see if she can deliver everything she has promised.

"I am disappointed. I've had my differences with Linda Lingle, but the election is over. And we are going to do everything we can to help with the transition."

While euphoric over the victory, Lingle's supporters last night acknowledged that the new governor is facing huge expectations from the majority of the electorate.

"Now the hard work begins," said Laura Ching, a Democrat who voted for Lingle. "There's a ton of pressure to produce. The pressure is huge. She needs to make good on her promises and deliver. I wouldn't want to be in her shoes for all of the world. It's wonderful tonight but the honeymoon is going to be over pretty soon."

In its simplest terms, the campaign pitted people who are comfortable with things as they are in Hawai'i against people who are angry with the "system," and are demanding that it change.

Lingle, who served as Maui mayor from 1990 to 1998, hammered on the change theme again and again, reminding voters the day before the election that "if I don't win, nothing will change in Hawai'i."

Lingle, 49, was elected Maui mayor at a time when about half of all Maui residents had lived there less than 10 years. Newcomers were an important part of her political base, and she knew how to appeal to them.

The crowd at Linda Lingle’s campaign headquarters erupts with cheers as they learn Lingle and James "Duke" Aiona won the race for governor. Sue Landon jumps from her seat to show her enthusiasm.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Mazie Hirono gets a hug from a supporter following her concession speech. Hirono urged Linda Lingle to do her "very best" as governor.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser

As she did in 1998, Lingle focused this year on the failures of the state and the Democrats who have led it, running a campaign clearly tailored for people who are unhappy with the status quo.

She reminded voters of how bad the Hawai'i economy was throughout the 1990s, with poverty levels on the rise. She reminded them of the poor test scores and other weaknesses of the public school system. She reminded them of the criminal cases involving government officials in recent years, saying she would "restore trust in government."

Hirono countered Lingle's criticisms by insisting the schools and the economy are better than Lingle was making them out to be. She recruited teachers to wag their fingers at Lingle for being so negative about the school system, and Hirono pointed to Cayetano administration tax cuts and other accomplishments as proof that she had a hand in making the economy better.

Hirono, 55, a lawyer and a veteran state lawmaker, abandoned the governor's race late last year to instead run for mayor, a move many people viewed as an attempt by Hirono to avoid a gubernatorial primary with Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris.

Six months later, Hirono re-entered the governor's race after Harris announced he was quitting the contest. With Harris' departure, Hirono immediately became the Democratic front-runner for governor, but she had little money or momentum.

Cayetano said last night that he believes Harris could have won the election if he had stayed in the race. Cayetano said he believes Harris would have drawn from the pool of Caucasian voters who made up the bedrock of Lingle's support.

In September, Hirono barely defeated state Rep. Ed Case in a surprisingly close primary contest, but then had little money and a divided Democratic Party heading into the general election campaign against Lingle's well-oiled machine.

Both sides fielded hard-hitting campaign ads, with the Democrats using television spots to raise questions about Lingle's ethics and performance as Maui mayor.

The GOP took its own shots, using television advertising to remind voters of jailed or indicted Democratic politicians, the teachers' strike last year and transfers of money from the hurricane relief fund and the public workers' pension fund to help balance the budget.

A key to Lingle's success was her long, long campaign. She was essentially running for governor for five years — a year before the 1998 election and the four years since.

During those years, she rebuilt the state Republican Party, starting with grassroots meetings of supporters shortly after her narrow loss in 1998 to Cayetano.

As she pulled new players into the GOP, Lingle also built an impressive system for raising money through mostly small contributions, which played a critical role this year.

Her supporters included people such as Bill Henry, a retired Navy commander who voted at Jefferson Elementary School in Honolulu yesterday. The 66-year-old Henry said he hasn't missed voting in an election in more than 40 years, even when he was overseas, when he would vote absentee.

"This one is very exciting for me," said Henry, who voted for Lingle. "It's just about time. There is a lot of competition in a lot of races."

The Democrats were clobbered by well-publicized investigations focusing mostly on the fund-raising practices of Harris in his 2000 re-election campaign for mayor. Donors who gave too much money were fined and publicly embarrassed, prompting many traditional donors to Democrats to stop contributing.

Lingle, with her separate system for raising money, was suddenly in the enviable position of being able to raise millions of dollars while her Democratic opponents were starved for money. As of last week Lingle had raised $4.55 million, while Hirono had raised only $2.23 million.

By contrast, Cayetano raised about $5 million for his successful 1998 campaign. As he waited for election returns last night, Cayetano remarked that Hirono "did everything she could do given the money that she had."

Advertiser reporters Robbie Dingeman, Scott Ishikawa, Johnny Brannon and Karen Blakeman contributed to this report. Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.