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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Ads becoming more negative as election nears

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

The political advertising of the Hawai'i governor's election has taken on a much sharper and negative tone in the final days of the race, with Democrats and Republicans each attempting to paint the other side as corrupt.


The candidate: Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, Democrat for governor

Medium: 30-second statewide TV spot paid for by the Democratic Party of Hawai'i.

Summary: Male narrator's voice: "Linda Lingle says she supports families. Maybe she's right. As Maui mayor she illegally awarded non-bid contracts of more than half a million dollars in taxpayer money to her husband and a Republican insider. Lingle's administration purchased cars from a family-owned business, costing Maui taxpayers nearly $3 million. And when her nephew was denied a driving permit, she pressured officials to get him one. Does Linda Lingle take care of families? Sure. Her own."

The candidate: Linda Lingle, Republican for governor

Medium: 30-second statewide TV spot paid for by the Republican Party of Hawai'i. Also, direct-mail pieces paid for by the Republican National Committee.

Summary: Female narrator's voice, with a black-and-white photo of Gov. Ben Cayetano and Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono:

"They said trust us, then took millions from the hurricane relief fund and the state employee retirement system to pay for their mismanagement. They promised better schools, then locked out teachers and students. They promised honest government, but eight public officials have gone to jail, and federal investigations continue into corruption at the airport and state housing department. They promised a strong economy, but never delivered. They've had their chance for 16 years. We can't afford another four."

Direct-mail pieces describe "The Mazie Hirono Record" as one of falling test scores, disappearing jobs and increasing poverty and tout Lingle's plan for revitalizing the economy and improving schools.

In ads released in recent days, the Democrats have accused Republican Linda Lingle of a pattern of using her position as Maui mayor to benefit her family. The Republicans, meanwhile, are trying to tie Gov. Ben Cayetano and Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono in the voters' minds to jailed Democratic politicians.

Each side contends the claims in the advertising on the other side are misleading or outright false. But Helen Varner, dean of communications at Hawai'i Pacific University, said the overall negative tone of the ads may still repulse uncommitted voters and prompt them to stay home on Election Day.

Negative advertising has little meaningful effect on voters who already strongly favor one candidate or another, but tends to have a greater impact on undecided voters, Varner said.

In general the tone of the ads may trigger negative reactions by the voters to both candidates, "in which case they're not going to vote for either one of them because neither of them is any good. And that's where we are right now, and I think that's the great tragedy of negative advertising," she said.

The Democrats have run ads for weeks that raise questions about Lingle's character, with the most pointed being a new spot that suggests Lingle used her position as mayor to help family members.

The ad reminds voters that Lingle used county money to hire her then-husband William Crockett to defend her in a lawsuit filed by a fired county employee, and said she also used county money to hire lawyer Dan Bent in connection with the same case. Bent has been an active Republican, and was appointed U.S. attorney for Hawai'i during President Reagan's administration.

In 1996 the Hawai'i Supreme Court said the hiring was illegal because Lingle didn't get Maui County Council approval to hire Crockett and Bent. Lingle has said her corporation counsel advised her she could hire a lawyer without council authority. Lingle has said her husband was the best qualified lawyer available, but has said she would not hire him if she had it to do over again because of the "perception that it gives the public."

As for the appointment of Bent, Republican Party Chairman Micah Kane said Bent was a member of the same law firm as Matt Matsunaga at the time, which Kane said demonstrates the hiring "had nothing to do with politics."

The ad also asserts the Lingle administration spent almost $3 million in Maui County money to purchase vehicles from the Maui Cutter dealership owned by Lingle's uncle. But competing auto dealers on Maui released a statement yesterday that the bidding process the county used to buy those vehicles while Lingle was mayor was fair and open.

"Our company has bid often and successfully against the dealer mentioned in these ads," said Charles O'Steen, general manager and vice president of Valley Isle Motors.

Another allegation in the ad, that Lingle intervened to get her nephew a driving permit, is "just absolutely false," Kane said. "Nothing happened. She didn't do that."

Andy Winer, director of the Democratic Party's coordinated campaign, said the account of Lingle intervening to get her nephew a permit in 1993 came from a newspaper account.

The Democrats were also ready to rebut the Republican ad.

In the GOP ad, the woman narrating the spot alleges Cayetano and Hirono "took millions from the Hurricane Relief Fund and the state Employees' Retirement System to pay for their mismanagement." As the narrator speaks, headlines about the Employees Retirement Fund losing $1.4 billion flash on the screen.

It is true that the Cayetano administration reduced state and county contributions into the public workers' pension fund to help balance the state and county budgets, and took money from the hurricane fund this year to help balance the state budget.

The misleading part of the ad is an image of a newspaper clipping that flashes on the screen with the headline "State retirement fund lost $1.4 billion since 2000." Most of the pension-fund losses were caused by the declining stock market and increasing claims by retirees, not by the Cayetano administration.

Barbara Tanabe, spokeswoman for the Hirono campaign, said the ad is misleading because it implies the administration did something wrong. There was nothing wrong with dipping into the state's cash reserves when necessary, especially when faced with budget problems such as those caused by the Sept. 11 attacks, she said.

The ad also alleges the Cayetano administration "locked out" teachers and students, a reference to last year's statewide teachers' strike. The problem with that statement is the school system closed not because of a lockout by the Cayetano administration, but because of a strike by the teachers union.

The ad said Cayetano and Hirono "promised honest government, but eight public officials have gone to jail, and federal investigations continue into corruption at the airport and state housing department."

As the narrator speaks, images of newspaper clippings flash on the screen with headlines about the jail sentences handed out to Democratic City Council members Rene Mansho and Andy Mirikitani, a plea entered by state Sen. Marshall Ige, and the federal indictment of state Rep. Nathan Suzuki.

While all of those politicians are Democrats, those and the other public officials who have been convicted in recent years were not part of the Cayetano administration.

As Tanabe put it, "Mazie had nothing to do with these public officials. They can't link any of this with Mazie Hirono."

Mirikitani and Mansho were city officials, not state employees. The attorney general's office under Cayetano prosecuted Ige, and Suzuki has not been convicted of any crime.

Kane said he doesn't believe the ad is negative, saying it probes Hirono's record and is backed up with facts. He notes the police union finally sued the state in an attempt to block any further reductions in state and county contributions into the public-worker pension fund. "Their track record is to keep raiding funds rather than making systemic change," he said.

As for the teachers' strike, the Cayetano administration "did nothing to bring closure quickly to one of the most emotional and devastating strikes in the history of the state," Kane said.

And as for the corruption statements, Kane said the ad is not intended to suggest Hirono is personally responsible for the misdeeds of other Democrats. But he said Hirono is part of the same political party, and until recently did not make strong statements condemning the convictions or allegations of other Democrats.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.