Lingle must regain her focus
By David Shapiro
The key to Linda Lingle's election as governor was her ability to stay on message.
At every campaign stop, Lingle pounded her themes of improving education, stimulating the economy and restoring trust in government. She dealt with new issues as they came up, but never strayed far from her central message.
She needs to regain that focus if she hopes for her administration to be as successful as her election campaign.
The governor has lost the edge on her three main issues as she continues to be consumed by budget woes two-thirds of the way through her first legislative session.
From her emphasis in her first four months, you'd almost think that the most important thing Lingle was elected to do was to save the Hurricane Relief Fund.
The centerpiece of her proposed education reform creating seven locally elected school boards to replace the statewide Board of Education languishes in the Legislature as both houses work on dubious "reforms" of their own to fend off real change.
The Legislature has little in the works to promote significant economic stimulation, and lawmakers have dismissed Lingle's package of campaign and ethics reforms in favor of their own, which at this point are riddled with loopholes.
The governor has spoken out for her initiatives, but hasn't really fought for them, consoling herself that legislators are at least talking about the right things as they reject her proposals.
Talking about the right things is of little consolation, however, if lawmakers do the wrong things. For instance, if the Legislature reorganizes the school system to put even more fingers in the pie without giving anybody clear authority or dependable resources to make our schools work, real education reform could be set back for a decade or more.
As Hawai'i's first Republican governor in 40 years, it's understandable and appropriate that Lingle wants to try playing nice with the Democratic Legislature before letting relations turn nasty.
If they can work together in a spirit of mutually respectful give and take, that would be far more constructive in the long run than a contentious atmosphere of sniping and gridlock. The shoot-from-the-hip style of former Gov. Ben Cayetano clearly wasn't effective in getting productive work out of the Legislature.
But in politics, you can be effective playing nice only if you back it up with strength and discipline.
Dealing with lawmakers is a bit like housebreaking dogs. If you're all nice and bring no discipline, they see it as a sign of weakness they can exploit. They wonder if you're serious when you say they can't relieve themselves on the rug and keep testing to see if you really mean it.
Which is to say that if the governor wants the respect of legislators, sooner or later she's going to have to prove she can put some political hurt on them if they don't play nice with her.
Lingle deserves credit for showing the patience to learn the lay of the land before becoming too aggressive. It's a virtue that she can take the long view and recognize that one legislative session does not a term make. She has four years to achieve her goals.
But she'll attain those goals only if she focuses on pursuing her core issues with the same determination she showed during the campaign.
And if she lets lawmakers become too accustomed to routinely dismissing her proposals without political consequence, her agenda will acquire the same squish as a carpet soiled by a pack of unruly canines.
David Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.