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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, April 26, 2003

Judaism helps define Linda Lingle

By Matt Sedensky
Associated Press

At a Passover Seder this month at the governor's mansion, Gov. Linda Lingle's guests included Rabbi Yitzchok Krasnjansky and his son, Israel. Lingle is Hawai'i's first Jewish governor and the second female Jewish governor in U.S. history.

Associated Press

She makes time for her scheduler, her Cabinet and her closest advisers. But every Monday morning, Gov. Linda Lingle sits down to a meeting unlike any other during the week.

It's with her rabbi.

Lingle's gubernatorial victory last November made her a pioneer in many ways. She is the first Republican to govern Hawai'i in 40 years, the first woman ever. And she's Hawai'i's first Jewish governor and the second female Jewish governor in U.S. history — following Madeleine Kunin, who was Vermont's governor from 1985 to 1991.

Lingle is hesitant to be labeled only by her religion, but she is quick to say her faith helps define her. Judaism is a facet of Lingle's identity that she said shapes her leadership perhaps more than being a woman or a Republican.

"Anyone who was raised in a Jewish family, I think, would feel the same way," Lingle said.

Lingle's religion was never an issue during her campaign, and it seldom garners any attention now. At her inauguration, a rabbi gave an invocation, but so did a number of Christian leaders.

Lingle attended a public menorah lighting during Hanukkah. She took part in a Passover Seder at the governor's mansion.

On Fridays, a rabbi arrives at Lingle's office with challah bread for Shabbat. And in the entryway to the governor's home, a mezuza has been affixed in the doorway.

"She handles it the way Linda Lingle handles most things," said Neil Milner, a political science professor at the University of Hawai'i. "She doesn't make a big thing out of it; she doesn't wear it on her sleeve."

It's a similar public approach to that of the nation's only other sitting Jewish governor — Pennsylvania's Ed Rendell. Fewer than 20 Jews have been elected their state's chief executive since David Emanuel won Georgia's race in 1801.

In Hawai'i, where less than 1 percent of the residents are Jewish, Lingle said raising the profile of her faith is "not something conscious that I'd like to set out to do."

Lingle grew up in St. Louis, where she attended services and Sunday school, saving her dimes to plant trees in Israel. Her family later moved to California; after college, Lingle moved to Hawai'i.

She eventually became a councilwoman, then mayor in Maui County. She narrowly lost a gubernatorial bid in 1998, but when she ran again four years later, backed by the biggest campaign fund in state history, Lingle emerged a winner.

Lingle promised to improve public education and to restore trust in government. And while she probably could have won without the extra help, she gained the backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as well as Jews in California, New York and Florida. Even the Jerusalem Post featured her in a story.

"I think she sets the example for so many groups that are underrepresented," said Laura Stein, a lawyer who supported Lingle's candidacy.

Lingle's moderate political stance helps in her appeal to a group that typically votes Democratic. She supports abortion rights and opposes capital punishment.

But even Jews who find themselves at odds with the governor's political views say they take some pride in Lingle's rise.

"It demonstrates that Hawai'i will continue its tradition of tolerance and inclusiveness," said Democratic state Rep. Brian Schatz. "From that perspective, I think we all were proud."