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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, December 7, 2003

Lingle's outside-in strategy

By Jerry Burris
Advertiser Editorial Editor

Gov. Linda Lingle came into office with more than a few "firsts" under her belt.

She was the first woman governor of Hawai'i, the first governor who didn't grow up here (Jack Burns wasn't born here but arrived as a youngster and was schooled here), the first mayor to become governor and the first Republican to make it to the top office in more than three decades.

That is political accomplishment enough for most folks. But Lingle is far more ambitious than that. She rode into office promising not just to do things, but to fundamentally change the very political culture of state government.

So with one year now gone, Advertiser Capitol Bureau reporters Gordon Pang and Lynda Arakawa took a look last Sunday at Year 1 for Lingle, her hits, misses and prospects for the future. They report that, faced with a steep learning curve and a skeptical Legislature dominated by Democrats, Lingle's first year was relatively light on substantive legislative accomplishments.

But they also stumbled on something else: In her efforts to change the culture of state government, Lingle has chosen to simply go around it.

In short, she is governing from the outside in.

Contrast that to the administration of her predecessor, Ben Cayetano, who surely governed from the inside out. Cayetano was the ultimate state government insider, with experience in the House, in the Senate (where he learned the intricacies of the state budget as Ways and Means chairman) and as lieutenant governor for eight years.

Cayetano felt he knew the inner workings of government and sought to bring it to his way of thinking by sheer pressure and hard work. It is a tribute, if you can use that word, to the obstinacy of the system that even as experienced an insider as Cayetano did not always get his way.

It has become obvious to Lingle that trying to accomplish her agenda from the inside out won't work. So she is attempting to govern from the outside in.

Examples are numerous. Her talk-story sessions with communities are more than simple show-and-tell sessions for constituents. They are rallies in which Lingle seeks to enlist ordinary people in her cause.

She has a regular weekly radio appearance during which she talks over the heads of bureaucrats and legislators to the people. Her cable television show attempts the same thing.

In speeches, Lingle will sometimes appeal directly to her audience to elect legislators who are friendly to her cause. And her administration has warned incumbents that disagreement could lead to direct political opposition in the next election.

On a handful of big issues, such as tourism and education, Lingle convened outside committees who meet privately and then bring forth ideas for the public to chew on. She pointedly avoids having too many "insider" figures on these committees.

Blessed with supreme confidence as a public speaker and a public-relations team that knows marketing even better than it knows government, Lingle appears set to establish a new style of leadership. It will be intriguing to see how it works out.