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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gracious candidate now grumpy incumbent


By David Shapiro

I met with Linda Lingle at a busy coffee shop in 2001 when she was between runs for governor and was impressed by her gracious response to the stream of people who stopped by to introduce themselves.

She warmly greeted them all and chatted with true interest that reflected more than a future need for their votes.

I said, "It must be hard living in a fishbowl, eyes always on you, everybody knowing who you are."

"Not at all," she said. "It comes with the territory and I enjoy the interaction. Wouldn't it be a nicer world if everybody treated others with the respect and courtesy they'd show if they thought everybody was watching and knew who they were?"

Well, everybody is watching and knows who she is now, and we're mystified as to what happened to the Linda Lingle of 2001 as we witness her inept, rude and imperious handling of the sit-in in her office by parents, students and others pressing for an end to furlough Fridays.

She refused to meet with the group, snuck out back doors to avoid accidental encounters, issued snotty statements that were insultingly dismissive, denied them the use of restrooms and had them cited for trespassing.

Arrests were threatened and some of the protesters were told they would be banned from the fifth floor of the Capitol for a year.

Imagine how much better things might have turned out if she had met with the group to politely listen to their concerns and explain why the state can't afford to accede to teachers union demands to run up the cost of ending furloughs by $30 million over the $62 million Lingle has offered by deeming every single school employee "essential."

If the governor had worked some of the magic I saw in that coffee shop, she likely could have prevented a long, angry standoff and perhaps persuaded the protest group that it should also be leaning on the Hawai'i State Teachers Association and Board of Education to give some ground.

Lingle deserves a fair share of the blame for the negotiating deadlock for suddenly linking an end to furloughs to her dead-on-arrival demand that the governor be given the power to appoint the schools superintendent.

But she's right to hold the line on the cost of an agreement; the $62 million she's offered the teachers is quite generous, considering that the money would otherwise go to programs for the poor and needy.

The Hawai'i State Teachers Association has refused to make significant concessions, and the union says it won't negotiate further even if Lingle wants to talk on the $92 million deal it concocted with the patsy Board of Education.

Lingle's clumsy handling of the sit-in has succeeded only in drawing all of the blame to her, allowing HSTA to lay back more determined than ever not to budge.

Meantime, Hawai'i is once again a national laughingstock as news spreads about the latest chapter in the endless trashing of our children by infantile adults.

Lingle indicated in a recent speech that she may run for office again. Good luck with that. The humility and charm she once displayed in connecting with concerned citizens have left the building, and all that's left is to wait until she does the same.

David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net. His columns are archived at www.volcanicash.net. Read his daily blog, Volcanic Ash, at http://volcanicash.honadvblogs.com.