Lingle to focus on Hawaii’s recovery
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Gov. Linda Lingle gives her final State of the State speech today, one of her last chances to try to shape public policy before her time as Hawai'i's chief executive fades into history.
Lingle has the misfortune of finishing her second four-year term in the depths of the worst economy since the Depression, but the Republican governor plans to reach beyond the immediate budget deficit and call on lawmakers to take steps to prepare for economic recovery.
The governor will look forward, not back, and focus on issues such as job creation.
Lingle said last week that closing the state's projected $1.2 billion deficit through June 2011 was only the minimum task for the state Legislature this year.
"My sense is that this may be one of the most important speeches the governor gives as the State of the State," said Linda Smith, the governor's senior policy adviser. "We're going to be looking forward, in terms of what can be accomplished together over the next 10 months, as opposed to spending a lot of time talking about the many accomplishments the administration has achieved over the past seven years."
Lingle's popularity has taken a hit after budget cuts and protracted negotiations with public-sector labor unions over labor cost savings. But she has shown she can use moments such as the State of the State to help set the agenda for the legislative session.
The platform gives the governor an opportunity to speak directly to the public.
Ben Cayetano, a former governor, said if he were able to do his State of the State addresses over he would focus more on narrative and less on updates of what was happening at state departments.
He said the value of the speech is not only to address the public, but to guide the Legislature. "I think the people are interested in the things she thinks are important and what she wants to tell the Legislature," he said.
Over the years, Lingle has used the speech to outline some of her most memorable ideas, while other proposals have fallen flat.
Majority Democrats often have been unable to compete with Lingle's communication skills but, since they control the state House and Senate, they have had the ability to determine whether many of the governor's ideas advance.
"I think, unfortunately, this administration releases a lot of proposals without fleshing out the details," said state Rep. Roy Takumi, D-36th (Pearl City, Momilani, Pacific Palisades).
"What we'd like to see is more collaboration and cooperation."
State Rep. Kymberly Pine, R-43rd ('Ewa Beach, Iroquois Point, Pu'uloa), said Lingle should spend some time reminding the public of her successes on issues such as promoting energy independence and responding to the homeless situation on the Leeward Coast.
Pine also believes Lingle should clearly explain how the state arrived at the stalemate with the Hawaii State Teachers Association on teacher furloughs, which many lawmakers in both parties now consider a mistake that needs correcting.
"I think a lot of people are focusing on the tough times and are not remembering her legacy," she said.
Legacy, whether Lingle chooses to speak to it or not, will be a theme in her final months in office.
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, who is running in the Republican primary for governor, also will have to attempt to put the past eight years into context for voters or else Democrats will paint their own unflattering portrait.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who is running in the Democratic primary for governor, gave his assessment of the State of the State in a message to his supporters yesterday.
Abercrombie said the state should help get some of the unemployed back to work by accessing and maximizing federal dollars, investing in education and social welfare programs, and moving rapidly toward self-sufficiency and sustainability.
He also called for more collaboration.
"I have never seen Hawai'i so divided and so incapable of coming together around common goals," he wrote. "The governor and Legislature are locked in a stalemate and we are paralyzed by fights over budget cuts, civil unions, rail transit, land, water and more.
"We can't even cooperate to put children back in school. The worst part is our leaders all too often exploit these divisions and end up defending positions rather than resolving issues.
"Sometimes, we just lack the political courage to confront our conflicts with honesty and respect," Abercrombie wrote. "This needs to stop now, again, starting at the top."