Governor Lingle looks back

Governor Lingle
Governor Lingle

By Jim Mendoza - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - "Aloha, everyone. I'm honored to stand before you as your governor."

It began with that greeting on Inauguration Day in 2002.

It started the journey that would span two terms of leading the 50th state as Hawaii's first female governor.

In a few days Lingle leaves her office on the fifth floor of the State Capitol for the last time.

"I have a feeling of excitement about what's going to come next in life. I also have a feeling of sadness of all the people that I'm going to leave who I've been working with the past eight years," she said.

When asked to touch on some of her administration's proudest achievements, she quickly cites energy transformation.

"Getting us off of foreign oil. That would be very important - near the top of the list," she said. "Also the progress we made in Hawaiian homelands and getting Hawaiian families to realize home ownership in a way that hadn't been done previously."

Lingle said history will decide her legacy, but people will point to her appointment of judges, from chief justice of the State Supreme Court to appeals court judges to a dozen circuit court judges.

"I was able to have an impact. And what that meant was that there were more people that had come out of being prosecutor, who now are in the judiciary. Previously, most of the appointments to the judiciary were probably on the defense side," she said.

On the flip side, she wanted to build a transitional facility for women exiting prison but couldn't find the time.

"Almost every woman in prison here in our state has children. And almost every woman has been incarcerated for a non-violent crime," she said. "They need a way back and we need an appropriate facility. I know there are a lot of women in the community who would want to be a part of something like that. I just never got to it."

Lingle was Hawaii's first republican governor after four decades of democratic rule.

She said a democratic controlled legislature put up roadblocks.

"So many good ideas either die or are slowed down because of politics. I think that's very unfortunate. And while I know political parties have their particular philosophy and point of view, I think in the end they need to do what's best for the people. And I don't think that occurred, certainly not at all times throughout these eight years. And I was very disappointed that the legislature was as partisan, as political as they were," she said.

But she said there was collaboration, like in keeping Kukui Gardens affordable and trying to save the Superferry through special legislation.

Critics said allowing it to sail without a complete EIS was a mistake on her part. But Lingle said she did all she could to make it work.

"That was an example, I think, of the legislature and myself really coming together and doing what was in the public interest. The public went on record as saying, 'This is something we want to have.' And in that case the legislature really did respond," she said.

Her second term started with a landslide win in 2006 and hundreds of millions of dollars in budget surplus money.

Lingle enjoyed a high approval rating that tapered off toward the end, due in large part to decisions that came after the 2008 financial crisis.

The state furloughed workers. The Board of Education furloughed teachers, a move some blamed on her administration.

"The board of education made that decision," she said. "And the legislature has now funded out of emergency funds to get them through this year. But Governor Abercrombie is going to face a very serious challenge going into next year of how to pay for it."

We asked what advice she'd give her successor.

"I would say to Governor-elect Abercrombie, 'Do your best every day.' I think that's very important. It sounds like simple advice but all you can do is what you can do in one day. And secondly, I would say, 'Don't forget about the neighbor islands.' The neighbor island people feel very disconnected from Honolulu unless you make a real effort to reach out to them," she said.

Lingle said she reached out by going to the people to keep them informed through special addresses, community meetings and a weekly radio show.

"I think people, when they have good information, they make better decisions. Also, we wanted to always be transparent. We wanted people to know what we were doing. We were proud of what we were doing. When we made a mistake people were able to see that as well," she said.

Lingle said she was surrounded by intelligent and talented people who made a difficult job easier. And she had this to say to the people she governed.

"I'd like the people of Hawaii to know how much I love them, how much I care for them," she said. "Wherever I traveled during my eight years, whether it was Washington, DC, or Beijing, China, or anywhere in between, I always knew I wasn't representing myself, I was representing them. And I wanted to do it in a way that they could be proud of. And I hope whether they agreed with any particular decision or not, I just hope they were always proud."

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