Governor Lingle and Republican Party shift focus to Gustav victims

Sen. Barack Obama
Sen. Barack Obama

By Leland Kim - bio | email

ST. PAUL, Minnesota (KHNL) -  It's a somber first day of the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota.  Many people's thoughts -- including those of Gov. Linda Lingle (R-Hawaii) who is at the convention -- are with folks dealing with the devastation left behind by Hurricane Gustav.

It's an unusual start; a natural disaster shifting attention away from the convention.  But Republicans say their focus is on the victims of Gustav, and they're Americans first, Republicans second.

And for Gov. Lingle, it's a reminder of a devastating hurricane Hawaii experienced more than a decade ago.

Millions already evacuated.  Hundreds of thousands without power along the Gulf Coast.  For many in New Orleans, Hurricane Gustav is a raw reminder of Hurricane Katrina.  For Gov. Lingle, it's a reminder of another natural disaster closer to home.

"I've been sharing with people today and in my interviews the experience that Hawaii has had going back to Iniki in 1992," said the governor in a telephone interview. "And how our hearts are with the people in the Gulf Coast, because we've been through it. We've experienced it."

Iniki was the most powerful hurricane to strike Hawaii.  The eye of the hurricane cut a direct path over Kauai on September 11, 1992, leaving devastation in its wake.  It caused close to $2 billion worth of damages.

Damage from Gustav is expected to at least quadruple that, so the first day of the Republican National Convention was largely ceremonial.

"So they're simply today going through the steps the process requires in order to achieve minimal results," said Gov. Lingle.  "But again, you don't see any of the traditional partying or celebrating today.  There's none of that going on, on the floor."

The other topic of conversation: Gov. Sarah's Palin's (R-Alaska) 17-year-old unmarried pregnant daughter.

"I think people's families are off limits and people's children are especially off limits," said Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois), when asked about the subject.  "This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Gov. Palin's performance as governor or her potential performance as a vice president."

"To Sen. Obama's credit, he has come out with a statement saying he does not believe that this is an appropriate topic for the political campaign," said Gov. Lingle.  "So coming from Hawaii and knowing the values of the people at home, I think they would appreciate it very much on his part."

Despite some unexpected distractions, Republicans hope to bring the spotlight back to Sen. John McCain (R-Alaska).

"He did the right thing," said Gov. Lingle.  "He picked someone who is going to bring vitality to the ticket and he got people very excited and not only Republicans."

Some delegates from the Gulf Coast made plans to go back home to help out their families and constituents.

The Republican National Convention is helping out, by setting up charter flights to bring folks back to Louisiana, and they're encouraging everyone to make donations to help out the victims.