EXCLUSIVE: Former Gov. Linda Lingle talks new job, Hawaii politics and Kolten Wong

EXCLUSIVE: Former Gov. Linda Lingle talks new job, Hawaii politics and Kolten Wong
Published: Apr. 7, 2015 at 9:52 PM HST|Updated: Apr. 7, 2015 at 11:37 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow)

In June, former Governor Linda Lingle begins her new job as COO for Illinois. She'll be in charge of all government departments in the Prairie state.

"This offer just came out of the blue and it's such a challenge," she said. "I was attracted to the governor (Bruce Rauner), his vision for the state, his commitment to turn things around for Illinois."

As for Hawaii politics, Lingle believes the Republican Party will eventually cut into Democratic dominance, the way it did when she was GOP chair and then governor.

"Having a governor is a big plus for the Republican Party. It allowed us to bring in people to the government who may not have previously had a chance," she said.

She is troubled with Republicans who switch parties after taking office.

"Basically, they want to be in a position of what they see as power. They want to head a committee," she said.

As Republican Party chair in 2000, Lingle led the GOP to a resurgence. So why go to work in Illinois' political arena when she can help her party at home?

"Our current chair, Pat Saiki, has done a terrific job in really what was a rebuilding phase. And now they'll have an election for a new chair in May. I think it's time for others to step up and give it a try," Lingle said.

Some conservatives still believe Lingle acted less like a Republican than a Democrat. She calls that criticism a compliment.

"I think that was why I was able to generate the highest vote total in Hawaii history. It's because people knew that I would always put the state ahead of the party. I think that's important for anyone," she said.

Lingle said recent election defeats of Charles Djou, Duke Aiona, and other Republicans don't mean they can't win in the future. It largely depends on what they do now.

"How do they contribute to the community when they don't win an election and what happens to them later?" she said.

She was surprised by the size of Gov. David Ige's triumph over incumbent Neil Abercrombie, and feels some of Ige's toughest challenges will be diversifying the state's economy and managing transportation needs

"As a governor right now, I would be focusing on transportation: highways, harbors and airports," she said.

Lingle will be working in Springfield, 90 minutes from St. Louis, Cardinals baseball, and Big Island boy Kolten Wong.

"I already have friends from Hawaii who are saying, 'We're going to come up so we can go to St. Louis and watch Kolten play.' I'm really looking forward to that," she said.

As for another run for office, Lingle made it abundantly clear that's not in the cards.

"There's a time for everything.  A season for everything," she said. "I had a tremendous privilege of winning offices.  I've lost a couple of times. It's just not something I see in my future."

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