Lingle draws crowd to grand opening of Hilo headquarters


HILO — There aren’t many Republicans in the Democratic stronghold known as Hilo, but almost 200 came out Tuesday for the headquarters grand opening and birthday bash for former Gov. Linda Lingle, the GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka.

East Hawaii has about 1,800 or 1,900 registered Republicans, compared to West Hawaii’s 3,000 or so, said Hawaii County Republican Party Chairman Daryl Smith. He said that’s twice as many as four years ago.

The soon-to-be vacated Senate seat is important to mainland Republicans, who need just four new GOP senators to gain a majority in the upper house. Consequently, Lingle is getting a lot of support from such groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in her run for the seat. Lingle will likely face former U.S. Rep. Ed Case or U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, depending which one wins the Aug. 11 Democratic primary.

But Lingle, who turns 59 Monday, said she’s not going to be a rubber-stamp Republican if she wins the election. Her experience being a member of a minority party in a very blue state has taught her the value of bipartisanship and compromise, Lingle said.

Winning the gubernatorial seat not once, but twice, as a Republican means voters will focus on the candidate and not just the party, she said.

“I’m going to focus on what’s good for the people of Hawaii, regardless of who’s sponsoring it,” Lingle told West Hawaii Today, noting that Hirono has said the election is all about supporting President Obama, while Case has said it’s about fixing Washington. “It’s not about either of those. This election is about the people of Hawaii and what I can do for the people of Hawaii.”

Lingle said she’d push for a subcommittee on tourism in the Senate, which currently doesn’t exist, and also focus on the importance of the Asia-Pacific region.

She demurred on the question of whether she’d rather run in the general election against Hirono or Case, saying “that’s up to the voters.”

“Regardless of who my opponent is, I’m going to focus on the economy and jobs,” she said.

Hilo attorney Ted Hong, one of the supporters in the small crowd, lashed out at Hirono for her comments during last weekend’s Hawaii Democratic Party convention in Honolulu, where she blasted Lingle for instituting employee furloughs, saying the state should “furlough Linda Lingle.” Hong, who frequently represents workers in litigation against the government, noted that furloughs, agreed upon by union negotiators at the bargaining table, were a more palatable alternative to layoffs in a grim economy.

“She didn’t impose it unilaterally,” Hong said. “She’s never been a hard-core Republican. She’s been someone who makes sure things are right for everybody.”