By Derrick DePledge
Former Gov. Linda Lingle acknowledged on Tuesday night that Republicans were understandably disappointed with her election loss for U.S. Senate last November but should not give up on their goal of a competitive two-party system in Hawaii.
Lingle told Republicans at their annual Lincoln Day dinner said that she, too was disappointed in her loss to U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, but can live with the defeat because she gave the campaign her best effort.
“And if you saw me on television on election night, or you have spoken with me since that night, then you know I am sincere when I say I can live with a lost election,” Lingle told hundreds of Republicans gathered at the Koolau Ballrooms and Conference Center in Kaneohe. “What I can’t live with, what you shouldn’t be willing to live with, is throwing the towel on our goal of a strong two-party system of government for Hawaii.
“This is not the time to give up, because our cause is the right cause, and because what we are striving for is in the best interest of all the people of Hawaii.”
Lingle evoked the legacy of President Abraham Lincoln, a Republican who she said took positions that were right, not always easy, and criticized by name the many Republicans in Hawaii who have switched political parties and joined the majority Democrats after being elected.
“These party switchers are an adult political version of high-school students abandoning lifelong friends because they want to hang out with the cool kids. They want to fit in. They want to be popular,” she said. “And besides, it’s easier to be a Democrat in Hawaii. You might get to chair a committee. And lobbyists and special-interest groups care more about your position on pending legislation.”
Lingle, who serves on the Bipartisan Policy Center’s governor’s council and the U.S. Energy Security Council, said after her keynote speech that she does not plan to run for political office next year.
The Hawaii Republican Party, which for more than a decade has been the party of Lingle, is in transition.
Like majority Democrats, who have had to adjust to the death of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, the state’s most powerful politician, Republicans are preparing for their next chapter without a dominant leader.
The GOP has no immediate contenders for governor or for U.S. Senate next year, likely the two highest profile campaigns, and few prospects for U.S. House.
The decision by state House Republicans to form a leadership coalition with House Speaker Joseph Souki and progressive Democrats could complicate the argument that the GOP represents a distinct alternative to the majority party.
House Minority Leader Aaron Ling Johanson (R, Fort Shafter-Moanalua Gardens-Aliamanu), however, believes voters are looking for lawmakers willing to seek common ground.
“I think people do want to get involved in politics. They just end up feeling so disenchanted with the level of hyper-partisanship, that they feel like it’s not worth their time,” he said. “But I think what’s actually happening in the House is probably going to encourage a lot of people who want to run, whether as Republicans, or independents or Democrats.
“People who might be excited about the prospect of getting involved in something that seems far more constructive and affable than Washington, D.C.”
David Chang, the state GOP chairman, said the party would build on the youth movement represented by Johanson and the other young Republicans in the House.
National Republicans, Chang said, are committed to helping state parties with grassroots organizing and data-driven outreach. But Chang acknowledges that it will take time for a party that currently only holds seven seats in the state House and one seat in the state Senate.
“It’s going to take time,” Chang said. “I’m not looking at a two or four year plan, I’m looking at a 10 to 20 year plan of developing the infrastructure. And once people see us united, our issues – we’re doing it in a way of drawing people in – there’s no doubt in my mind that people will start popping up,” he said.
Local Republicans, Chang said, have to develop a better brand to break the Democrats’ hold politics.
“In Hawaii, Democrats don’t need to run on issues, character, they just need to say `I’m not a Republican,’ and they win,” he said.