By Phillip Whitten
HONOLULU, November 6. LINDA Lingle, 49, an active, enthusiastic member of Hawaii Masters, was elected Governor of Hawaii yesterday, defeating Lt. Governor Mazie Hirono by a margin of 17,000 votes, 52 to 47 percent. In a heavy turnout, Lingle defeated Hirono on every island except Kaua'i.
As a divorced, white, Jewish, female Republican, Lingle's election was nothing short of revolutionary.
She becomes the 50th state's first-ever female governor and the first Republican to lead the state since 1962.
Lingle, the former mayor of Maui, had predicted the election would make history as "the time the change finally came," and she did indeed break the 40 years of the Democrats' near-absolute lock on political power in Hawaii.
However, she will be greeted by a state Legislature that is dominated by the opposition, with the state House and Senate still firmly in the Democrats' hands. The Republican Party not only failed in its bid to take control of the House, but actually came out with a net loss of four House seats. Republicans increased their numbers in the state Senate, winning two new seats for a total of five.
With her running mate James "Duke" Aiona standing beside her, Lingle thanked her screaming, cheering supporters at her Honolulu campaign headquarters in a speech shortly after midnight. She also thanked Hirono for a hard-fought race.
"The most important message that we both wanted to send out tonight to the people of Hawaii is our commitment to work with all the people of Hawaii," Lingle said. "We face some very tough challenges in the years ahead, and it's going to mean all of us working together regardless of party, regardless of island, regardless of who you supported in the campaign.
"We have got to put all that aside and do what's right for the state of Hawaii. I want you to know that even though the challenges are great, there is nothing we can't do if we work together, nothing."
While euphoric over the victory, Lingle's supporters last night acknowledged that the new governor is facing huge expectations from the majority of the electorate.
"Now the hard work begins," said Laura Ching, a Democrat who voted for Lingle. "There's a ton of pressure to produce. The pressure is huge. She needs to make good on her promises and deliver. I wouldn't want to be in her shoes for all of the world. It's wonderful tonight but the honeymoon is going to be over pretty soon."
Lingle, who served as Maui mayor from 1990 to 1998, hammered on the change theme again and again, reminding voters the day before the election that "if I don't win, nothing will change in Hawaii."
Lingle, 49, was elected Maui mayor at a time when about half of all Maui residents had lived there less than 10 years. Newcomers were an important part of her political base, and she knew how to appeal to them.
As she did in 1998, Lingle focused this year on the failures of the state and the Democrats who have led it, running a campaign clearly tailored for people who are unhappy with the status quo.
She reminded voters of how bad the Hawaiian economy was throughout the 1990s, with poverty levels on the rise. She reminded them of the poor test scores and other weaknesses of the public school system. She reminded them of the criminal cases involving government officials in recent years, saying she would "restore trust in government."