Lingle’s One And Only ’06 Debate

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - October 18, 2006

The topic this week is debates. A couple of Friday nights ago Gov. Linda Lingle and her Democratic challenger, Randy Iwase, met in their one and only televised debate of the general election season.

The rule of thumb for a well-financed incumbent who enjoys a healthy lead in the polls has two parts:

1) Debate early in the campaign season before the smallest audience possible to show that you are not afraid of your opponent.

2) Never, under any circumstances, save falling behind in the polls (spend scads more money instead, ) agree to another debate.

And if any well-financed incumbent ever had any doubts about those two injunctions, she need only look at the Dan Akaka-Ed Case debate in the primary. Done later, before a larger audience, or repeated several times, it could have blown a fumbling Akaka out of the Senate.

So on Oct. 6, a full month before the General, voters got their first and only look at the two gubernatorial candidates side-by-side for the most pivotal office in the state. Poorly funded, the choice of few for the Democratic nomination, Iwase had the most to gain.

Critics of his performance (including this one) said that he was nervous. He should have been. Television is a brutal medium for those unaccustomed to that red light on top of the television camera, that red light that never blinks. Look stupid or inept, even for a second, and it shows.

And if your stupidity doesn’t show, trust in the Lingle/Lenny Klompus fully-staffed public relations operation to point out your muffs - by e-mail, 11 times while the debate was going on (Linda and Lenny have to be careful here. The sponsor of the forum was the Society of Professional Journalists, and they get awfully perturbed by paid flacks spinning them while an event is in process. In this instance, Lingle’s folks tripped on their own press releases.)

Lingle, on the other hand, appeared - as ever - well-prepared and articulate. But in this instance, perhaps because so much was at stake, she also appeared drugged. If Iwase flailed about at times, Lingle never twitched - and viewers may well have found themselves - as I did - wondering if there was a “there” there.

You can be too slick, too articulate. Ask Al Gore. Or John Kerry. They both ran against a man who’s given grammar and pronunciation as bad a name as any politician since ... well, maybe Andrew Jackson. But folks liked George Bush’s Texas drawl, that homespun smirking humor enough to discount Gore’s and Kerry’s grammatical advantages.

Iwase held his own against Lingle, but no more. And he needed a lot more. To beat the governor, Iwase needs a huge Democratic turn-out on Nov. 7, plus a national Republican melt-down that ripples out to state-houses as far away as Hawaii. Plus some money.

He obviously realizes that, and he made a point of repeatedly reminding the forum’s audience of Lingle’s oft-repeated support for President Bush - in all Bush’s ineptitude.

In the remaining three weeks of the campaign, Lingle’s advertising will fill mail boxes, television screens, the radio waves - wherever time or space can be purchased. There’ll be no more debates; count on it.

So let me talk about another debate.

The same Friday Lingle and Iwase met, I went to Maui to moderate a conversation (as it was billed) between incumbent Mayor Alan Arakawa and challenger Charmaine Tavares. Four years ago, Republican Arakawa upset incumbent Democrat Kimo Apana. This year, he’s in danger of being knocked off himself by fellow Republican Tavares.

The Maui mayoralty is now nonpartisan, and in the primary Tavares outpolled incumbent Arakawa and former Mayor Apana and Councilman Dane Kane, the latter two both Democrats. Many feel that Apana’s and Kane’s supporters are more likely to vote Tavares in the General.

Either way, I envy Mauians on this one. Arakawa has a bantam rooster quality to him; he has a program to address everything, a self-assuredness that can bore, but can also be endearing - particularly if you are an environ-mentalist suspicious of developers. He reminds you of former Mayor Elmer Cravalho.

Tavares reminds you of her father, three-term Maui Mayor Hannibal Tavares. Daughter Charmaine is reasonableness personified. She’ll listen to all - and make an informed decision.

In the Arakawa-Tavares contest, I don’t see how the voter can lose.

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