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Hopeless in Hawaii

Good News: The Aloha state has a Republican running close in the governor's race! Bad News: She might as well be Connie Morella.

11:00 PM, Nov 1, 2002 • By DAVID SKINNER
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CONSERVATIVES have good reasons to dislike Hawaiian politics.

A history of state-sponsored race discrimination is one of them. Until recently, the practice of setting aside public benefits (cash discounts, publicly funded programs, and more) for Hawaiians who could prove 50 percent or more of the blood in their veins came from genuine Hawaiian stock had gone uncontested. Such bennies were funneled through the state's Office of Hawaiian Affairs, whose officials were elected in statewide elections, but only by authentic card-carrying Hawaiians. Fortunately, in February of 2000, the Supreme Court swatted this bogus electoral discrimination aside. And yet, Hawaii's two senators, Dan Inouye and Dan Akaka, are sponsoring a bill that would grant genuine Hawaiians (aka kanaka maoli) a status similar to that of Indian tribes for the purposes of federal benefits. It would also restore the group's special status vis-a-vis the state of Hawaii and its race-dispensation office.

But if Hawaiian Democrats are bad, conservatives have only a few reasons to like Linda Lingle, the state Republican's nominee for governor. (One reason is that her Democratic opponent, Mazie Hirono, is much worse.)

What does the Republican candidate for governor have to say about the Akaka bill? Check her website: "I support native Hawaiians deciding for themselves whether or not they want federal recognition, and will respect their decision." Well, at least she's not a full-throated supporter of state-sponsored racism, like her opponent.

Another big issue in Hawaii these days is education. The numbers of 4th and 8th graders in the state rated proficient or better at math were both in the mid-teens. Reading scores were better by only a couple of points. Well then, school choice must be a big issue in the governor's race? Not at all. The state has only 3,000 students in charter schools. The Center for Education Reform recently gave Hawaii a D for the quality of its charter-school laws. Meanwhile, Lingle pointedly opposes vouchers. The entire education debate in this race revolves around increasing degrees of bureaucratization in the state's unusual one-district system.

Not for nothing has Christine Todd Whitman raised $300,000 for Lingle. The GOP candidate is also pro-choice. At least Lingle is pro-business--but so is her opponent, Hirono, who favors cutting capital gains taxes by fifty percent. (Such drastic measures are a necessity given Hawaii's longstanding economic doldrums.) In fact, Lingle's one major virtue appears to be that she's a Republican leading the governor's race in what was until recently, for all intents, a one-party state. For this she deserves credit, though recent Democratic scandals have helped her. As head of the state GOP, Lingle has increased party membership and helped bring the number of Republicans in the statehouse to an all-time high (which is still pretty low).

The Hawaii governor's race doesn't have many sporting attractions. Both candidates are female, which means Hawaii is about to have its first female governor. And this all-female contest for governor is only the second in our country's history. (Whoopie.) But the candidates are too much alike in their positions to elicit any ideological interest. Certainly Lingle is more likable than her rabidly partisan opponent, who enthusiastically shares in her state's passion for bigoted identity politics and is accused of initiating a whisper campaign accusing Lingle of being a lesbian. But while a Hirono defeat would be worth savoring, a Lingle victory wouldn't exactly be cause for celebration.

David Skinner is an assistant managing editor at The Weekly Standard.