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The Honolulu Advertiser

By Lee Cataluna

Posted on: Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Spark in Lingle's speech returns

 • Lingle calls for tax incentives to boost Hawaii construction, hiring

In her last State of the State speech Gov. Linda Lingle circled back to the beginning, her own beginning as governor when her speeches crackled with purpose and promise before she got weather-beaten by the job.

Yesterday's speech was Lingle running with fresh legs, talking about reaffirmation and rededication for the state of Hawai'i, but sounding like she had reaffirmed and rededicated some things for herself. For the last few years, she's seemed at times off-track, petty and weary, which may not have been so noticeable if she weren't such an effective public speaker who had set high expectations for dynamic performances.

But this time was almost like the first time, when emotion welled in her throat and she got so caught up talking about ideas it didn't seem like she was reading from a script.

The emotional hot point was when Lingle talked about the state school system. "I ask everyone to be as concerned about the quality of education as they have become about the mere quantity of education," Lingle said, referring to the controversial school furloughs. "The time has come to focus not only on the number of days children are in class, but on what they are learning during those days. The time has come for high school diplomas to mean that a student has the skills to be career or college ready rather than being a piece of paper signifying they sat in a class a set number of years."

For someone who has banged her head against the public school bureaucracy for seven years, it's amazing she still could summon those fighting words.

In speaking of her proposal to make the superintendent of schools a Cabinet-level position appointed by the governor, there was an electric moment when Lingle echoed the most memorable line from the great speech by former Superintendent of Schools Pat Hamamoto. "It is time for Hawai'i to make the governor accountable for public education," she said. Of course, she wasn't talking about herself because under her plan, the responsibility would fall to her successor, but still, Lingle made the moment her own.

There was also a small moment caught on television that seemed like a glimpse behind the curtain. When Lingle recognized budget director Georgina Kawamura for her years of service at Lingle's side, an unidentified hand reached out to pat Kawamura's back as if in sympathy or to comfort her, a brief acknowledgement of what it has been like for Team Lingle.

Busting out Dave Shoji as the big emotional climax of the speech wasn't even necessary, though it was a smooth move. Shoji represents a kind of clean, uncompromised success story, the likes of which are difficult to come by.

Lingle won't have a Shoji-esque legacy, but in her final State of the State, she came out with her game face on.