VIDEO: Lingle Wants to Be America’s Point Person for Tourism

October 17, 2011, 9:45 PM HST · Updated October 18, 11:05 PM
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By Wendy Osher

Former governor Linda Lingle said she wants to become America’s point person for tourism, if elected to the US Senate in 2012–that’s one of the issues that surfaced during her speaking engagement on Monday (October 17) with the Maui Chamber of Commerce.

“There is no one in Washington who speaks for this industry–they’re not educated on this industry, they don’t understand the current impacts of the visa problem with people trying to come from China to visit us in America–and I want to be the go-to person,” said Lingle.

When elected as mayor of Maui, Lingle said, the Maui Visitors Bureau had a budget of $300,000 a year for the promotion of tourism. “When we left,” said Lingle, “we spent $3.3 million–10 times more than when we came into office–because we understood Maui had to be positioned clearly on its own, separate from the state of Hawai’i, in order to keep people working. I think we had some good success.”

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Lingle said tourism is not only important to Maui, but is a huge industry in America, generating nearly 10% of Gross Domestic Product and employing an estimated 14 million Americans. “Yet,” she said, “if I asked you who’s the point person in America for tourism–nobody knows who that is.”

“The US Chamber of Commerce has estimated, if we can just get back to the 2000 level of tourism in America, we would immediately employ 1.3 million more people in the country,” she said.

By working on getting tourism levels back to where they were 11 years ago, Lingle said, “You don’t have to build anything new–it’s already there.”

Maui Chamber of Commerce President Pamela Tumpap (left) speaks with former governor Linda Lingle at a Chamber event that drew an estimated 150 attendees. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Besides tourism, Lingle said the most important focus for her will be on the economy and jobs.

To ensure the protection of existing jobs, Lingle suggested that government agencies be required to produce an independent jobs impact statement. “My idea is, force them to tell us in advance how many jobs would be lost in the community if a new rule or regulation went into effect,” said Lingle.

Lingle cited Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company (HC&S) as an example, saying she had issues while in office with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over the HC&S smokestack. “While the environmental focus of the EPA has value,” Lingle said, the American citizen should be able to judge if a new rule being proposed is worth putting 800 HC&S families out of work.

In a separate run-in with the EPA, cruise lines in Hawai’i expressed concerns over a proposed rule that would have required them to burn a specific kind of fuel while sitting in port. “The trouble is, Hawai’i doesn’t produce that kind of fuel, so there was no way we could meet the requirement,” said Lingle.

Linda Lingle at a speaking engagement before the Maui Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Wendy Osher.

“Basically, what that rule would have done is shut down the cruise industry in our state,” said Lingle, who was governor at the time. The state, ultimately, was able to carve out an exemption.

“We need to not allow the federal agencies to have free reign when it comes to passing new regulations on businesses and on the professions,” Lingle said.

Another way of protecting businesses, Lingle said, is through lawsuit reform at the federal level.

“We’re the only industrialized country that has what’s known as the American Rule,” said Lingle, in which, “any person can go file a lawsuit on any company, or any other individual, and if they lose, there’s no downside, there’s no penalty.”

Governor Linda Lingle speaks before a crowd of about 150 people at a luncheon hosted by the Maui Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Wendy Osher.

Lingle said that many times, the lawsuits are stalling actions. “There has to be some downside risk to a person using the court system to advance ideology rather than truly redress an injustice that was done,” she said.

In terms of the economy, Lingle said she would go to Washington with a seriousness of purpose, with specific ideas on how to grow the economy, create jobs and get things back on track for America.

She said the nation needs to get its act together in terms of budget, the annual deficit, and national debt, and pointed to experience on Maui in establishing sound fiscal policies.

Lingle said the debt taken on in the county government was used towards projects that have a lifespan of at least 20-30 years, and matched the term of the debt. “We would go out and sell bonds, but we would build a Kihei Aquatics Center, or we’d build Keopuolani Park, or we’d fix the roads to Hana, or we’d go on the back side of Kaupo and level those roads and make them smoother—that was money we borrowed for real projects.”

She called the national debt a “dangerous kind of debt” because she said it is being used to pay for things that we’ve already spent money on and to pay off operations of the government that occur every year.

Lingle said the way to be protected is to have someone on both sides to ensure that Hawai’i gets its fair share of federal support.

“I always ran on the prospect of ‘everybody knows I’m a Republican’—I don’t hide it,” said Lingle, but she said, “I have never put my party or anything else ahead of the people who elected me, and that would be the same going forward.”

So far, other key names in the race for the 2012 Senate seat are Rep. Mazie Hirono (D) who announced her US Senate bid in May, former congressman Ed Case (D) who opened his Maui headquarters in August, and former state lawmaker John Carroll (R).

 

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