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Jewish Republican Makes Bid to Become Hawaii’s Next Governor

April 26, 2002
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If you visit Israel, you may happen across some trees there that Linda Lingle helped plant.

When she was a young girl in a St. Louis Sunday school, Lingle gave a dime every week to plant trees. She still remembers how that experience taught her about a safe haven where Jews could go.

“I thought ‘We have to help them,’ ” Lingle said.

Now, as the first Jewish Republican woman running for governor of Hawaii, Lingle likes to tell the story from her childhood, because it not only explains her Jewish background but her understanding of the need to help people.

Lingle finds herself attracting national attention as Jewish, Republican and women’s groups all lend their support for her attempt to “make life better for all the people of Hawaii.”

Lingle may have some hurdles to overcome: There are only an estimated 10,000 Jews in Hawaii out of a total population of more than 1.2 million people. Moreover, Hawaii’s Jewish community, like the general population, tends to vote Democratic.

Just the same, when voters go to the polls this November, Lingle hopes to become Hawaii’s first Republican governor in 40 years.

Running as a moderate Republican who is pro-choice and against prayer in schools, Lingle thinks she will relate well to the Jewish community and to a lot of Democrats.

“I can’t think of anything we’d be differing on,” she told JTA.

Sitting back for a moment in the Washington Hilton as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference was in full swing this week, Lingle munched on a grilled cheese sandwich and mused about her Jewish support around the country.

At the conference, she met a number of people who introduced her around and gave her advice. On a previous trip to New York, AIPAC and Chabad helped her campaign.

“My race has sort of been adopted,” she said. “There is pride in having me as a Jewish candidate.”

Lingle’s says her Jewish heritage has helped her political career in Hawaii because it has given her a better understanding of diversity, which in turn helps her connect with citizens of different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

Growing up in Missouri and California, Lingle’s friends were all Jewish. It was only when she went to college that she took a course on world religions and learned about other beliefs.

Lingle, 49, is a member of a Jewish congregation on the island of Maui and attends Lubavitch services in Honolulu on Oahu.

There also are a Reform synagogue and a Conservative synagogue in Honolulu, and Lingle says she gets support from all the congregations.

Lingle, who narrowly lost the gubernatorial race in 1998, is thought to have a good chance of winning.

As chairman of the Hawaii Republican Party, she wants to use her connection to the national party to help Hawaii feel less politically isolated.

Along with such hot-button issues as education and the economy, Lingle knows homeland security and the war on terrorism loom big for Hawaiian voters because there are many military installations in Hawaii, and a large part of the population works for the military.

She believes that Hawaiians have sympathy for Israel’s war against Arab terror because of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

American support for Israel is very important as Israel fights for its survival, she added.

Lingle wants the United States to provide enough military aid to Israel to “ensure that it is superior to any possible combination of enemies,” and says that Jerusalem should be Israel’s capital.

“I believe the essential goal of U.S. policy in the Middle East should be the preservation of a strong, safe and secure Israel,” she said.

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