KONA, Hawaii--In 1959 the Dow reached 679, Fidel Castro captured Havana, Marshall Matt Dillon was in Dodge City, on television's ``Gunsmoke,'' and Hawaii, then in just its first year of statehood, did something it has not done since: it elected a Republican governor. If Linda Lingle holds her double-digit lead, the Republicans' years in the wilderness will end this year.
Her lead may be misleading. She is well-known--a former mayor of Maui, in 1998 she lost the governorship by just 1 percent (5,254 votes)--and Hawaii has the nation's latest primary, so Democrats will not know their nominee until Sept. 21.
But--predictably, after four decades of dominance--Democrats have a remarkable record of recent scandals. And Lingle is experienced, well-funded and in possession of the R-bomb--Rudy Giuliani is going to come to campaign for her.
The past permeates the politics of this place. Why is Hawaii the state with the highest rate of private school enrollment of primary and secondary school students? Because of the legacy of the missionaries who were here before the United States annexed these islands in 1898.
Between 1935 and 1958, 20 congressional hearings on Hawaiian statehood were necessary to overcome opposition, much of it from Southern Democrats opposed to admission of a state with a nonwhite majority--and probably two Senate votes for civil rights legislation. Republican business interests backed statehood. So why has the Republican Party--only two Republicans have served in Hawaii's congressional delegation since 1959--been in eclipse for two generations?
Because of the lingering ``plantation effect.'' And because of the echo of the Army's 442nd Regimental Combat Team.
The islands were long dominated by, it is not too much to say, a semi-feudalism of the big sugar and pineapple plantations, which treated native Hawaiians poorly, and were allied with Republicans. And when the ``Go for Broke'' 442nd, formed of Japanese-Americans from Hawaii and the mainland, returned from the European theater in 1945 as the most decorated unit for its size and length of service in U.S. military history, many of its veterans went into politics as Democrats.
One of them, Daniel Inouye, wanted to be a surgeon until he won 15 medals and citations but lost an arm in battle. Recuperating in a Michigan hospital, he asked a fellow patient, a Kansan with a shattered arm, what he intended to do. Bob Dole said he was going to law school and then, he hoped, to Congress. Inouye and Dole arrived on Capitol Hill in 1959.
Inouye, now in his seventh Senate term and fourth in seniority (behind Thurmond, Byrd and Kennedy), is ranking majority member on the Appropriations Committee. Which is an important reason why, to cite just one example of the state's investment in politics and Democrats, the University of Hawaii, which has a budget of about $1 billion, gets $74.5 million from tuition and fees, $436 million from the state and most of the remainder from Washington.
Hawaii's governor is an American Caesar. The governor and lieutenant governor are the only two officials elected statewide. The governor appoints the attorney general, every judge and everyone else in charge of what matters, from agriculture to insurance. So as governor, Lingle might be able to build her party.
Today there are only 20 Republicans among the 51 members of the state House of Representatives, and only three among the 25 state senators. It would be difficult for George W. Bush to climb from his 37 percent here in 2000 to a majority. But wielding the vast discretion of governor, Lingle might help Republicans have a fighting chance for Hawaii's two U.S. Senate seats if Inouye, who is 77, decides not to run in 2004, or if Daniel Akaka, also 77, retires in 2006.
Lingle, 49, was born in St. Louis and after college in California she came to Honolulu, where she had relatives in the automobile business. One of her political problems is the social climate that attracts people like her.
In a Sherlock Holmes story, the crucial clue is the dog that didn't bark. One of the cultural indices of Hawaii is the car horns that do not honk. What's the hurry--you're in paradise?
Tranquility can be a problem for a politician trying to foment an insurrection. ``You get up every day,'' Lingle says, ``and no matter how bad things are, it's a beautiful day. And the worst of Hawaii is so much better than where they came from. Politicians take advantage of people's good nature.'' Which is, perhaps, the flaw in paradise.