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Lingle interview from Washington, D.C.


The following is the transcript of a call-in interview with Gov. Linda Lingle on KSSK radio Monday, Feb. 22. Lingle is in Washington, D.C. participating in the National Governors Association’s annual winter meeting.

Monday morning, Lingle and her fellow governors met with President Obama and his cabinet at the White House. Over the last three days the governor has also met with various federal officials and Obama Administration senior leadership to discuss matters of critical importance to Hawaii residents.

How was it meeting with the [President]?

It was a very good meeting. [We had] wide-ranging discussion on issues that governors all have in common. Which are really – number one was jobs and the economy. We also talked about education, as well as healthcare issues. It was a real good discussion.

Initially, the President had planned to televise it live and I think he made a good decision by letting the press only stay in the beginning and then asking them to go so there could be a more open and well-rounded discussion and I think it was.

What does it mean, open and well-rounded? What was it that got well-rounded that we wouldn’t have liked?

It means, that it allowed the Democrat governors, especially, to be maybe more open in their comments, rather than having to worry that they would be seen as criticizing the President, who leads their party. And I think it would be true if it was the Republicans. I think that kind of discussion needs to be as open as possible – open in a sense people feel their words aren’t going to be reported when they walk out. It was all of the issues that you would expect to be discussed.

I’ve been up here now a couple of days and had a chance to meet with several of the Cabinet secretaries on issues of importance to Hawaii and I had three specific things I wanted to achieve up here.

One of them was to get an official designation from the Department of Homeland Security for the APEC Leaders Conference in 2011. As you know, we have been the successful bidder for this conference. There will be 20 heads of state in our State of Hawai‘i at the same time. We’ve never had something like that, and to get this national – it’s called a National [Special Security] Event designation – that gives us a lot of resources so that our Honolulu Police Department can be reimbursed for the overtime and that sort of thing. And the Secret Service becomes involved to help us and that meeting went really well with Homeland Security yesterday.

I’m confident we’re going to get that designation and even though I’ll be out of office before that occurs, I felt obligated to make certain that we get the designation so we don’t face a fiscal problem later on.

The second thing I wanted to do was talk with the Department of Transportation about the rail issue. I met with Secretary LaHood as well as the head of the Federal Transit Administration, Peter Rogoff.

I basically looked Secretary LaHood in the eye and I told him that I wanted him to understand there are no politics involved from my side of this and my concern is that the people of Hawai‘i are not stuck with something that they can’t afford in the long-term.

I let him know that we would be doing an independent financial analysis whenever the City turns in their final financial plan and I suggested to him that we compare their financial plan analysis with our independent analysis. I think they saw the positive aspects of that because I said it does no good later on if we do an analysis and you do one – and then we have these dueling analyses. At least, let’s make certain that we know in advance what the numbers are so we’re talking from the same set of numbers. I think that message got through.

You’re actually pro-rail. You’re just worried about the cost, right?

Well, I’m certainly pro-transit. I think a rail system in some configuration would be good for us; but I want to make certain we can afford it over the long-term.

I wanted to be able to look him in the eye and say, “Look, this is not politics. This is the most expensive transit project in the history of America. Per-capita there is no system that has cost this much in such a small population base as Hawaii and people need to realize that.

When I said that to him, he did not respond back or challenge that fact; and it is a fact.

Have they signed off on the City’s financial plan?

No they have not. No. They’re doing an analysis right now. That’s still a ways away.

What was your third – you went up there for three things?

The third was terrific. I met up with the Health and Human Services, which is also headed by another former governor, Kathleen Sebelius. We have a really innovative program that they’re excited about – it’s called Premium Plus.

This would allow any employer to hire someone new, and as you know they would be required to pay their health care insurance, which is a big cost and a big reason why people aren’t hiring right now. And we’re saying, starting May 1 of this year, for the next year – until May 1 of 2011 – if you hire a new person, we will pay your health insurance costs for that employee for a year. The State will pay half and I want the Feds to pay half and I believe they’re going to agree to do that.

The problem is not whether they – they love our plan; they think it’s very innovative. It reduces our unemployment insurance costs, it puts people back to work, it gives people health insurance – what they’re worried about is can they process this by May 1?

So during the questioning period with the President this morning, I told him my only question is, “Can we get the bureaucracy of the federal government to move fast enough to allow us to put these innovative ideas into play?”

And the President said…

So he called on Secretary Sebelius to respond to me and she said she’s going to do everything she can to get it done by May 1. So that was very good for Hawaii.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Yeah, I’ve had a really successful time up here. I appreciate the chance to talk to the people.

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