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10.31.08

The Governor's Got No Love For Her State's Most Famous Son

Governor Linda Lingle is not only campaigning against Barack Obama—she's insinuating he's not even from there.

Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle is not only campaigning against Barack Obamashe’s insinuating he’s not even from there.

A few weeks ago, the governor of Hawaii, Linda Lingle, said, "Senator Obama likes to say he's from Hawaii. But, the truth is, I've never met him in my life. He's never called me on the phone. Ninety-five percent of the people in my state had never heard of him before he ran for president.”

At a time when people in Chicago, Boston and Nairobi are claiming Obama as one of their own, this was a willful and even untrue statement. At the moment Gov. Lingle is in Nevada, stumping for the McCain-Palin ticket, three thousand miles from this sun-kissed archipelago and its slumping one-industry economy—tourism down 20 percent this year and headed lower.

But then Gov. Lingle is an odd fish, even by Hawaii standards, which are among the fishiest I have ever come across in a lifetime of peregrination. You would not know much about her from reading the glowing biographical portrait put out by the Office of the Governor, which does not give her birth name, nor her date of birth, nor the name of her high school, nor her several marriages, nor her several divorces, nor (though the Israeli newspaper Haaretz put “Hawaii’s First Jewish Governor” in a screaming headline), her religious affiliation. Indeed she has spent more time junketing in Israel than in many districts of her own state.

Stumping for McCain in Greeley, Colorado recently, Gov. Lingle scoffed at the notion that Obama had any strong links with Hawaii.

She was born Linda Cutter in St Louis, Missouri in 1953. In the mid-sixties she moved to California with her family and went to school there, graduated from Birmingham High School in Lake Balboa, California, then got a journalism degree from Cal State, Northridge. She married Mr. Lingle in 1972. She divorced him in 1975, around the time she left for Hawaii, where her father had relocated, and where her uncle had a car dealership (“Cars Cost less at Cutter! Ten Locations! Thousands of Vehicles!”). At some point she became a Republican. She married Mr. Crockett, lived for a while on the island of Molokai, then divorced Mr. Crockett, but keeping the Lingle name, entered politics. I rehearse these facts with her Mainland dossier because she is casting doubt on Obama’s Hawaii connections and even his integrity. Obama was born here, which makes him a keiki o ka ‘aina—a child of the land, something she is not.

I was introduced to Gov. Lingle at a political event not long after her reelection by a friend who insistently repeated my name. When the governor looked blank, my friend said, “The writer! He writes books!” She said, “I don’t have a lot of free time for reading,” and moved on.

Funnily enough, the first time I met Senator Obama, two years ago in a hamburger joint in my little town on the North Shore of Oahu (the sort of place only a local would know), he showed an intimate acquaintance with my work, and even an appreciation. I was with Pico Iyer. Obama said to Pico, “I love your book on Cuba.” Needless to say, I urged the senator to run for president.

Stumping for McCain in Greeley, Colorado recently, Gov. Lingle scoffed at the notion that Obama had any strong links with Hawaii, claiming that he’d spent only “a few high school years” in Hawaii.

As I say, not only was Obama born in the islands, but the school she dismissed, Punahou, is Hawaii’s finest, the oldest high school west of the Mississippi. And he has described movingly how deeply Hawaii influenced him. Michelle Obama has said, “You can’t understand Barack until you understand Hawaii.”

Our governor not only disagrees, but goes further. “Barack Obama would devastate the economy if he's elected president,” she said, and added, "The Democrats' presidential candidate has zero experience. He's never led any city, never led any state. So our vice-presidential candidate has more experience than their presidential candidate has."

At the Republican Convention this summer, she told Haaretz that she identifies strongly with Sarah Palin. “Governor Palin is a very religious person, and the religious Christians are the greatest supporters of Israel."

Although our valiant long-serving congressman, Neil Abercrombie, has publicly rebutted all her remarks, Obama’s aged grandmother (whom he calls “Toot” for tutu in the Hawaiian way), lies dying in Honolulu.

Our obscure but ambitious governor keeps rubbishing Obama, but I am not as dismayed as Congressman Abercrombie who finds it all “sad.” I take her shrill political opportunism and her distortions of the truth, to be signs of utter desperation, her seeing almost certain defeat next Tuesday.

Paul Theroux is the author of Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar.