Cal State Northridge journalism alumna Linda Lingle has been elected the first female governor of Hawaii and the heavily Democratic state's first Republican chief executive in 40 years, giving the university in the process its first alumni state governor.
Overcoming a narrow loss four years ago to now former Gov. Ben Cayetano, Lingle rebounded in this year's November 5 election by defeating Democrat Mazie Hirono, the state's outgoing lieutenant governor, by a 52 to 48 percent margin.
"Gov. Lingle's election and inauguration have been a tremendous source of pride for our alumni," said Gray Mounger, CSUN's assistant vice president of alumni relations. "Alumni see her success as further affirmation of the caliber of their own education."
Lingle, 49, was sworn into office Monday, December 2 with her running mate, new Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, a former family court judge, amid festivities that included a parade and a concert on the lawn of the Iolani Palace. A public inaugural party was held December 3.
Cynthia Rawitch‹the former Northridge Journalism Department chair who now is associate dean of the College of Arts, Media, and Communication‹noted that CSUN, founded in 1958, is a relatively young university. "The early alumni are just now rising to the tops of their chosen professions," Rawitch said.
"We are extremely proud of Linda," Rawitch added. "And she is so proud of her degree from Northridge. I've never seen anything written about her where she doesn't compliment her education and the skills she learned at CSUN."
"It [CSUN] was a terrific school that gave me a really top-notch education," Lingle, who also worked as a student staff member on the university's Daily Sundial student newspaper, recently told the Los Angeles Daily News.
Lawrence Schneider, Lingle's former journalism professor who has stayed in contact with her since her 1975 graduation, said the new governor showed strong leadership qualities as a student. "I'm not surprised by her success," he said. "She was one of the hardest working and best students we had."
Lingle's election is the latest in a long list of "firsts" and other major accomplishments. After graduating from CSUN, Lingle followed her father to Hawaii, where she founded the island of Molokai's only newspaper, the Molokai Free Press. At that time, she said, Molokai had only 6,000 residents. She was the newspaper's publisher, reporter, editor, photographer, ad sales representative and its typesetter.
In 1980, Lingle was elected to the Maui County Council. (Molokai is part of Maui County.) She served five two-year terms on the council and lists the creation of a Molokai Planning Commission and giving people a chance to discuss zoning and planning issues with their local elected officials as her major accomplishments.
In 1990, Lingle was elected mayor of Maui County, becoming the first woman, the first non-Maui-born person and the youngest person ever elected to that office.
From then on, Lingle advanced rapidly as a leader in Hawaii state politics, serving as chair of the state Republican Party and, now, as the state's governor. A moderate Republican, Lingle believes she captured many Democratic votes because, among other things, she is pro-choice on abortion, favors domestic partnerships and opposes prayer in schools.
She also advocates ending the general excise tax on food and medical expenses, decentralizing the state's public education system to allow for local school boards, and cutting taxes to spur economic and job growth.
"I represent a new breed of people, young people, people who can excel somewhere else if they want to, but are committed to Hawaii," Lingle told the Pacific Business News.
In 1998, Lingle lost by a mere 1 percent to Democrat Cayetano, who retired as governor last month. After that, Lingle was named the most respected woman in Hawaii in a poll commissioned by one of the state's leading magazines.
"It was an interesting segue from journalism to politics," Schneider said. "At CSUN, she was totally committed to journalism. Her plan then was to get a master's degree. I think her journalism experience made her realize she could do well in whatever field she chose."
Lingle has said that reporting on community events and local government sparked her interest in running for political office, because she felt she could make more of a difference as a politician than as a journalist.
Lingle was born in St. Louis in 1953. When she was 12, her family moved to the San Fernando Valley, where she graduated from Birmingham High School. Twice married and twice divorced, Lingle has no children but volunteers with a number of youth organizations, including the Girl Scouts and YWCA and as a reading tutor at a Maui elementary school.
She also has two adopted cats, Snooze and Naniloa, the latter a kitten she rescued in the parking lot of a Hilo hotel after a high-end fundraising dinner.
Until Lingle's election as Hawaii's governor, Mike Curb, chairman of Curb Records, had been the highest-ranking CSUN alumnus to serve in state government, having been California's lieutenant governor from 1979 to 1983.
"It is my hope that our future alumni look at Gov. Lingle, a former Sundial staff member, as an endorsement of the importance of becoming involved in campus activities and embracing the total college experience," Mounger said.
@csun | December 9, 2002 issue
Public Relations | University Advancement
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