WASHINGTON — During last week’s U.S. Senate primary debate between former Rep. Ed Case and Rep. Mazie Hirono, Case described “the creation of the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument” as his proudest accomplishment.

But former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle’s campaign says she’s the one to thank for the existence of the historic ocean reserve, and that “Ed Case was simply not involved.”

When Civil Beat asked Case about that claim, he said the Lingle campaign was “either hopelessly confused or spinning like crazy.”

So what exactly is going on here?

First, a closer look at Case’s initial claim:

The accomplishment that I’m most proud of is the creation of the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument. I drafted that bill, I introduced that bill, and I fought for that bill inside of Congress and the administration, a Republican administration by the way.

Case went on to specify that “at the end of the day,” President George W. Bush took the final step to create the marine monument. (Bush signed a presidential proclamation that established the reserve.) But Case emphasized that he “contributed directly” by having the “will and the commitment” to pitch the idea in the first place, and by not giving up.

Lingle’s not buying it. Within minutes on the night of the debate, her Senate campaign issued this statement:

Again tonight, Ed Case took credit for creating Papahanaumokuakea National Monument. His role, if any, was so small and behind the scenes no one knew he was any part of it. In 2006, it was Governor Linda Lingle and her Administration who partnered with community, state, federal, environmental, native Hawaiian groups, and the President of the United States to create one of the world’s largest conservation areas, which became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Ed Case was simply not involved.

Lingle’s team acknowledged that in 2005 Case introduced a proposal, House Resolution 2376, aimed at protecting the Northwest Hawaiian Islands, but pointed out that the measure died in committee in 2005.

Case wanted the reserve to be established legislatively, like Yellowstone National Park was, though he said in an essay that year for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that “whole mindsets must be changed and courses altered” for his vision to be realized.

Now, Case tells Civil Beat that his persistence after his resolution stalled is “a perfect example of how effectiveness in DC can occur in many ways besides the introduction and passage of legislation.”

He also says then-Gov. Lingle declined to support his resolution. “I met personally with her to ask, given her administration’s designation of the state refuge, for her full endorsement and partnership. That never occurred,” he said. No response from the Lingle camp on that claim.

“In this case, it was about knowing how the overall system worked, finding folks who sought the same goals and coverting [sic] others, and working with them toward a successful result,” Case wrote in an email. “Most of the story occurred very much behind the scenes in the executive branch and among various competing interests both in DC and Hawaii who were all jockeying for their own desired outcome in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. To this day many of the folks I worked with do not wish to be identified out of concern for their jobs from politically-connected figures …”

Case says Lingle is conflating the area that became Papahanaumokuakea with a State Marine Refuge area — more than 1,000 square miles of ocean — that her administration designated.

“But, that’s not the PMNM, which is made up primarily of federal waters beyond those state waters,” Case said. “At almost 140,000 square miles, it is far, far larger than the state refuge and encompasses whole ecosystems; there is no comparison between the state refuge and the federal monument.”
 
Case says “Lingle had nothing at all to do with” designation of Papahanaumokuakea. But the Bush administration disagrees.

Civil Beat talked to Jim Connaughton, who chaired the White House Council on Environmental Quality under the Bush Administration. He spoke with us about the issue but then asked that be identified only as a “senior White House official with close knowledge of the process” leading to the Papahanaumokuakea designation.

We said no. He acknowledges that he is a Lingle supporter. And the Council on Environmental Quality was the office responsible for shepherding the plan for a reserve between several federal agencies involved.

In that context, Connaughton says his office had been exploring the possibility of a marine sanctuary in the Pacific since he began his job in the summer of 2001, building off of the Pacific Ocean Preserve that President Bill Clinton established. That was before Case was in Congress, and before Lingle was elected governor. When he met with Lingle soon after she became governor in 2002, Connaughton says she had doubts about the idea. He said ultimately Lingle became supportive of the idea, and met with Connaughton several times — including in Washington, D.C., and for a fly-over of the potential marine reserve sites — over the years leading up the 2006 presidential proclamation that officially designated Papahanaumokuakea.

Connaughton characterizes Lingle’s involvement as having been critical to getting state support, which the White House weighed as a key factor before recommending the marine monument to President Bush. On the flip side, Connaughton said he met with Case only a handful of times, and in meetings initiated by Connaughton. But he also said that Case may well have been working closely with another agency involved in the effort. Case describes lobbying the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Interior, and the White House in his efforts.

In his remarks at a ceremony for the establishment of the reserve, Bush explicitly described having worked “in close consultation with” Lingle, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service transcript. Bush also mentioned Case, but only by thanking him for his attendance.

It’s hard to say who’s right on this one. Checking the record on Papahanaumokuakea isn’t as clear-cut as either suggests.

One take-away for voters: Case and Lingle are actually disagreeing about something they agreed on. It’s also telling that both of them supported the Papahanaumokuakea designation, but that neither wants to give the other any credit.

Yet both are running on platforms of bipartisanship.

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