Civil Beat sat down with both the Republican and Democratic lieutenant governor candidates to capture their perspective on a range of issues and influences. Each interview lasted about 25 minutes.

We caught up with Republican Lynn Finnegan at Duke Aiona’s campaign headquarters on Nimitz Highway. She talked about her understanding of the lieutenant governor’s job, how gender influences leadership style and how her experience growing up with some government assistance influenced her political views.

Chad Blair: Do you recall when you first knew that you wanted to be in politics — a specific instance, perhaps inspired by a political figure or event?

Lynn Finnegan: Actually not. What had happened was I was asked to run for office. And it hadn’t occurred to me to actually run for elected politics, so I guess the inspiration was from the person who asked me.

Who was that?

And that was Gov. Lingle. At the time, she was the Hawaii Republican Party chair and she had really brought me on board knowing that we needed to, if we wanted our voices to be heard, we had to do not just stand around and complain or say how things were and not liking what was going on in government, but you actually first of all needed to vote. And then you needed to stand up and do more so we just did stuff like started to volunteer and everything and just offered our help in volunteerism.

But, through that we were inspired to start a group called Republicans Empowering All Citizens of Hawaii and that was called REACH. And that REACH group, I guess put us in – my husband and I, Peter and I – into a leadership role within the party and from that standpoint I think is when Gov. Lingle, when she found out that they were trying to recruit for the seat, asking me if I would run.

Much has been said about your relative youth, being that you are in your late 30’s. What have you learned in your short time on this planet that can help you govern the state?

You know, I’ll even narrow that question a little bit more. What have I learned about politics in general in my experience in the last eight years because, if I were to say in my “short life,” my goodness, I wouldn’t know where to focus my answer on. But I’m going to say in politics, and when you’re sitting on one side of the table while other people are testifying, you realize that everyone comes from a certain perspective or understanding and it isn’t necessarily that people are lying to you, they just see a different part or a different truth to the answer or to the situation. And so, it’s not always about one person telling the truth and the other person telling a lie but how everybody comes from their own perspectives.

So, a lot of what I’ve learned in life is just try to see things through with the eyes of understanding. With understanding that it’s about respect when you are in conflict and try to come up with a solution that is as best as possible that will be a win-win all the way around, but rarely do you have a situation where you actually have that. And then at that point in time, you just have to agree to disagree, but respectfully.

It’s a complicated thing.

It’s very complicated, yes.

You and the lieutenant governor — two people of color — are running against two haole. In a state as ethnically and racially diverse as Hawaii, as well as Hawaii’s colonial and plantation past, is this an issue?

Is this still an issue? I think the only way that this becomes an issue is to negate the fact that people think that Republicans are nasty, evil, wicked, white rich people. And then here you have two family, parents in young families, myself in a young family, and LG in an older, college-going family for his kids. But I think in that way, it matters. That it’s actually starting to help people understand that the stereotype of a Republican is not necessarily of that, of years past. And I think it helps us to help people understand that the Hawaii Republican values aren’t the evil, nasty, wicked, you know, white rich people.

And that old plantation ruler kind of mentality.

Yes. I guess that’s a better way of telling it.

Interesting. The LG’s office is near universally described as powerless, especially since it no longer coordinates elections. Mr. Abercrombie yesterday talked about some new duties, should he become governor, for Brian. You guys then released a statement about perhaps expanding your role. What would you do to make that office relevant, kind of like what’s happened with the vice presidency with Al Gore, Dick Cheney and Joe Biden? All very influential people in the cabinet. Can you do that as LG?

Well, I think what you’ve seen in the Lingle-Aiona administration is a role that has already been expanded upon. The lieutenant governor has been a part of the governor’s cabinet and many things that they worked in partnership on, we don’t really know from the outside looking in. But I would say is even more specially, since I won the primary, that in just working with and campaigning with Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, he understands the different things that I bring to the table, and although we probably won’t come up with the areas in which I will (expand) my role… and we haven’t concluded on what that be, I think that this relationship that we’re working on and the ability for us to get along and work with each other and realizing that I have a lot to offer in different areas that I’ll come up with something meaningful for the office of the lieutenant governor.

You expect to be at those meetings, at those cabinet meetings?

At the very least. At the very least. We have talked about that. Lt. Gov. Aiona mention — I think there’s four or five lieutenant governors that have actually stepped up into the governor’s role in recent times.

That’s correct.

And he’s saying that the primary reason for the lieutenant governor, as a sitting lieutenant governor, is that should anything happen to the governor that your lieutenant governor can step in without any hesitation, and that hasn’t been the case in all these other situations across the nation. Well, with this lieutenant governor, he understands that the lieutenant governor’s role at any time is to be able to take, if should happen to the governor, is to take over and become the first in command. So, he’s explained, we’ve sat down enough to help me understand that everything, all the decisions that are going to be made during this time in the Aiona administration I would be a part of the decision-making cabinet and informed of what’s going on in the government.

It will be the Aiona-Finnegan administration.

Absolutely. Absolutely. But I just wanted to make it clear that ultimately that Duke is — would be the governor. So, that would be the…I see it that way and the people of Hawaii really do elect the governor first and foremost.

Top of the ticket.


What’s the most difficult political issue you have worked on, and how did you tackle it?

Let me see…the most difficult issue…I think that whenever it comes down to the decision, a lot of the social decisions for me. You know social policy decisions have been the harder for me.

Like civil unions?

Civil unions, death with dignity or physician-assisted suicide have been the harder ones for me to deal with personally. More so, because of the standpoint…when people look at you and you say that you are against civil unions or against physician-assisted suicides…that it is more you’re being judgmental. You know, it’s not compassionate, and that’s far from the reason why I believe I make my decision on these roles. So those have been the more difficult issues.

I mean, you’ve been attacked, essentially.


And people accusing you of making your decision based this when in fact you’ve looked at other factors to come to your determination.

Absolutely. Absolutely. And for whatever reasons — and I do research on both sides — it’s not an emotional decision that I believe that I’m making…on these types of issues. And I guess it would go through, like not funding something. You know, if there’s an issue that has to do with education that you’re not funding.

Cutting money for programs?

Cutting money for a program. Those types of things that would be considered not compassionate, when my whole reason is because I feel very strongly about some principles that I think are very important to running government and running the state of Hawaii.

Perhaps you’re being interpreted as “Oh, you’re being heartless about cutting the programs.”

Correct. Or misconstruing what you’re all about.

You grew up in Kuhio Park Terrace and Waianae. What was that like?

Well, actually we left it around, I was three or four years ago when we left Kuhio Park Terrace and I grew up the rest of the time in Waianae.

How did that form you?

How did that form me? I think that’s what made me a Republican.


Yeah, especially because here I am. I speak about how in a generation from my father being raised to me being raised that we actually went from the dirt streets of the Philippines to me now owning a home in Aiea with my family. And that is like an opportunity and basically embodies the whole opportunity that America allows.

The American dream?

Yeah, the American dream type of thing. Secondly, being raised in Waianae and watching my parents work so hard. My dad worked two and three jobs seven days a week. My mom had a very labor (intensive) job. She worked in the charcoal farm.


Yeah. Charcoal farm with briquets and twenty pounds…

I didn’t know we had any charcoal farms.

Yeah, that’s right, in Waianae. So like 25-pound bags of charcoal she would lug over her shoulder. You know, just very strenuous work. So when you look at that and you realize all that hard work and that pride in that hard work and the ability to raise your family in a home, on top of that you have people around you that take advantage of the system or are enabled by a government handout system. That there’s no accountability. And you see things happening like that. Those people who you want to help, but they’re actually taking advantage of the system. They have better food than you do. They have better clothes than you do. And it’s not a jealousy but it’s a fairness issue. At the same time that we’re paying taxes that we’re also trying to struggle and make to the next level of comfort.

So this is forming your political views at a very early age even if you didn’t know it was politics at the time?

Yes. I definitely didn’t know, and still coming from someone that has received government assistance to know that it’s still needed for the most part. But there is a responsibility and an obligation and accountability when you are a part of that system to hopefully not continue but owe it to be self-sufficient eventually.

You are the only female in this particular governor-LG race. There’s been one female governor, a few female LG’s. How does your gender influence who you are and the stands you take? Can you point an example, maybe some legislation you were facing or as you are campaigning now and hearing from folks?

I guess I would answer that question first of all as saying that a woman brings a different kind of leadership style I think more so. A leadership style that is more about bringing people together, you know? I can’t say this about all women leaders of course or issues or anything. It can’t just be a line put down the middle, but, I would say that in my leadership as a woman that I do bring that collaborative leadership style. And then there’s always, at least from my point of view as a mom, there’s a whole another understanding as to really wanting to see things happen for future generations.

And then if you were to talk about, say…I’m trying to think of it…other than leadership style. I guess one of the things that I would use as an example for me, you would think that even though I understand that there are still some inequities having to do with the differences between men and women, I’m just a real firm believer of merit. And so personally I don’t necessarily like the types of legislation or policies having to do with affirmative action. So it’s kind of opposite of I think where a lot women come into play.

And a female minority as well.

Female minority. And I understand, and don’t get me wrong, I understand how affirmative action and other programs like that have actually advanced, whether it be a minority or women, to have a greater role in society. It’s just that in the same breath it almost seems like that same — my principles and values — it almost seems like that same discrimination is being used when you have something like affirmative action. So, it just doesn’t sit right with me even though I see how it’s benefited.

Just a couple more. I know you’ve got a busy day. You and your husband, I understand, considered home-schooling your two children. Can you tell me more about that?

Of course time with your children is always important and that was one way we were considering going to a private, and we were weighing the option of well, what if I didn’t work and I home-schooled her? So that was an option. The main reason is when she was in kindergarten and we had her in preschool, that was already a pretty big dollar for us to spend. But at the same time we were looking at, okay, well what about her future in education. Are we going to…am I going to go back to work, work harder, have my husband work his two jobs or whatever so she could go to a good private school. And, we didn’t feel…that was kind of counterproductive because we wanted to spend, we wanted to raise our children and spend more time with them. And that would take us away from that.

So it was financial in part? It was in part wanting to spend time with them. It wasn’t anything to do with curriculum, was it, or a concern about what they would or would not learn in a public school?

You know, I’ve always been for parental rights in public schools and I think there are some things that are being taught in the public schools that I don’t necessarily agree with. But I’m not overly protective of my kids either. I mean, I think that they should be exposed to the different kinds of things that are going out there, so I’m not overly protective of them. The home-schooling option was mainly because of the time spent with them, with my children. About wanting to influence their learning but also because we wanted a quality education and we wanted to be able to ensure that she would get a quality education.

Was there an issue you pushed or a vote you took where today you look back and say, I wish I had done things differently?

I’m sure there is.

I know you voted on a lot of things.

Ha-ha! Yeah.

Hard to keep track.

I’m sure there is. I’m trying to think of…I’m trying to think of one but it’s not popping into my head right now as an obvious choice. The big ones…the larger issues…

There’s not one that every morning you wake up and go, “Ugh.”

Voted another way? No.

That’s alright. What’s something voters don’t know about you that may tell us more about you? Weren’t you an entertainer at one time? I don’t think that’s out there a lot.

(Laughs.) Really? Well, it’s one of those things…it’s kind of funny because when you talk to people, I never wanted that to be on my resume.

I looked for it.

Ha-ha. My office manager was just like, “You know, that’s kind of fun. You should leave it on there.”

Society of Seven, was it?

Ha-ha! I wish I was that good. No, no, no. I’m happy that you said Society of Seven. Well, let me just put it this way: I, going to college I had about, at UH and going to college and working a job and at the time my job was at the Al Harrington show. So I grew up, when I grew up I was a very shy, shy person when I was young. And so my mom had me join hula. And so that’s where I learned to dance hula. Then later on my mom gave me some singing lessons and so I learned how to sing and got into choir and all this other kind of stuff. So, when I graduated from high school and was going to school, was going to college, decided to find a job that fit. My aunt told me about this job that was hiring. So I’ve been in a few bands. I’ve done that road of singing and being a Polynesian-slash-jazz dancer. So, that’s kind of the fun part of life and I think I didn’t do so bad.

I did my work as a journalist digging that one up. Two more questions and then we’re pau. In your years in the Legislature, can you name a couple of ideas proposed by Democrats you liked, and why?

Okay. Okay. We’ll have to think about the last eight years, but first and foremost I would say I’m a strong proponent of charter schools, but that issue was passed first by the Democrat party. Okay, so it started off as a Democrat idea, here at least in Hawaii. I think it’s been a long-time known Republican issue.


But here it was introduced and passed by Democrats. And I would say, “Yeah! I really like that idea.” So…let me see…let me see…let me see…

That’s funny, Brian mentioned the same one.


And he saw it as a Republican issue. That’s interesting. You both agreed on that. Anything else spring to mind?

I’m sure there are…it’s just…

It’s hard to remember.


Here’s my last one: If you and Mr. Aiona are elected, how will you work with what will almost certainly remain a Democrat-controlled Legislature?

I think having the possibility of two Republican governors in a row will make a difference. It’ll…I think help people to understand that it wasn’t a fluke — you know that Republicans can have good ideas and maybe they’ll be more apt to work with Republicans in pushing legislation forward. That’s one. Number two, my personality already as it is is never to take anything personal. And when you do that and when you realize that, you know I would say 95, 98 percent of the people who run for public office really do mean to do well. And being that I’m a person who is in their predicament of running for office and I know why I’m running for office. It hopefully rings true, and that is a true statement that the majority, the vast majority of people who run for office mean to do it well and help.

So when you have that kind of attitude towards people and you realize that no matter how different you may be, no matter how much conflict there may be, that people are willing to come to the table and discuss this even though you are on different sides. My hope is that Democrats and Republicans would realize this core wanting to well should not interfere when you do have things in common.

And if a Republican gets elected again it shows the Democrats, you know, you can’t just wait this one out, guys, like you did the last time.


They’re here. They’re good people too.


And work with them.

Yes. And I’m a person that respects people and I will stand up to people. There’s no doubt about it. I won’t let them…if I disagree I will say it and I will engage in conflict. I will — I’m not afraid of conflict. I don’t think conflict is bad. I think conflict can really bring about some good solutions. But there is a fine line of showing respect towards one another. They’re not getting personal. And understanding that we are doing this for the better good and for the people of Hawaii.

Because it seemed like that fine line sometimes was crossed.

Oh yes. Yes. Definitely.

A final point that you would like to make, and then we’re pau.

I think regarding this year’s election that there is quite the difference in the two sides of the gubernatorial candidates and so the reason why I ran for lieutenant governor is because I really believe in our gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona for governor. I believe that he’s a man of integrity. I believe he’s a man that will make the tough decisions and that he has a very realistic approach as to what we can do in this time period to improve our government, and he’s willing to sacrifice that time and effort and energy to do it. And so my reason for running is to be able to create that team to help him achieve this vision that he has for Hawaii.

Had he not been in the running you might not have run?

Definitely. If I wasn’t moved to say I’m going to help him in every way that I can, then maybe I would have stayed in the House or maybe I wouldn’t have run again. Or maybe, it all depends. I can’t go back and say what I would have done.


But it really is about that inner passion and that desire to want to do well for the people of Hawaii. And this was definitely a road I could see where I could help.

Thank you for your time.

Thank you.

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