Sounding more and more like a candidate for the U.S. Senate, former Gov. Linda Lingle said Friday that the partisan impasse over raising the national debt ceiling is edging her closer to running.

“What we have watched over the past couple of months has encouraged me to look even closer to the race,” Lingle said at a Grassroot Hawaii forum at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii in Moiiliili.

Lingle said she expected Democrats and Republicans to reach a solution over the next few days, but she also expressed worry that Washington would then return to business as usual.

“I am worried about the country,” she said.

Honoring Milton Friedman

Lingle was the featured speaker for an event celebrating the 99th birthday of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman, who is remembered for his advocacy of free market choices

Those in attendance included Sen. Sam Slom and state House Rep. Gene Ward, the Republican leaders in the Hawaii Legislature. Ed Case, who is running in the Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate, was also there.

Lingle’s direct comments on a Senate run came during a question period afterwards.

She reiterated that she is still thinking “very seriously” about a run, saying, “I am more enthusiastic about it when I see the terrible situation going on in Washington. Bringing common sense to Washington is important.”

While agreeing that the deficit and debt are important issues — and that tax reform and cutting government spending are needed — she said all the attention by politicians and media on those issues has kept focus off growing the economy.

She ticked off other important issues, like establishing “a rational immigration system” that doesn’t send foreigners back home after they have finished receiving a U.S. education. Tort reform and “a coherent” energy policy are also needed.

Bipartisanship Stressed

During her talk — ostensibly on school choice — Lingle dropped the names of a number of U.S. senators whom she praised for their bipartisan approach.

She said she had met with many of them during a recent trip to Washington, and she came away persuaded that a background as a governor is great preparation for a senator.

“Governors, regardless of their party, agree that governors bring a particularly different approach to the Senate than those just from the legislative side,” she said. “They are less ideological, more practical, more agenda-driven to put forth something that they want to achieve.”

That was a clear jab at Case, the former congressman, and U.S. Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa — one of whom would likely face Lingle in a Senate general election.

Lingle said that good ideas should be considered regardless of whether they came from, say, the Libertarian Grassroot Institute or the Democrat-infused Hawaii State Teachers Union.

(Lingle took several swipes at the HSTA and suggested that its membership may one day elect to dissolve union representation.)

She also said she and President Barack Obama share similar views on education — specifically, support for charter schools, for merit pay and for closing failings schools. Obama, of course, is still highly popular in the state of his birth.

As well, Lingle said she was “really concerned” about Race to the Top grant money for Hawaii given the stalemate over the HSTA contract. Nationally, she wants a “Sputnik moment” to inspire students to achieve.

What’s next?

The Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s political reporters tweeted Friday afternoon that Lingle will delay a decision on the Senate until fall, and not decide in August as she had earlier said.

But, for now, Lingle appears very much to have her eye on the nation’s capital.

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