UPDATED 8/9/11 10:30 a.m.

An international women’s conference founded by Linda Lingle during her first year as governor is continuing even though she is now no longer office.

But the conference, which marks its eighth annual meeting next month in Waikiki, it still very much about Lingle.

Not only is she a featured speaker, but conference organizers include former Lingle staff members and political supporters.

And, while the conference purports to have no political ideology — as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, it is prohibited from engaging in political activity — speakers at past conferences have included prominent Republicans.

The conference also comes as Lingle — the first female mayor of Maui and first female governor of Hawaii — sets her sites on becoming the first female to represent the islands in the U.S. Senate.

Women as Role Models

Lingle launched the conference to network and exchange ideas between female leaders, and to showcase role models — especially for Hawaii youth.

In the conference’s first event, held in 2004 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, more than 200 women and students from St. Andrew’s Priory, Sacred Hearts Academy and La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls were in attendance.

A Honolulu Star-Bulletin report at the time noted that women “gave tips on achieving upward mobility, equal pay for equal work, balancing work and family as well as becoming more effective leaders”

“You have to think like a man, act like a lady and work like a dog,” said Merle Okawara, chairwoman of JC Comsa Corp., who pioneered the pizza industry in Japan.

And, while the speakers had diverse stories — their message was the same.

“Do not have shy dreams, but bold ones, bold ones,” said former Hawaii resident Sonia Aranza, who runs Aranza Communications, a Washington, D.C.-based consulting and training company. “You can create your own luck and you can define what success means to you.”

Lingle considers establishment of the conferences one of her achievements as governor. The seven conferences held each year between 2004 and 2010 were sponsored by local businesses, many of them with female CEOs.

A Rightward Bent?

Leadership as defined by the women’s conference is not political. Speakers over the years have represented a wide range of businesses, nonprofits and the military.

And, while a majority of speakers have hailed from the U.S. mainland, a good many are from international locations.

What many have in common, however, is a connection to Lingle herself, who met many of the women in her travels and invited them to the conference.

However, political leaders have been among conference dignitaries, and several are recognized conservatives.

They include Karen Hughes, a close associate of former President George W. Bush; then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (she delivered a video message); and Georgette Mosbacher, CEO of a cosmetics manufacturer but also a major fundraiser for the Republican Party.

Kristie Kenney, U.S. ambassador to the Philippines under Bush, has also attended the conference, as has Lynn Scarlett, a deputy official in the Bush administration.

The conference has featured local business leaders like Constance Lau, president and CEO of both Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc. and American Savings Bank.

But no prominent female Democrat has spoken at the conference — including U.S. Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa, state Senate Vice President Donna Mercado Kim and Honolulu City Council member Ann Kobayashi.


Tammy Duckworth, who is leaving her position as Assistant Secretary for Department of Veterans Affairs under President Obama to run for Congress as a Democrat from Illinois, was a speaker during the 2006 conference.

And Connie Mariano, the first Filipino American to become rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, the first female director of the White House Medical Unit and the first military woman to be appointed as the White House physician under President Clinton, addressed the conference in 2010.

Vivian Aiona, wife of former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona Jr., has been a conference stalwart.

Corrie Heck, who is the conference’s producer this year, says conference organizer have always taken a “neutral stance” on politics.

She says well-known Democrats who have been invited to attend include Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, blogger Arianna Huffington, Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Maria Shriver, former first lady of California. But they chose not to attend.

And, Heck adds, Oprah Winfrey — arguably Barack Obama’s biggest supporter — delivered a conference video message in 2006.

Inspirational Speakers

Conference attendees have included women that have compelling, unique experiences to share.

They include Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, president of the Republic of Liberia and the first (and only) female leader of an African nation; Zainab Al-Suwaij, executive director of the American Islamic Congress, Al-Suwaij, and an Iraq native who survived the 1991 uprising against Saddam Hussein; Israeli politician Tzipi Livni; and Michelle Rhee, who was the chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools System when she sent a video message in 2009.


The list of speakers expected at the Sheraton Waikiki next month include Aduei Riak, a Sudanese genocide survivor.

Heck says the conference has included military personnel not only because Hawaii has a large military presence but also because “it’s a great opportunity to show women leaders in a traditionally masculine-dominated field.”

Heck — who served as Lingle’s chief communications officer during her second term — says the conference has now become “a staple event” that is booked into calendars.

“It mentors young women and puts Hawaii on the map for leadership,” she said.

And, sticking to its non-ideological platform, Heck says her former boss would likely be disinvited should she declare a run for the Senate before the conference, which is Sept. 20.

“We draw a hard line,” she says.

Lingle, by the way, said earlier this month she would delay her Senate decision until the fall.

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