Mazie Hirono and Linda Lingle
Mazie Hirono and Linda Lingle

BY LENNY KLOMPUS – Mazie Hirono is again exaggerating her record by taking credit for bringing South Korean tourists to Hawaii. Speaking to the Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association (HLTA), Hirono boasted about her tourism record, taking credit for achievements of the Lingle Administration, while simultaneously trumpeting the VISIT USA Act as her own creation.

During the HLTA forum, Hirono constantly referred to her advocacy of visa waivers and her sponsorship of the VISIT USA Act, which Hawaii voters know have resulted in all talk and no action. Ed Case made a valid point in the debate: What has Hirono been doing for the past six years?

Before Hirono even stepped foot in Washington, D.C. as a Congresswoman, Gov. Lingle had taken concrete, measurable action by making official trips to China and the Republic of Korea to expand Hawaii’s business, educational, and cultural opportunities.

Hirono’s vaguely-defined “advocacy” for faster visa processing in South Korea and for their inclusion in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program resulted in an “unsuccessful” attempt in the Cayetano-Hirono Administration when she was Lieutenant Governor for eight years (Source 1). As we know, advocacy is one thing, action is something quite different.
Action: Governor Lingle made the commitment to engage the United States’ and the Republic of Korea’s governments on this very issue.

Action: Governor Lingle was the first Hawaii Governor to ensure tourism was managed at the executive level of state government. In her first year in office Governor created a cabinet-level statewide tourism liaison and immediately set her sights on the difficult task of making it easier for Asian tourists to travel to Hawaii and the rest of the United States.Action: Governor Linda Lingle met with Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to open a dialogue for a new multiple-entry visa for visitors to the United States, as well as additional money for embassies to process visa applications. As the Honolulu Advertiser noted, “The highest-priority proposal from Lingle is for a visa that would allow multiple entries for at least a year to 18 months to anywhere in the United States.” (2)

Action: Governor Lingle traveled with state and business leaders to South Korea where she met with South Korea’s foreign minister on this very subject. (3) During the trip to South Korea, the Lingle Administration led a 50-member delegation of Hawaii state officials and business leaders to promote travel to our islands and better understand the visa application procedure Korean citizens face in order to visit the United States. After personally visiting the U.S. Embassy and experiencing the lengthy process, in 2005 the Lingle Administration focused on developing a special policy with the U.S. Embassy in Seoul to give preferential visa reviews to Korean citizens who hoped to celebrate their honeymoons in Hawaii.

Building on the success of the honeymooners’ initiative spurred by the Lingle Administration, in 2008, the U.S. granted the visa waiver which now allows South Koreans to travel to America for up to 90 days without going through the burdensome visa process. (4) These concrete results were realized because of Governor Lingle’s measurable actions.

Hirono used her debate time to make the dubious claim that because of “her” VISIT USA Act, Korean visitors have increased by 50%. Not only is this inaccurate, it highlights Hirono’s Johnny-come-lately approach to tourism and her nearly nonexistent record on issues. Travel from South Korea to Hawaii is expected to increase by 47.5% regardless of whether the VISIT USA Act makes it out of the 112th Congress. (5) If Hirono was really concerned about promoting one of Hawaii’s leading industries and employers she would have worked with Governor Lingle while in Congress on this issue.

Conversely, Governor Lingle is the only candidate with a proven record of actually boosting tourism to Hawaii and increasing economic opportunities from the beginning of her terms in office. Governor Lingle’s commitment was made possible through her development of strong relationships with officials in the respective countries, as well as with public and private institutions and businesses in the United States. The Consul General for the People’s Republic of China in Los Angeles, Zhong Jianhua,said, “I applaud Governor Lingle for her ambitious travel efforts to improve economic and cultural ties between China and Hawaii.” Development of relationships like these takes a true grasp of the issues and a commitment that lasts longer than an election cycle.

Finally, during the forum yesterday, Ed Case was right to point out that while Hirono says she is a champion of tourism and is a co-sponsor of the VISIT USA Act, she missed an important opportunity to engage South Korea via trade – voting against the entire Hawaii delegation – when she voted no for a free trade agreement with the Republic of Korea.

Rather than building bridges important for securing a strong economy for the state of Hawaii, Hirono spends her time attacking anything and anyone in an effort to earn her party’s primary nomination, including her attacks on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (who she touted during her public relations tour for the VISIT USA Act) for endorsing Governor Lingle.

Equally counterproductive are her blanket attacks on all Republicans, even though the legislation has two Republican co-sponsors. This kind of double-talk is tiring and unproductive. Hawaii needs a leader who is going to represent the people and their number one industry to the standards we require, not a politician who is just pandering to the audience before her.The choice couldn’t be clearer: Hirono, whose self-serving, Johnny-come-lately attitude has provided no tangible benefit to the people of Hawaii; or Linda Lingle, the candidate with executive experience working with the largest travel population in the world and providing proven results.

Governor Lingle looks forward to participating in a Hawaii Lodging & Tourism Association forum with the winner of the Democrat primary after August 11, 2012.

Lenny Klompus is the spokesperson for Linda Lingle’s US Senate campaign.

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