Although they hail from opposite sides of the political aisle and governed states more than 5,000 miles apart, Michael Dukakis and Linda Lingle shared remarkably similar perspectives on public service, policy making and the importance of bipartisan governance during an event on Feb. 4 at California State University, Northridge.
Students, faculty, staff and community members heard how each took an unexpected path to state leadership and view the current political climate.
Teaching a senior seminar course on public policy in CSUN’s Department of Political Science this semester, Lingle’s connection to the university goes back to her days as a student. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from CSUN in 1975. She relocated to Hawaii following graduation and launched a community newspaper before ultimately entering public service. Lingle served as governor of Hawaii from 2002 to 2010. Lingle was the sixth elected governor of Hawaii and the first woman to hold that position. She received the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2004.
“It’s a privilege to be at my alma mater,” Lingle said.
Lingle said her experiences as a student prepared her for governing. She found the skills she learned in her journalism courses taught her to ask penetrating questions, synthesize different viewpoints and, most critically, communicate a position.
“At CSUN I learned to be a skeptic, but not a cynic,” she said. “Cynics and politics don’t mix. If you’re a cynic, don’t go into politics. I learned to be an optimistic person. That’s why I owe so much to this school.”
Dukakis echoed Lingle’s optimistic viewpoint and motivation for entering public life. Dukakis was governor of Massachusetts from 1975 to 1979, and again from 1983 to 1991. In 1988, he was the Democratic nominee for president of the United States. Since leaving office in 1991, he has been a distinguished professor of political science at Northeastern University and a visiting professor in the School of Public Affairs at UCLA.
“Both Governor Dukakis and Governor Lingle served multiple terms and so they are very experienced politicians and policymakers,” said Lawrence Becker, chair of CSUN’s Department of Political Science, which organized the event. “One thing that came through clearly is that even though they wouldn’t agree on some issues, they share an optimism about the ability of committed public servants to impact people’s lives in a positive way”
Audience members’ questions ranged from how and why the governors entered politics to the role fundraising plays in the American political system and advice they would give to President Barack Obama. Lingle and Dukakis stressed the importance of serving constituents rather than scoring political points and each encouraged the students in the audience to consider devoting themselves to public service.
“My mission in life is to encourage young people to consider public life,” Dukakis said. “I’ve learned that getting things done in the public sector requires you to develop consensus-building skills. If you gain consensus on the problem, you’re half-way to the solution.””