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Friday, July 25, 2014         

ON POLITICS


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Schatz finding his way as No. 2 man in Abercrombie administration

By Richard Borreca

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This weekend, Gov. Neil Abercrombie is expected to attend the annual National Governors Association meeting in Washington, D.C., meaning that back here, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz will be in charge.

It rarely makes news the first time a new lieutenant governor is left in charge. And that is the way it is supposed to be.

Even behind the scenes there isn't much of a transfer of power, although former Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona joked that the first time Gov. Linda Lingle went to the NGA, she reminded him, "Don't fire any of my Cabinet members."

No dismissals are likely for the upcoming tenure of presumptive acting Gov. Schatz.

In an interview in his Capitol office, you can see that Schatz is carefully finding his way in the Abercrombie administration. He knows the role of the faithful lieutenant governor is to be neither seen nor heard, but to await orders.

"Now is the time to work on governing," Schatz says when asked about his own political plans.

"We have tremendous challenges and politics has not been my primary focus," he says.

Schatz, 38, a four-term veteran of the state House, has been given two jobs: Start looking for federal money for Hawaii and coordinate the state's involvement with the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting.

Schatz reports that working with the state Defense Department, an extra $80 million in military construction money has been secured, and that he is involved with planning for the economic summit.

"We think there will be a lot of eyes on Hawaii and a fair amount of investment capital, so we want to tell the rest of the world what we are doing," Schatz says.

First order of business will have to be a resolution to the homeless shanty town that has sprung up along Nimitz Highway coming in from the airport. Unless something is done, the sight of hundreds of shopping carts, tarps and tents will be the first impression Asian leaders get of Hawaii.

"We understand how important it is to have a clean city when APEC begins in November. We are committed to making sure that the APEC visitors see a clean and humane city," Schatz said, adding that he is helping to organize a city-state meeting on the issue of homelessness.

The underlying message Schatz is giving is that he and Abercrombie are together on working to resolve the state's many financial problems. He says the Abercrombie budget cut and tax increase proposals are tough but needed.

"It becomes more critical that we try to settle some of these tough decisions soon so we can allow the private and public sector to recover at roughly the same time," Schatz said.

Abercrombie, Schatz says, is determined to act now to resolve the state's fiscal problems and "not delay any tough choices."

If coming into office to raise taxes on senior citizens and cut welfare benefits to trim government are not the perfect ways to start a new administration, Schatz gives no indication that he will disagree with the governor.

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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com






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