POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Dec 6, 2010
Today's inauguration of a new governor, Neil Abercrombie, might be described as "A New Day in Hawaii," the title attached to his campaign position papers.
But in most ways, the Abercrombie administration confronts the very same problems that Linda Lingle did through much of her tenure, saddled with more or less the same burdens.
Anticipated budget shortfalls. Looming state pension and health care obligations. An electorate weary of furlough days. Unions resistant to most other money-saving concessions.
So far the first signals beyond the "New Day" printed page consist of his initial Cabinet appointments. One of the takeaway messages would be Abercrombie's affinity for socially progressive goals.
Two examples: The labor-friendly Big Island Sen. Dwight Takamine as director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, and environmental and Hawaiian activist William Aila Jr. as director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Both have alliances that could be helpful in reaching consensus on some contentious fronts: respectively, the next negotiation over public employee contracts, and resolution of conflict over historic preservation and managing limited marine and land resources.
But Abercrombie's challenge is to see that other constituencies have an avenue to participate in the debate, especially the business community. Some of that bridge-building work may fall to merchant banker Richard Lim, named to direct the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourissm, whose connections reach through the isle political and commercial spheres. The real test will be whether his business approach transfers smoothly to the public sector. It can be a difficult fit. Just ask Ted Liu, his immediate predecessor, who found that executive prerogative didn't always mesh well with state procurement and accounting protocols, at least not according to the state auditor.
In any case, success in this realm will take more than individual appointments. Abercrombie will need to continue the "listening tours" from his campaign to make sure the needs of business are met by his own economic-recovery initiatives.
Hawaii can be thankful to the tourism industry for filling in some gaping holes left by the recession, but that overreliance isn't healthy. Small business must be supported and encouraged as job creators and innovators. Abercrombie showed some of the acumen he'll need during his work as a congressman to partner with private companies in military housing development here; he'll want to build on that.
It's fortuitous for the new governor to be starting out during a boom time for innovation in one critical area: education. The Race to the Top initiative forms an inspiring backdrop for a renewed focus on public schools, so it's encouraging to see that Abercrombie has set aside a seat at the Cabinet table for the schools superintendent. That kind of close kinship -- ownership of the public school mission -- will be essential if he is to fulfill his pledge of accountability for education.
Finally, it would be tragic if the state loses steam on some of Lingle's worthiest contributions, including the needed emphasis on science and technology career training and the push for renewable energy development.
Neil Abercrombie comes to his new job with a wealth of experience in the workings of government at all levels, and over the course of his campaign he showed enthusiasm and resolve to tackle Hawaii's challenges. "A New Day in Hawaii" may be a cliche, but it's also a symbol of the fresh beginning that every new administration represents. People need to hit that reset button periodically and press ahead.
Now the real work begins.