Monday, May 25, 2015         

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If you think being lieutenant governor in Hawaii is one of those "it is what you make of it" jobs, you would be wrong. The job is all about what the governor makes of it.

If you can decide what is important, it isn't really that hard to find the money to fix it or make it better. For instance, this week Honolulu saw the big dogs get together to fix Waikiki Beach. And they are doing it by raising taxes.

Some of Kakaako's severest critics are noticing changes in how the Hawaii Community Development Authority is working.

Sen. Ron Kouchi won his first election at the age of 24, and today, the state Senate’s soft-spoken, immensely articulate new leader is enjoying a reputation as one of the Legislature’s “good old boys” in state politics.

Remember two things about the state budget. First, there is a limited amount of dollars to spend, and second, there are an unlimited number of ways to hide it.

In 2011, by the end of his first legislative session as governor, Neil Abercrombie had in effect become a one-term governor.

This 2015 edition of the state Legislature is providing both winners and losers for Hawaii's political class. For the Legislature's leaders, the 60-day session is a chance to advance their issues, and House Speaker Joe Souki, the 82-year-old Maui Democrat, showed why he is in full control.

There is being alone, there is being lonely, and then there is being in Hawaii's Republican Party.

For Hawaii's rich, a little bit of Christmas is coming. For Oahu's not-so-rich, instead of a present, you are getting a new bill for the sleigh ride.

Draw a 5-mile circle around the state Capitol. You will find five major hospitals available to the public: Queens, Straub, Kuakini, Kaiser and Kapiolani. When St. Francis hospital went belly up, its collapse threw up emergency alerts, but Honolulu residents survived.

The issues swirling around the Big Island's proposed Thirty Meter Telescope are so intense it now appears to be no longer about winning, but just not losing.

It is time for the state Legislature to flip into its Red Zone offense if it wants to use the two remaining weeks left to pull together a list of accomplishments.

After days and nights of testimony, private meetings and public pleas, the city and the state Legislature are reaching decision time on the over-budget, 20-mile heavy rail system now under construction.

The new controversy and uprising of protests over the building of the world's biggest telescope atop Mauna Kea will neither go away nor be easily resolved.

Medical marijuana may just be the controversy with a solution in sight. Fifteen years ago, Hawaii's Legislature became the first in the nation to allow the use of marijuana if ordered by a doctor's prescription.

Everyone who was anyone used to hang out at the state Capitol. And that was good enough. The governor and the lieutenant governor had the top floor, with the Legislature's 76 souls needing just two floors of their own.

Because we live on a string of islands, it just makes sense to keep track of how fast the sea is rising. This is a good news, bad news story.

Here is what Mayor Billy Kenoi signed when he was given a Hawaii County purchasing card (pCard):

Politicians and their money can tell you a lot. Exactly how much they have is minor, but how they got it and from whom can be major. So this month opens up something new on the pols and their money front.

When Neil Abercrombie crashed in his gubernatorial re-election bid last year, the political flameout also scorched Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi.

George Yokoyama was a junior at Hilo High School in 1945 when he punched the principal and then walked out.

The links of the chain that toppled Gov. David Ige's appointment of Carleton Ching as director of the Department of Land and Natural Resources were forged by former Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

In reality TV, you make decisions and redecorate houses, win prizes and become semi-famous. In reality Legislature, you make decisions, maybe get rearranged by the House and could become semi-infamous.

Like most successful lobbyists, Carleton Ching is a perfectly nice fellow, but this week, the state Senate wasn't thinking nice. It was thinking votes. Specifically, it was thinking how it could defend a vote for Ching, a longtime influential lobbyist for a major land developer, in the face of an increasingly potent environmental movement.

Hawaii is edging closer to becoming an all-vote-by-mail state, thanks to the strong support of state Senate Democratic leaders.

How good a friend do you have to be before you can tell your buddy "no"? When the full state Senate votes on the nomination of Carleton Ching as chairman of the Board of Land and Natural Resources, it will also be weighing its very real friendship with Gov. David Ige.

The newly-minted Windward Senate Democrat Gil Riviere explained the entire issue facing legislators voting on the city's over-budget heavy rail project.

This week marks the first 100 days of the administration of Hawaii's most surprising politician, Gov. David Ige.

I have heard that my Italian relations and Japanese in-laws could whip up a tasty dish with fish heads, but for most of us, the decision is to toss them out, hoping the garbage truck comes in the morning.

With its graceful sense of place, it is easy to miss the single thing that makes Hawaii's state Capitol special. It is not the lavish use of koa, the "Aquarius" mosaic or even the tilapia-filled broad ponds surrounding the five-story building.

Go outside and look up. All that bright Hawaiian sunshine is nothing but a nightmare.

Getting who you want on the University of Hawaii Board of Regents is getting trickier by the day. As it stands right now, four new regents, named by former Gov. Neil Abercrombie, are putting in the hours working and voting, but in reality they are in a very insecure limbo.

Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann remembers how he would advise his Cabinet members during contentious meetings: "Save your drama for your momma."

The 2016 race for mayor of Honolulu starts this morning in Foster Botanical Garden. That is the location where at 8 a.m., Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell is expected to give his State of the City address framing his upcoming year in office.

What is a winning University of Hawaii football team worth? And would you pay for it? Jeff Portnoy, UH regent, attorney and UH basketball commentator, recently mulled that over in a blog in this paper.

Sometimes you just have to appreciate the symmetry.

Two years ago, the folks running the yet-to-be-built rail transit line put out the call to all artists: "Show us what you can do."

David Ige is running a straight-forward administration that shows a sober and rational governorship. His shortcoming is that there is more to being governor of Hawaii than being the adult in the room.

So you have this cart and you have this horse — which goes first? Because we are talking about Congress, you know that you put the cart before the horse. For instance, after two months of bombing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the White House this week gave Congress a draft to authorize increased bombing.

Last August, then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie revealed his position on the proposed sale of Time Warner Cable to Comcast for $45 billion.

Somehow it is not surprising that the Legislature needs a special committee to figure out where someone lives. Of course we are way past the era of phone books with names and addresses and everyone is living a virtual life somewhere on the cloud, but really, how hard can it be to figure out where Calvin Say lives?

It is about supply and demand. Not enough homes and prices soar, and that is why shelter in Hawaii costs so much. It is also about the numb faces of parents and children huddled under tarps in the rain on streets and beaches from Waianae to Kakaako.

Hawaii basically doesn't like or trust the electric company that is powering three of the state's four islands.

If you live in Central Oahu or Leeward Oahu, I know what you talk about when you finally arrive at work: traffic. It takes nearly a half-hour to calm down after the morning and afternoon horror show that is the H-1.

Back in 2005, the Legislature should have called in Dr. Phil because the 76-member body turned out to be more of a major enabler than a maker of laws. Ten years ago, the debate was always about whether Honolulu would get rail.

What, no canoe? It may be a sign of our progress as a state that Gov. David Ige was able to deliver his first State of the State speech and not once in the half-hour address were we bundled into a canoe.

After two years running the House Finance Committee, state Rep. Sylvia Luke has become not so much an economic pessimist as a realist. Because the House introduces the state budget, Luke, a Makiki-Pauoa Democrat, gets first crack at Gov. David Ige's no-frills $13.3 billion, two-year general fund budget.

Hawaii's state Legislature may be on the forefront of a quiet revolution in American politics: voting exclusively with mail-in ballots. Senate President Donna Mercado Kim kicked off her opening day speech with a reference to Peter, Paul and Mary's "Where have all the flowers gone?"

Paying for Honolulu's over-budget heavy rail line is starting to look like a scene from a Bruce Willis movie where he grabs a panic-stricken colleague, announcing, "It is time to cowboy up."

Hoping that you won't notice a continued 12.5 percent tax increase seems about as realistic as Honolulu officials hoping that you won't notice the huge, concrete heavy rail system plowing through Oahu neighborhoods.

Kakaako Makai has almost everything. It is gorgeous real estate edging in between Waikiki and soon-to-be-booming Kakaako Mauka and downtown Honolulu.

If good friends make good laws, we are setting up a mighty productive legislative session. Democrats may run the Legislature, but there have always been Ds of different stripes ready to battle for causes ranging from GMO food labeling to hustling the military out of Makua Valley.

Since the days of Franklin D. Roosevelt, politicians have believed that the path to economic and political success is paved with government construction.

Next to watching videos of puppies and pandas, one of the best warm and fuzzy moments happens when you recycle stuff. You are doing good and feel every little bit helps. There is just a fulfilled sense of civic responsibility when you recycle all those papers, bags and bottles.

The heavy lifting starts this month for Hawaii's new governor. David Ige may be a legislative veteran who sees the whole board before making a move, but now he has to make the first move.

Dawn Amano-Ige is standing alone at the edge of Washington Place's lanai watching this columnist trudge through the back lawn between the security guards and the state Capitol.

It is not by coincidence that Hawaiian Electric's flagship offices sit across the street from Iolani Palace. Hawaiian Electric and Hawaii's government are bound up together in Hawaii's evolving business climate.

For most of us, electricity means the switch is flipped and the light goes on, the bill comes every month, we grumble and pay it, end of story. It is now a whole new story for everyone in the state.

It is a telling sign of both the problems of Hawaii state government and the fresh thinking guiding our new governor that Gov. David Ige is pledging an open administration.

The parallels between former Gov. George Ariyoshi and Hawaii's eighth governor, David Ige, are both obvious and subtle.

He was certainly no boyish figure when at 37, Neil Abercrombie was first elected to the state House from Manoa, but the picture of him beaming with a bushy dark beard and pulled back long hair shows a man brimming of confidence.

It is election night: David Ige has just won the governorship and on Maui, Stephanie Ohigashi, Hawaii state Democratic Party chairwoman, is looking at her phone.

After four years of Gov. Neil Abercrombie's shoot-from-the-hip leadership style, Democrats in the state Legislature are now expecting David Ige to be a governor who reaches for the conference call before the sound bite.

Legacies all come down to the bottom line. In reviewing the four-year administration of Gov. Neil Abercrombie, weigh it in terms of predecessors: Govs. George Ariyoshi, John Waihee, Ben Cayetano and Linda Lingle.

Just watching McKinley High School and University of Hawaii graduate Tammy Duckworth walk into a room leaves you in awe. It was just 10 years ago that a rocket-propelled grenade fired by insurgents north of Baghdad tore into a Black Hawk helicopter, with then-National Guard Capt. Duckworth sitting in the right pilot's seat.

As Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie was preparing to climb the steps of the 127-year-old coronation pavilion for his inauguration four years ago, observers were still chewing on the question: Why do this?

One year has passed since Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize gay marriage. The state Capitol is still standing, few are saying "we warned you," and most politicians who voted both for and against same-sex marriage are back.

Hawaii's Patsy T. Mink's record of achievement continues to follow her even in death. In Washington on Nov. 24, she will be formally awarded the nation's highest civilian award.

Gov. Linda Lingle, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona and U.S. Rep. Charles Djou have all run and lost, some repeatedly.

On Dec. 1, Gov.-elect David Ige will take the oath of office and become Hawaii's eighth governor. The Pearl City Democrat spent a half hour talking in detail to Star-Advertiser political columnist Richard Borreca about the campaign and his plans for the state.

What can you say about an election that nobody cared about? Yes, for those tracking elections and backing candidates, Campaign 2014 was fascinating -- but for most people in Hawaii, it was not even a big yawn.

Tuesday's election will start to show the transition of the generations, from boomers to millennials. Baby boomers, considered the dominant and most powerful generational group in politics, is giving way to an even larger demographic: boomers' kids, the millennial generation.

Let's be fair here: Monsanto and Dow AgroSciences have not spent all the $7.9 million they have stockpiled to defeat the initiative that would ban growing genetically engineered plants in Maui County.

Oddly enough, the defining issue of this campaign season is something we don't do: tax pensions. The federal government taxes pensions, 40 states tax pensions, and while Hawaii's general excise tax gets a piece of the action every time money changes hands, we do not tax pensions.

It was October 2011 and Gov. Neil Abercrombie's chief of staff and communications director, as well as their deputies, had resigned, when a national political polling firm rated the long-serving Democrat as the least popular governor in the United States.

Tie-tie. Is that really the race for Hawaii's 1st Congressional District with 10 days to go before Election Day? The new Hawaii Poll shows state Rep. Mark Takai, a Pearl City Democrat, and former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, a Republican and former Hawaii Kai Councilman, knotted at 47 percent, with 7 percent undecided.

Heading into the general election with a 12 percentage point lead in the latest sampling from the Hawaii Poll, state Sen. David Ige is showing evolving strength in his campaign.

It appears the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission could devote some of Wednesday to chewing on the Pacific Resource Partnership, which, because of the money it flings around, is one of our most influential political players.

Political races always come down to turning out your voters. The difference this year is finding a way to first fire them up. Republicans and Democrats appear to be marching into the closing days of the race for governor with much of the same game plans that have brought Democrats success and Republicans defeat in past years.

After the change was rejected in 2006 and again in 2012, Hawaii voters are again being asked to decide if state judges older than 70 can continue to serve.

Across the state, people are already marking their ballots and mailing them in. The selection of a new governor, U.S. senator and Hawaii congressional delegation is underway.

Four years ago, Gov. Neil Abercrombie launched one of his first controversies, demanding that appointees to boards and commissions leave.

In a historic year that saw the unheard of defeat of a sitting Democratic governor in a Hawaii primary and now features more than a dozen debates and forums in the general election, there is still fuzziness about this year's contest.

It is the worst of times, say the Republicans. It is going to be the worst of times, say the Democrats.

You have to go back 20 years to find a Hawaii race for governor as dicey as the upcoming contest next month. Back in 1994, there were three major combatants: the Democratic lieutenant governor, Ben Cayetano; the Republican, former U.S. Rep. Pat Saiki; and the newly minted independent, Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi.

Once again the Hono-lulu City Council is the proving ground for lousy ethics. Today's culprit is state Rep. Romy Cachola, 76, who had served 16 years in the state House, 10 years on the Honolulu City Council and was re-elected to the House from Kalihi-Kai in 2010.

Four candidates for governor showed up for the recent PBS-Hawaii debate, but the 800-pound gorilla of Hawaii politics was missing.

You look up and down the bench and you have to say to yourself, 'Can't anybody here play this game?'" Casey Stengel said that about his 1962 Mets ballclub that lost 120 of its 160 games.

Sometimes the best advice is: "Just don't." That is the caution Anthony Clark, an expert in the definitely rarified field of presidential libraries, gives the University of Hawaii.

Here is state Sen. David Ige's plan to become governor: He wants to have a chat with you. There are no plans to raise $2 million, nothing about getting the fastest-talking, most-savvy mainland political whiz, and nothing in the daily planner about winning each news cycle.

Lost somewhere in what Jim Leahey likes to call the "Manoa mists" is the reason for the University of Hawaii-Manoa Faculty Senate's vote to censure David Lassner, the new UH president.

The dilemma facing leaders in Washington is difficult enough to make observers wish for a return of the decade-old debate over WMDs, weapons of mass destruction.

The race for governor is confounding because of a number: 157,000. Politicians run with their heart, but in the background there is also a spreadsheet running, calculating and recalculating what you need to win.

Bob Awana is back in politics. The long-serving Linda Lingle adviser, called by the former GOP governor as her "campaign adviser for life," is working on the gubernatorial campaign of former GOP Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona.

It was Bob Oshiro, the late Democratic Party guru, who explained how to do the math in an election. "You win elections by addition, not subtraction," Oshiro, who ran five winning governors' races, would say.

If the family budget looked like the state's budget, this would not be the time to panic — but it also is not the time to put in a pool or order up that case of filet mignon.

Hawaiian Electric may know a lot about generating electricity, but its profound fumbling of the solar energy issue has the potential to produce more than sparks.

Endings rarely go well in politics. State funerals and crushing defeats end political careers in ways filled with bad feelings. It is best to leave a winner. "Graceful exiters are highly motivated," Hawaii's own David Heenan writes in his book, "Leaving on Top, Graceful Exits for Leaders."

The Hawaiian islands linked with a power cable played a starring role in much of Gov. Neil Abercrombie's energy plans.

Republicans are firming up a public strategy to use in the race for governor. The historic rejection of Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie by fellow Democrats in the primary election empowers the GOP to argue for its candidate, former Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona.

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