Friday, November 27, 2015         

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Abercrombie begins assembling his Cabinet

By Derrick DePledge


Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie started to form his Cabinet yesterday, choosing nominees to lead state departments that oversee natural resources, economic development, Hawaiian lands and prisons.

Abercrombie nominated William Aila Jr., the Waianae harbormaster, to direct the state Department of Land and Natural Resources. Aila is a progressive and a Hawaiian activist who has been critical of the militarization of the islands, including live-fire training by the Army in Makua Valley. He ran unsuccessfully in the Democratic primary for governor in 2006.

Abercrombie selected Richard Lim, co-founder of the merchant banking firm Sennet Capital and a former president of City Bank, as director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.

He picked Alapaki Nahale-a, executive director of the Hawaii Charter Schools Network, as director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands. He chose Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, the acting warden at Waiawa Correctional Facility, as director of the state Department of Public Safety.

"I'm very, very proud of these people. I'm very, very proud of the process that we've utilized," Abercrombie said at a news conference in the lobby of the State Office Tower.

The governor-elect said his transition team is going through more than 3,500 resumes for jobs in his Cabinet and administration.

There are 16 Cabinet-level positions Abercrombie will fill. He has said he will also invite state schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, who was hired by the state Board of Education, and University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood, who was hired by the UH Board of Regents, into his Cabinet.

Abercrombie's nominees are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

The initial community reaction to the appointments was positive.

Aila has worked in the DNLR's boating and ocean recreation division for more than two decades.

"I don't see myself as a boss," he said. "I see myself as somebody who is part of the team that's working to implement this new period in Hawaii that Neil has a vision for and we're going to make happen."

Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club Hawaii chapter, called Aila's appointment outstanding.

"He's an extremely bright, articulate and thoughtful individual," he said. "He understands the uniqueness of Hawaii's environment and the importance of emphasizing Hawaii's customs."

Jim Tollefson, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii, described Lim -- the DBEDT nominee -- as a forward thinker.

"I think it's going to be received very favorably in the business community," he said of the nomination. "He's got an entrepreneurial spirit."

Clyde Namuo, chief executive officer of the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, said Nahale-a -- the DHHL nominee -- is thoughtful and, at 42, "young enough so he's got the energy necessary."

Abercrombie also named Bobby Hall, a veteran staffer at the department, as deputy director.

Kat Brady, coordinator of the Community Alliance on Prisons, said she is encouraged that Maesaka-Hirata -- the public safety nominee -- was involved with a program that helps prepare prisoners to re-enter the community after their terms end.

"For the last eight years, re-entry has been a four-letter word," she said.

Brady also said it might help that Maesaka-Hirata is a woman who has worked in the department for 18 years.

Iwalani White, a deputy prosecutor, was appointed by Gov. Linda Lingle as public safety director in 2006. She served as acting director for several months but was not confirmed by the Senate.

"I think it's always good to have a woman," Brady said. "Women just see things differently."

Maesaka-Hirata, who started as a social worker with the department at Halawa Correctional Facility, said she wants other correctional workers to believe that they, too, can advance.

"One of things that I emphasize with my staff is that hard work and perseverance will get us everywhere," she said. "This is something that I just never, ever thought would happen for me. It's been an incredible ride, and I'm looking forward to working with the governor and his staff."

Abercrombie also announced his communications staff yesterday. Josh Levinson, who served as field organizer for Abercrombie's campaign and led a nonprofit community group, will be communications director. Laurie Au, the campaign press secretary and a former reporter at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, will be deputy communications director. Donalyn Dela Cruz, public affairs director at Bishop Museum and a former KHON television reporter, will be press secretary.

The governor-elect will travel to Washington, D.C., this week for the Democratic Governors Association's annual meeting. He and other new governors are also expected to meet with President Obama at the White House on Thursday.

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