Saturday, November 28, 2015         


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Larger, more active role expected for No. 2 job

By Derrick DePledge


On politics and public policy, they are in tune. But Gov. Neil Abercrombie and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz are from different generations and are at opposite stages of their political careers.

Schatz, a 38-year-old former Democratic Party of Hawaii chairman and Makiki state lawmaker, appealed to his generation yesterday to help make a difference by getting involved in public life.

"Democracy is not what we have," he said at his inauguration at the Iolani Palace coronation pavilion. "It's what we do."

Abercrombie has said the days of a ceremonial lieutenant governor are over, and has promised to give his No. 2 substantive assignments. He has also said he recognizes that Schatz and his wife, Linda, have two young children -- Tyler and Mia -- and are trying to balance work and family.

The lieutenant governor -- a Punahou School and Pomona College graduate -- talked about his new role, his first assignments and his political aspirations in a conversation with the Star-Advertiser.

SA: How do you view your role as lieutenant governor?

SCHATZ: Gov. Abercrombie and I are committed to solving problems. He recognizes that, given Hawaii's challenges, we need everybody to take an active role in improving the economy, helping to fix public education and moving forward with a clean-energy future. So the governor has assigned me responsibility for several large projects, so I will be focusing on those.

But in addition, we'll be partners in implementing his "A New Day in Hawaii" agenda.

SA: It looks as if you are going to be involved in planning for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation conference and trying to get the state's share of federal money. How will you approach these assignments?

SCHATZ: APEC represents a tremendous opportunity for Hawaii. There is a not-for-profit host committee that has already done some great work in making sure that we use the event as an opportunity to reposition Hawaii to Asian markets.

I'll be assisting those efforts and making sure that Hawaii state government resources are brought to bear. This is a tremendous opportunity for Hawaii to reorient itself towards Asia, where there is going to be tremendous economic growth.

The fair-share initiative is based on a simple idea: We need more investment in the state of Hawaii, whether it's public or private investment, or whether that investment goes to government or the private sector.

My job will be to identify opportunities for local companies, not-for-profits and our state agencies to try to bring in external resources. ...

Let me give you a good example. I just got called by the University of Hawaii, and they want to pursue a federal grant for a half a million dollars for ocean science. They believe that if they have the state government as a partner in pursuing these dollars, that they have a very strong chance of getting a half-million dollars for ocean science.

SA: Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona wanted to take back control over the state Office of Elections, arguing that there is a lack of oversight and accountability. What are your thoughts?

SCHATZ: I'm wary of trying to re-litigate an old fight. There's no doubt that the elections office needs more support and better oversight. But I think that can be achieved by adjusting the current structure rather than putting it back under the lieutenant governor's office.

SA: Previous lieutenant governors have had a mixed record of success and have spoken of the challenges of being heard in the No. 2 job. Do you worry your voice may be lost in policy and political debates?

SCHATZ: No, because of my relationship with Gov. Abercrombie. He recognizes that our challenges are vast, and he wants to attract as many talented, motivated, ethical individuals as possible.

So he's been really extraordinary in giving me major initiatives to try to accomplish this early in our term.

SA: You and Abercrombie are from different generations. You worked together on President Obama's campaign in Hawaii in 2008, so you have some history. How do you get along?

SCHATZ: We go way back. We've worked together on issues like Makiki Library, public education and environmental protection for a number of years.

On a personal level, he has been extraordinarily kind to me and my family. It's been touching, really, the level of warmth that he's shown and the recognition of the balance we're trying to strike in terms of raising a young family.

He is not just a good leader; he's a very good person. We have a strong professional bond, but one of the things I came to understand about the governor is he's got quite a sense of humor.

SA: At 38 you are the second-youngest lieutenant governor, two years older than John Waihee was when he was elected in 1982. What are your future political aspirations?

SCHATZ: I'm going to concentrate on helping Gov. Abercrombie be successful and helping to solve Hawaii's challenges, with respect to creating economic opportunity, providing better support for public education and rebuilding the social safety net.

I will think about electoral politics at a later time. I think the best thing any political leader can do is just do a good job at whatever they have been hired to do.

SA: You have thought about possibly running for governor in eight years?

SCHATZ: Yes, I have. But I'm going to make sure that I focus on the task at hand, which is to try to be the best lieutenant governor that I can.

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