Mayor Mufi Hannemann says he can improve public education by being a strong ally of the superintendent of education.
In a wide-ranging interview, Democrat Hannemann talked about education, civil unions, rail transit and other issues sure to be top of mind for Hawaii voters.
Hannemann, 55, said Hawaii’s educational system doesn’t need restructuring, it needs top-level support, noting that one of his best skills is bringing people together.
"My plan is to walk lock step with the superintendent. If it means downfield blocking for that person, that is what I will do. If it means getting out there and taking the flak with that person, that’s what I will do," Hannemann said.
Hawaii’s last three Democratic governors—George Ariyoshi, John Waihee and Ben Cayetano—earlier this year called for the superintendent of education to be appointed by the governor.
The Legislature instead decided to let the voters choose whether to amend the state constitution to give the governor the power to appoint the school board.
"It doesn’t matter to me if we have an elected board or an appointed board; it doesn’t matter to me if we appoint the superintendent of education or (the superintendent) is appointed by the Board of Education," Hannemann said.
The mayor said the governor must "embrace" the superintendent of education.
"Make that member a full-fledged member of your Cabinet. There is nothing to prevent the governor from doing that now. Whomever that person is, I am going to say, ‘You and I are in this together,’" said Hannemann, who went to public school through sixth grade before graduating from ‘Iolani School and Harvard University.
Hannemann’s goal is to have Hawaii students prepared for "work-force development," and not just graduating.
"We need to identify where the job opportunities are. … and then reflect that in the curriculum," he said.
"I have a lot of ideas in term of the sciences, the arts and much more in terms of international relations—but at the end of the day, it is reading, writing and technology," Hannemann said.
His opponent in the Democratic primary, former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, is calling for "a full-scale reorganization" of the Department of Education and including the school superintendent in the Cabinet.
On civil unions, Hannemann said he is against discrimination of gays but opposes same-sex marriage, something Abercrombie supports.
"I strongly support traditional marriage between a man and a woman and I am adamantly opposed to discrimination against people. There is not one inch of bias or prejudice against those who are gay," Hannemann said.
He said he has not studied House Bill 444, now before Gov. Linda Lingle, which would give any unrelated couple the right to form a civil union with all the benefits and obligations of marriage.
"If this, 444, is tantamount to institutionalizing marriage, then I can’t support it, but I don’t know the answer until I actually get in there," Hannemann said.
Asked about the influence of his Mormon religion, which has been a strong opponent of same-sex marriage, Hannemann said while the church "teaches me religious principles, they let us govern ourselves."
"This is not going to be a governor who is going to get a phone call from a spiritual leader to say, ‘This is how you should do it,’" Hannemann said.
If Hannemann wins the governorship, he can expect to face a state budget that has been trimmed by nearly $2 billion in the last four years. Budget shortfalls have forced the state to cut back spending and services.
Hannemann said that as governor, he would first get a complete report on Hawaii’s finances before taking any action.
"I am going to conduct a comprehensive audit during the first 90 days of my administration. Once we do that audit, we will be able to identify where the deficit is, where the pukas are. I want to make sure that nothing is being wasted," Hannemann said.
He also hopes to use the office of the governor to push through the city’s plan for rail, adding that it has stalled because of opposition from Lingle.
"With rail, it is not a question of if, it is a question of when," he said. "I am convinced Gov. Lingle will not move rail beyond her desk as long as she is there; it is one of the motivating factors why I feel I have to run for governor."
Lingle has said she will not sign a required environmental impact statement unless she is assured that the city can afford to pay for the system. To that end, she has said she wanted a complete audit done and is negotiating a request for proposals for the audit, according to her office.
Asked whether he thought he overreached by saying the rail project would break ground in 2009, Hannemann said he "misread her and I really thought she (would do) what real leaders do."
"I didn’t realize she was going to be so stubborn and obstinate and put up as many roadblocks as she did," Hannemann said.