Though none envisions being a mere underling, the nine candidates hoping to be lieutenant governor all agree the job is likely to be defined more by the next governor’s policies — and his willingness to share the spotlight — than their own plans to elevate a mostly ceremonial office.
The field of seven Democrats and two Republicans comprises youth, experience and varying positions on the issues of the day. Each believes they can bring relevance to the role. Some see an opportunity to advance personal goals, some stress how collaborative they can be.
But the ability to step into the state’s top job in crisis is pivotal, and in a crowded field, only a scant few instill that confidence.
Of these candidates, the Star-Advertiser endorses Democrat Brian Schatz and, on the Republican side, Lynn Finnegan — both of whom stand out for their smarts, their grasp of the issues and their ability to thoughtfully articulate their positions.
Schatz already has a formidable resume as a four-term state legislator, former chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party and head of President Barack Obama’s campaign in the islands.
He has been an ascendant presence in Hawaii politics since 1998, when at the age of 25 he won a state House seat in the 25th District (Makiki, McCully, Tantalus). There he served as majority whip and chairman of the Economic Development Committee and earned a reputation as a strong supporter of early childhood education and high-tech innovation. Most recently he was chief executive officer at Helping Hands Hawaii, where he is credited with helping to revive the nonprofit group.
STAR-ADVERTISER’S PRIMARY ELECTION ENDORSEMENTS
In tough economic times, Schatz says, he as lieutenant governor would help forge new economic ties during next year’s Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings as well as head an office that would seek ways to maximize federal funding of state projects.
On the Republican side, Finnegan is an experienced candidate with a track record of service to her community and as a dynamic leader within the GOP caucus.
Finnegan has represented the 32nd district (Waimalu, Aliamanu, Airport) since 2002 and has risen to the rank of minority leader in the state House. She has championed funding for charter schools, both as a parent and a legislator, and would bolster the charter movement within the public school system. Finnegan also has advocated entrusting local school communities with the power to define their own needs and priorities, something that education reform advocates would find appealing.
Finnegan supports incentives for renewable energy sources, walkable urban communities and other elements that find bipartisan support in Hawaii’s often fractious state government.
Successful lieutenant governors of the past have parlayed their second-in-command status into the governorship. Till then, though, the job at hand can be more — and certainly should be, if the incoming governor can delegate meaningful responsibilities. Schatz for the Democrats, or Finnegan for the Republicans: Either would welcome and run with the opportunity.