It’s the economy, people.
Indeed it is, dismally — and for a fiscally fatigued Hawaii, our next governor must turn this around.
Who best to lead our state three months from now into the next four years? Frankly, it’s a very tough call between the two top Democratic candidates for governor who have similar stances on many of the issues. Hawaii would be well-served by either of these veteran public servants: former Mayor Mufi Hannemann and former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie.
But with the ailing economy looming large, the "buck-stops-here" executive experience is highly persuasive. Mufi Hannemann is the man with the right skills at the right time to put Hawaii back in business.
For the past six years, as mayor of the nation’s 12th-largest city, Hannemann has demonstrated the know-how and energy to lead with laserlike focus, as he’s shown with the revival of rail transit for Oahu. He has shepherded a vision 40 years in the making over federal, city and private hurdles. Beyond being a sorely needed transportation option, rail and its future station communities will shape the direction and nature of smart growth via transit-oriented development.
We want to see such intensity devoted to fixing the state’s budget crisis.
For the primary election, Hannemann and Abercrombie are among a field of five Democrats. In the Republican bid for governor, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona faces John Carroll, a state legislator in the 1970s. In that contest, former judge Aiona, lieutenant governor for the past eight years, is the clear choice to move on to the general election.
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Like Abercrombie, Hannemann has pushed himself to become a dominant figure in Hawaii politics. Along the way, his critics have vilified him for his forceful management style and willingness to fight hard — some would say cross the line — to get the results he wants.
But at City Hall, Hannemann has proven flexible when necessary. He instituted an islandwide recycling program after initally opposing it, and reached a much-needed sewer upgrade settlement with the Environmental Protection Agency after fighting it because of the cost.
He brought fiscal accountability that resulted in clean audits and a AA bond rating for Honolulu. Under his watch, Honolulu was noticed among cities that excel in the digital arena, and the FBI named it the "Safest Big City in America." He made preserving public safety services a nonnegotiable priority despite the budget shortfall — a good model to follow for public education.
A former director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and a vice president for C. Brewer & Co., Hannemann gained experience building global relationships to promote trade. He has the credentials to reinvigorate tourism and tap new opportunities in a burgeoning global economy.
But the state’s money crisis is Job 1, and Hannemann is eager to "get our hands around the budget." Key to his fiscal game plan is an immediate management review/audit that will guide him to allocate taxpayer funds more wisely.
"Unless people are working and the economy is strong, we won’t have the money to fund education and public services," he says, touting a plan to create jobs in tourism; expedite infrastructure projects; agriculture; support renewable energy, film, tech and sports industries; and modernize the state information technology system.
With 40 percent of the budget already devoted to education, we want to see Hannemann do as he pledges and release funds on a timely basis, to empower school principals on behalf of students and teachers. Pursue federal grants, such as the Race to the Top funds, as a priority. Improve coordination and accountability by making the schools superintendent a member of his Cabinet, an idea Abercrombie shares.
Hannemann has a track record in modernizing dysfunctional city systems — a crucial component toward improving efficiency. We would like him to succeed in using his "good working relations" with labor unions, many of whom have endorsed him, to deliver technology modernization for the state.
All elections, in the purest sense, are acts of hope and community renewal — and in Hannemann, there dwells much hope. He has been a longtime public servant, seasoned with high-powered business experience. If he is as true to his promises as to his prospects, he would steer Hawaii well indeed.