After such an exhausting campaign season, and after maybe a day to catch their breath and some sleep, the governor-elect, his staff and supporters probably have faced a daunting realization: Neil Abercrombie promised to be ready to work from the moment he takes office Dec. 6, so there can be no rest for the weary.
Abercrombie and his team have already done some thinking about what he wants to accomplish as governor, publishing these ideas in a pair of white papers, the broader outline of "A New Day for Hawaii" and the more recently and narrowly focused follow-up, "Recovery and Reinvestment Plan." Part 1 is meant to be the more immediate effort to jump-start the economy, given the current budget woes, and that’s what everyone’s eager to hear about.
Even before he takes office, and certainly before his first State of the State address in January, Abercrombie should give an anxious public a clear outline of some specific steps he means to take, a kind of "first 100 days" plan for the new administration.
Some elements are encouraging, including the explicit pledge that "the general excise tax will not be raised." Hawaii’s voters may not have been hit by quite the conservative gale-force winds that swept most state elections across the country Tuesday, but they surely should hold Abercrombie to this promise. "Government will have to make better use of the revenues that it has and grow the economy if more revenues are needed." Correct on both counts.
Abercrombie, 72, a 40-year Democratic politician and most recently U.S. congressman, also plans to start with steps to reorder government in largely no-cost ways. Here are a few points that should rise to the top of the new administration’s priority list, and that won’t add to the tab:
» Find untapped federal funding sources that could be part of the state’s recovery jump-start. Most of the federal stimulus grants available to the state have already been secured, officials said. Brian Schatz, the lieutenant governor-elect, has been tasked with that duty; oversight of the $75 million Race to the Top education grant and the search for new sources can begin during the transition from the Lingle administration.
» The voters spoke — loudly — in favor of an appointed school board, but the law setting out how members should be appointed has not been passed.
Abercrombie should define what he’ll propose to lawmakers to get that process rolling. A system in which appointees would serve for set terms rather than serving simply at the pleasure of the governor would be best. And a selection commission that can help the governor draw up a list of qualified candidates would be a reasonable feature.
» Finally, the voters hope the new administration will work toward a more collaborative relationship with legislators, from both sides of the aisle, rather than what’s been evident for the past eight years. Abercrombie, helped by long experience in the lawmaking realm, has already begun to make these contacts, so he has a head start on this.
At a time when the state’s economic recovery is anything but robust, people suffering from joblessness can’t wait for the new guard to get up to speed.
"Action begins on Day One," Abercrombie vowed during the campaign. "People are tired of waiting."
If the governor-elect intends to hit the ground running Dec. 6, the warm-up exercises have to begin now.