Change can be a positive thing — especially when the entrenched ways become an obstruction, rather than a help, to good public policy. But the chief executive officer needs to have a sound, articulated vision of what those good public policies are beyond a message of “it’s my way or the highway.”
That’s a main missing ingredient as the political drama unfolds over Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s call for resignations from a raft of appointed state boards: the Aloha Stadium Authority, the state Public Utilities Commission, Land Use Commission, Public Housing Authority and the Board of Land and Natural Resources.
The reason for this unprecedented call, according to letters sent last week by the governor to sitting appointees, is that he wants to transform these boards and commissions to align with his “A New Day in Hawaii” blueprint.
Talk about hubris.
Most, if not all, members of these panels are appointed to staggered terms solely or jointly by the governor, and confirmed by the state Senate.
Former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, did not seek wholesale courtesy resignations from board appointees. Neither did former Gov. Ben Cayetano, a Democrat. “I don’t think it’s wise to ask for wholesale resignations,” Cayetano said Friday, noting the potential of losing valuable experience by replacing so many appointees at one time.
Abercrombie cannot force any appointee to resign without cause. The intent of staggered terms is to provide continuity and expertise — but also to buffer the actions of commissions and boards from having a politicized consolidation of power by a lone politician. Abercrombie obviously thinks his way is right and absolute.
That begs the question of the lack of defined policy goals, beyond the generalities in his “New Day” communiques. As with the Aloha Stadium, in which Abercrombie has said he’d like a group of experts to definitively explore if, where and how a new stadium might be built, his administration might have sound ideas. But we’d like to see such public proposals properly vetted and played out, rather than this out-of-left field request for resignations that only confuses the situation.
As it is, a new governor comes into office installing his or her own Cabinet and state department heads, and that already vests much power to the will of one individual.
Some of the more powerful appointed commissions — such as the ones over land use, public utilities, natural resources and the university — can, indeed, advance or impede state “progress.”
But there’s a fundamental reason for their existence: to be the regulatory power to the policy arm, a checks-and-balance mechanism on the public’s behalf. Having a diversity of opinions and viewpoints, too, are healthy components of a healthy democracy.
No doubt Abercrombie might make some promising appointees, such as it seems with the state Board of Education. But an auto-cratic approach in attempting to circumvent the intent of state law when it comes to board and commission appointments does not instill public confidence.
People serve on commissions and boards for myriad reasons, and certainly many are politically connected. But many members also are appointed for their expertise and independent knowledge relating to the panel’s business, and Abercrombie should honor all the vetting that has already occurred with present panel members. He will have his turn in due time.
In the meanwhile, he should use the time to sharpen and articulate his policy visions. Any good governor should be committed to enacting good public policy by persuading others — especially those initially not of like mind — that it’s the right way to go. It should not come down to installing cronies (at worst) or rubber-stampers (at best). Hawaii deserves a top state executive who so governs wisely by the will of the people — not by his own overconfidence.