Comment: A ‘new day’ in Hawaii means tackling expectations, possibilities, and reality
The Hooser Analysis
with Gary Hooser
What can the public really expect from the Abercrombie administration during the upcoming 2011 legislative session?
To claim success, the new administration must achieve tangible “trumpet-able” results during the upcoming 60-day legislative session, while simultaneously laying a solid foundation for the future. It absolutely has to be both—the public will not be satisfied with non-specific, complex, and esoteric accomplishments that simply lay the groundwork for the future.
No, the public and the media want to see and touch and feel the change. And they want that change now.
Governor-elect Abercrombie has only weeks to assemble a cabinet. There is a huge learning curve at many levels—and with it the unavoidable and practical reality of being required to adopt the Lingle administration’s budget assumptions. Add to these factors the expectations of our 76 senators and representatives, all of whom have their own ideas, goals, and aspirations, which must be taken into account, and a complex picture emerges.
Taken as a whole, it’s a formidable challenge.
Given the extraordinary campaign momentum, the pent-up energy, high expectations, and the still untapped and chafing-at-the-bit talent of the Abercrombie team, you can be sure there will be a tremendous effort to light the world on fire during this important first year.
Job number one will be balancing the budget without raising taxes, without additional furloughs, and without further reduction in services. And while it is a given the process will involve significant drama and much gnashing of teeth, at the end of the day we also know that the budget will be balanced on these terms.
Though every issue seems to demand simultaneous and immediate attention, four stand out as being the most pressing – education, energy, agriculture/sustainability, and the economy. And of course, there is that little matter of civil unions.
I suspect that civil unions will be taken up early in the upcoming session so that it will not hang again like the Sword of Damocles, over the entire legislative session.
The focus for education will doubtlessly revolve around finances, including the ever-present issue of charter schools and funding equity.
The Legislature will assuredly pass “enabling legislation” to support the voter-approved constitutional amendment calling for an appointed school board. The issue here will boil down to a question of power: Should the governor have full license to appoint whomever he wants, or should this power be attenuated by a separate “candidate evaluation and selection process” in addition to Senate approval through that body’s “advice and consent” responsibilities?
The safest and surest course for the 2011 energy agenda would appear to be an acceleration of the existing Hawaii Clean Energy Initiative. Significant and very promising new “game changing” proposals floated by the incoming administration have yet to be vetted by the Legislature, so it remains to be seen whether these new initiatives become bogged down in legislative committees and die of their own weight, or succeed and launch us even further down the path toward energy independence.
Most likely, strengthening the economy will initially involve accelerating CIP funding, awarding of contracts, and completion of numerous backlogged infrastructure projects. The challenge here will be speeding up an often-times cumbersome process while maintaining the integrity of open bidding. The APEC (“Asia-Pacific Economic Conference”) meeting in November as well as a renewed and sustained effort aimed at maximizing the effective use of dwindling federal funds—particularly in the areas of health care and human services—are two additional opportunities sure to get a lot of attention.
Perhaps the most important accomplishment the new administration can achieve is to give form, substance, and meaning to sustainability; a concept that resonates deeply with so many of our citizens.
Achieving tangible, measurable progress toward food self-sufficiency is absolutely crucial, so much so that it has the potential to become the Abercrombie administration’s most important and lasting legacy, one that exceeds all others. Achieving meaningful progress toward both food and energy self-sufficiency would truly pave the way to a bright and hopeful new day in Hawaii.
As fresh initiatives and new personalities are introduced and begin to mix and mingle, it will be most interesting to see the dynamics evolve.
Sadly, the Lingle administration will be long remembered for not just the Furlough Friday debacle—but also the constant bickering and discord that seemed to permeate every one of the past eight legislative sessions.
It will be a refreshing change to watch an experienced Democratic governor working with an experienced Democratic House and Senate, with everyone knowing that the public is watching and expecting far more and far better.
Gary Hooser is the former State Senate Majority Leader and has represented Kauai and Niihau since 2002. Hooser recently ran for the office of Lieutenant Governor in Hawaii’s 2010 Democratic Party primary election.