Comment: As the tide resides, a tsunami of change is ready to run through Hawaii government

Gary Hooser

The Hooser Analysis
with Gary Hooser

The jaded and the cynical will say, “It’s just rhetoric.” But the change that is upon us is more than just a catchy tag line at the end of a 30-second commercial. This change is real. It is unavoidable and it is palpable.

The election of Neal Abercrombie represents a truly seismic change event and those closest to the epicenter are already beginning to feel its impact.

Our new governor, you can be sure, is unlike any we have ever seen before. His new lieutenant governor also seems ready to break the mold.

The Board of Education will soon undergo a significant and systemic change, as the shift is made from an elected Board to an appointed one.

The State Senate has new leadership along with 4 brand-new senators and at least two more appointments pending. The State House likewise is locked in a struggle for change with the outcome undetermined for now.

Like a strong deep sea earthquake, the waves of change brought about by the Abercrombie administration will be instantaneous, starting at the center and reverberating out to the distant shores. Those who reside at the center will be impacted immediately and most dramatically, while those at the far edges may wait years for the impacts of change to unfold.

Within days, every top administrator in every single department of State government will have a new leader.

Within days, every top administrator in every single department of State government will have a new leader. The career civil servants working in each of these departments can only wonder what ultimate impact this will have on their day-to-day lives. Will the new boss be “hands on” or “hands off”?  Will he or she be an astute, experienced, and friendly face, or someone who comes in cracking the whip, determined to shake things up before taking time to learn the lay of the land?

Also waiting to judge the size and impact of the coming changes, are those individuals and businesses that interact directly, deeply, and sometimes daily with their government: those awaiting State permits, service providers awaiting contracts, regulated businesses, and licensed professionals. In short just about everyone on the front lines of our society will be affected.

The akamai know one thing for certain—the top administrator of any department is the most important person in their world. The Legislature can pass new laws and amend old ones all day long, but at the end of that day it is the administrator who interprets those laws, and decides whether to comply or not.  The Legislature approves the budget, but it is the administrator who exercises the ultimate power by actually spending the funds, determining mission emphasis, and program priorities.

As the appointment process unfolds, the reverberations of change will inevitably reach deeply into party politics, and affect immediately the political futures of emerging political leaders around the state. Sitting legislators with valuable experience in complex subject matter areas are obvious candidates for key cabinet appointments. The governor then appoints their replacement with the change magnified even more as a House member is appointed to “move up” to a Senate seat, triggering still yet another appointment to fill the empty House seat, and so on. The political futures of perhaps a dozen or more individuals, perceived by the povernor (and his party) as emerging leaders of the future, will be accelerated into the next higher orbit of influence.

Likewise it is natural to assume that other appointments to cabinet level positions will draw experience and competence from existing executives now occupying influential leadership positions in both the for-profit and non-profit sectors. This in-turn will trigger further movement and change as those positions likewise will need to be filled by their respective boards of directors, causing the ripples of leadership change to extend down the food chain.

The coming weeks will witness a profound restructuring of leadership in our State at many levels. Key individuals involved in a myriad of important statewide leadership positions, both in the public and private sector, have already taken the first steps in this intricate dance of change.

Yes, those closest to the epicenter, those “within the beltway” so to speak, will feel the change first; its impact will be strong and unmistakable. For those further away, it is yet to be seen whether the tsunami of change coming will be a 6-inch wave with indiscernible impacts on our community and institutions, or one of size and substance that dramatically changes the landscape of our State.

How these changes impact our State in the long run, and how they will impact the regular man or woman on the street, has yet to be determined—but a sea change is coming.

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.

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