The LG Race is Competitive and Diverse – this is a Plus for Hawaii Voters

Hawaii’s Office of the Lieutenant Governor is tasked with a few important responsibilities but ultimately the Lt. Governor’s role is largely dependent on – how expansive a role he or she plays — what the Governor decides to appoint the Lt. Governor to do.

The Lt. Gov does not affect legislation by vote directly as a state senator or representative. And unlike in the federal level wherein the vice president presides over the U.S. Senate, the Lt. Governor of Hawaii (assistant chief executive) does not have that power to preside over the State Senate. The Lt. Governor’s primary function is to become Acting Governor upon the absence of the Governor from the State.

Based on the official structure of the Office of LG, this position is very limiting and not glamorous by any stretch in terms of actualization of real political power, especially if the governor has little faith in an LG to assign anything of substance. And we know this has happened in the past with past administrations.

But an active LG could play a very pivotal role if the LG has a specific skill set or background the governor could utilize, for example, how Lt. Gov. Josh Green, as a medical doctor, was given extensive executive responsibilities in handling the state’s public health response to COVID-19 during the high point of the pandemic. It also helped that Green was a former senator and knew the process and legislators.

Who has the ideal skill set to tackle our most pressing issues?
The golden question then is which candidate for Lt. Governor has the most ideal set of skills to aid our top chief executive in government?

Relatedly, what are the top and most pressing issues facing our state that the next AG is best skilled at to improve on these issues?

If we believe economic recovery and diversifying our economy is at the top of priorities, perhaps someone with a solid private sector background in business could be the best match for the position, which would give an edge over the others to CEO and president of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii Sherry Menor-McNamara and business executive Keith Amemiya.

But we also know that government is not run like a business and government’s hand at boosting our economy and especially providing a conducive environment for an industry like agriculture or renewable energy, etc. to succeed actually require an LG with the legislative background and know-how to work with the governor and legislators to craft creative bills to get things done.

The candidates with the highest degree of legislative experience (a skill set) is clearly first State House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke, and followed by former Honolulu City Council Chair Ikaika Anderson who has done much of the same (in process but with smaller jurisdiction, some issues are just specific to counties) at Hawaii’s largest county.

Another top issue facing the state – some could argue that it’s the number one issue to tackle – is improving the state’s housing crisis. While the state has accomplished much in this area and market forces ultimately is the main driver (demand exceeding supply), the conventional thought is that the state hasn’t’ been doing enough as real estate prices and rent keep skyrocketing and increasingly more local residents find themselves pushed out of the buyers and rental markets and resort to leaving the islands.

Again, Luke is the candidate with the know-how to get a better handle on the state’s housing crunch. But all three of the top Democratic party candidates – Amemiya, Anderson, Menor-McNamara – could fairly argue that Luke as a powerbroker for the state for many years, had not prioritize enough housing for it to mushroom into today’s crisis. And that they (each one of them) better understand the urgency to work with the governor to finally address this situation.

Who is ready to step in as Governor? And the stepping stone concept.
The LG is traditionally looked upon as “Governor-in-training” as the LG serves the role as the bridge between legislators, the public, federal representatives (collectively) and the governor.

In a way, the voting public accepts this idea that the LG is there to shadow the top executive and could be ready “one day” (not necessarily immediately) to be a governor. Voters – perhaps more so in the distant past – believe in this stepping stone precedent and have elected Governors who first served as Lieutenant Governor: George Ariyoshi, John Waihee, Ben Cayetano, and in this 2022 election potentially Josh Green or Duke Aiona.

Within the Democratic party, some actually still believe in this hush understanding that this is the actual protocol, to “wait” for your turn and, pay your dues, become LG and the party will be behind you in full force to run as governor after serving as LG.

This appears to be the case and playing out right now in Green’s candidacy with him having the lion’s share of support financially and most of the endorsements. The last three governors – Linda Lingle, Neil Abercrombie, David Ige – have broken this tradition and were not LGs. In Neil Abercrombie’s case, the immediate prior LG was a Republican in Aiona so this pattern of serving first as LG was an impossibility. It was actually David Ige who was the first and only Democrat in modern history who did not serve first as LG before becoming governor and the first (successful attempt, there were others who tried) to break this “wait-for-your-turn” precedent.

Whether or not the stepping stone concept still holds true or not, ideally voters shouldn’t be picking the next Lieutenant Governor based on who could potentially be the next Governor, who is almost ready, but not there yet.

There are simply too many urgent issues that must be taken care of right now.

Instead, voters should be electing the candidate who is most ready to step in as the top executive of the state at this very moment.

On candidates diversity and the possibility of an outsider governor
Hawaii voters are fortunate to have several strong and diverse candidates running for Lieutenant Governor this election cycle. The latest Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll showing three of the top candidates – Amemiya, Anderson, Luke –  in a virtual tie reflects the quality of candidates . The last place candidate – Menor-McNamara – arguably is top tier as well, but does not have the name recognition as the others, and could appear to many voters as too niche, appealing to mostly our business sector. We see the same situation playing out in the governor’s race with candidate Vicky Cayetano. But unlike Menor-McNamara, Cayetano has name recognition, but is seen by many as a niche candidate. But both their candidacies, however the race ends up, are critical to the Democratic party as one of diversity and inclusion. As Rick Blangiardi was able to accomplish at the county level, there should always be a possibility (not necessarily a recommendation) that a non-career politician could lead the state. This keeps career politicians on their heels and makes for the most competitive environment to find the best candidate.

The LGs race is turning out to be the most competitive and exciting race this year. We encourage our community to participate in the elections process and vote. It’s imperative that our votes count and our voice be heard!

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