Welcome to Capitol Watch. There’s a new governor, new leadership at the Legislature and other government branches, and Civil Beat is reporting on all of it.

4:33 p.m. Alexander Leaves Priesthood for Government Service

Neil Abercrombie today announced that former Father Marc Alexander, the former vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Honolulu, will be the administration’s point man on addressing homelessness.

In explaining his selection of Alexander, Abercrombie — who called homelessness “a civic sin” — read from the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was martyred by the Nazis: “How can I be good? How can I do good? What is the will of God?”

Alexander said he was inspired to go to work for Abercrombie after reading his New Day In Hawaii plan but also because he had been thinking of a professional and personal shift in his life.

Alexander said homelessness was an area of “passionate, passionate concern … it is a demanding task before us.” He called for a greater level of cooperation of various groups working on the issues related to homelessness.

On hand for the announcement, which was in executive chambers, were Rida Cabanilla and John Mizuno, who have spearheaded state House efforts concerning alleviating homelessness.

Abercrombie was not specific on how he would pay for an increased emphasis on homelessness but said “the costs of homelessness are astronomical.”

Earlier today, the Most Rev. Larry Silva, Bishop of Honolulu, released a statement that said in part:

I was shocked and extremely disappointed by his recent decision to withdraw from priestly ministry, and I am sure that
many will be as shocked and surprised as I was. Father Alexander has served the Diocese of Honolulu with great distinction as a priest for twenty-five years, and has contributed greatly to the Diocese in his last five years as Vicar General. We are grateful for all he has done. Let us pray for him.

Alexander was a major figure in fighting for the 1998 constitutional amendment that effectively prohibited gays and lesbians from marrying. He was executive director of the Hawaii Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the Catholic Diocese.

Abercrombie said Alexander’s positions in that regard were “immaterial.”

3:01 p.m. The House Clerk’s Call?

Pat Mau-Shimazu explained to Civil Beat today more on her decision to pull the plug on Olelo TV coverage from House deliberations on speaker yesterday afternoon.

Mau-Shimazu said the House is charged by the hour for the cable TV coverage. So, because there was neither a speaker nor a vice speaker to make the decision, she said, “Someone had to make the call.”

But by House rules, Mark Nakashima, who was presiding officer and in charge of the House at the time, technically had the authority to make that decision.

Did Mau-Shimazu ask Nakashima for permission to cancel the coverage?

She did not, saying, like most House members, he was “preoccupied. It’s been like that all week leading up to the vote.”

2:29 p.m. DLNR Legend Visits New Chair

William Aila is in his 50s and has been working for the Department of Land and Natural Resources for years, but in many ways, he’s the new kid on the block.

At Thursday’s monthly Water Commission meeting — Aila’s first as chair — former DLNR director Bill Paty and other longtime department and commission veterans were in the house to wish the new chair well.

William Tam, who worked with Paty as a deputy attorney general years ago while the state’s water code was being written, surprised Paty with a birthday cake and Häagen-Dazs ice cream that many enjoyed, even at 9:15 a.m. Tam was unanimously confirmed as DLNR deputy director for water, saying public service is “where my heart is,” even after a stint in the private sector.

Aila said Paty was a role model for him. During the interview process, he was asked how he would hope to lead one of the state’s largest and most important departments without any prior executive experience. His response: “I’ll do it just like Bill. … You never micromanaged anything. … Occasionally you herded them back in the right direction.”

After he was appointed, Aila said, Paty came into his office to share some advice about the new job: Don’t stay in the office. Get out there and get “lepo” (earth) under your feet. —Michael Levine

1:58 p.m. Full House

Mark Recktenwald did the honors one more time, this morning swearing in Georgette “Jo” Jordan to fill the District 45 seat in Leeward Oahu.

That means all 51 House seats now have representation.

In other House news, Gene Ward publicly and belatedly thanked Calvin Say for quoting from Abraham Lincoln after Say was re-elected speaker yesterday.

“The founder of our party,” Ward noted, meaning Republicans.

The rumor of the day is that dissident Gil Keith-Agaran will be named chairman of the Judiciary Committee as part of the agreement between Democrats. It’s open — Jon Riki Karamatsu was the last occupant — and Keith-Agaran is an attorney.

And, House members opened their session with an invocation, delivered by Rep. Pono Chong.

12:07 p.m. Senate Ends Mandatory Invocations

By a majority voice vote, the state Senate has adopted new Senate rules that amend the language on invocations as spelled out in last year’s rules.

Rather than opening all sessions with an invocation — as was done yesterday, opening day — the new rules allow the Senate to hold invocations “when we so determine,” as Brickwood Galuteria explained.

“We will continue to explores the issue to make sure we are constitutionally sound,” said the Democrat.

Lone Republican Sam Slom objected to the rule change, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court had long ago determined that invocations are legal.

Slom said he preferred to hold the invocations prior to gaveling in a session; that way senators could choose not to be involved.

Slom said the invocation had never cause an problems save two: objections from the ACLU of Hawaii and Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of State and Church.

“I feel something would be missing (without the invocation, and that senate must stand for something and not back away when there are challenges like these organizations and their objections … As smart, as intelligent as we may be, we can still call on someone higher to help and guide us.”

11:46 a.m. Tsutsui: Priority is Economy, Education, Energy

The state Senate has identified key areas of its Majority Caucus legislative package for 2011. The focus is on the economy, education, energy “and a variety of other impactful issues.”

The package calls for investing in infrastructure “through CIP and Modernization projects; working with the County and State agencies to improve the permitting process for new business; diversifying the island’s agricultural sustainability and expediting the development of more affordable housing.”

On education, the package calls for “working with educational leaders and stakeholders to ensure they have the proper resources in place and the accountability that is necessary so that that every child can receive a quality education.”

On energy, the package “will prioritize moving towards energy self-sufficiency and job creation; ramping up alternative energy development and educating Hawaii’s people on energy efficiency programs.”

And, the Senate also proposes working towards “a Ceded Land Settlement with the Native Hawaiian community.”

10:46 a.m. AP: House Barred Live TV Coverage

The Associated Press reports that state House of Representatives Clerk Pat Mau-Shimizu “barred live television coverage of an afternoon session at which the speaker was elected after a two-month struggle among House Democrats.”

She decided there would be no Olelo Community Media broadcast of the session — which originally was to start at about 3 p.m. — because she expected it would contain little if any public debate. She said she had been under the impression the House would convene briefly and then recess until Thursday. “I thought it might be a short session,” she said. As it turned out, House Democrats met privately until about 4:45 p.m. Then the House reconvened and unanimously re-elected Rep. Calvin Say, D-St. Louis Heights-Wilhelmina Rise, as speaker.

The Democratic leadership normally would control broadcast decisions, (Mau-Shimizu) said, but that decision fell to her because a speaker had not yet been chosen. “All the responsibility falls to the clerk’s office,” she said.

The decision, AP noted, not to broadcast the afternoon session was criticized by Nikki Love, executive director of Hawaii Common Cause.

“You’d think this would be the ideal type of proceedings that would be shown on TV and the Web. So it’s pretty shocking that they’re not showing it,” she said.

10:07 a.m. ‘Religious Freedom for All’

Government officials in attendance at today’s Red Mass included Neil Abercrombie, Mark Recktenwald, James Duffy, Calvin Say, Gene Ward, Donna Mercado Kim and Nestor Garcia.

Anthony Picarello Jr., general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Washington, D.C., in his remarks warned of the a threat to the nation of “an increasingly aggressive secularism,” although he added that “we do not face a meaningful risk of one religion persecuting another — or any religion achieving such dominance in society and government that it may deploy the coercive power of the state to punish its competitors.”

Picarello closed with a call to share the teachings of “the Church about religious freedom for all. That teaching is not about Catholics for Catholics, or Jews for Jews, or Muslims for Muslims — but humans for humans.”

Donations from the mass go for Haiti earthquake relief.

8:56 a.m. Pro-Choice Rally at Capitol

Beginning at 10 a.m., supporters and advocates will gather at the Capitol Rotunda to commemorate the 38th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.

Planned Parenthood of Hawaii and the ACLU of Hawaii have organized the event remembering “the decision which opened the door to greater protections for reproductive rights.” 

In town for the occasion is the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Cecile Richards,who is epxected to deliver remarks. 

Red Mass for Abercrombie

The governor will be at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Peace on the Fort Street Mall at 9 a.m. for the Red Mass that annually attracts religious and government leaders.

The Mass is the Catholic Church’s public prayer to the Holy Spirit for “wisdom and guidance” for the state.

“The Red Mass is a 700-year-old tradition in Europe that was introduced in the United States in the early 1900s and has become an annual event in Washington, D.C., and other major Mainland cities,” according to a local press report. “Hawaii has had a Red Mass since 1955.”

The Mass is named for the color of the vestments used.

Hanabusa Appointed to Armed Services

Colleen Hanabusa will serve on the U.S. House Armed Services and Natural Resources committees.

According to her office, “She is the only freshman Democrat of the 112th Congress to be appointed to the Armed Services Committee and will serve on the Readiness and Oversight subcommittees.”

Jonah Kaauwai, the Hawaii GOP chairman, had a different take:

“Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa confirmed the obvious today that she has little clout in Congress and can not deliver even basic commitments like an assignment to the Appropriations Committee. Former Congressman Charles Djou has secured an Appropriations seat for Hawaii and Sen. Daniel Inouye pledged that seat for Hanabusa during the campaign, but Rep. Hanabusa has proven she can not even deliver what was suppose to be a basic lay-up for our community.”

DOE, DLNR Before House Finance

Beginning at 9 a.m., the Department of Education will brief House Finance on its financial needs.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources is set to do the same at 1:30 p.m. Both meetings are in Conference Room 308.

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