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Welcome to Gov Watch! Governor-Elect Neil Abercrombie is clearly eager to get to work and so are we. The transition is underway and Civil Beat is reporting from the inside.
It’s still unclear where Governor-elect Abercrombie’s team will set up shop at the State Capitol, Gov. Linda Lingle’s spokesman Russell Pang told Civil Beat Friday evening.
“Almost,” Pang said. “We’re still working on that. We have to make sure it has all the necessary equipment, make sure it has some phones, we need to have some phone capabilities for them.”
Lingle and Abercrombie haven’t met — Pang said he’s not aware of any phone conversations between the two either — but that could change.
“They are trying to schedule something but nothing has been finalized,” Pang said.
Pang was reluctant to delve into what the governor’s priorities will be in the weeks before she leaves office. Actually, he seemed confused about what the question meant in the first place. When asked what the governor valued as important items to address before leaving office, he had a clear answer.
“That’s a whole different story,” Pang said. “That, I’m not prepared to talk about.”
One piece of unfinished business is the independent financial analysis Lingle ordered for the city’s rail project.
“That’s still with the independent consultant,” Pang said. “We have not gotten an update yet. We’ll be waiting for the final report from them. When it was announced and the contractor was selected in September, they were given a three-month deadline. The plan is to share it with the new administration and the public and the Federal Transit Administration.”
After Lingle leaves office, Pang said she plans to serve as a volunteer reader in Hawaii schools.
Campaign operations director Amy Asselbaye is Abercrombie’s new chief of staff, and deputy campaign manager Andrew Aoki his deputy chief of staff.
Asselbaye spent 17 years working in Abercrombie’s Congressional office. Aoki came to the Abercrombie campaign in 2009 after co-founding the nonprofit group Kanu Hawaii. He previously oversaw the grant making program at the HMSA Foundation, and has worked as an analyst for the state auditor.
Civil Beat’s Gov Watch caught a glimpse of Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro heading onto an elevator and hurried over to chat. But he shook his head when we asked for his thoughts on how to better solve Hawaii’s human trafficking problems.
“I gotta go right now,” Kaneshiro said.
We asked to set up a meeting next week.
So we asked how best to reach him to set up an interview.
“I don’t know.”
As the elevator door was closing — apparently the doors are reporter-proof — we asked Kaneshiro who he was meeting with at the Capitol today.
“I’m going home!” He called out from behind just-shut doors.
Sen. Clayton Hee is on his way to chairing the Committee on Judiciary and Labor for the third time in his near-three-decade. At least 13 senators must agree on leadership posts, and that happened just after 10 p.m. last night.
“It’s like herding cats trying to get everyone together,” Hee said. “People coalesce in different groups, people tried to negotiate and it came to pass pretty quick. We tried to lock it down pretty quickly to minimize distractions, and that’s what happened last night.”
Already, Hee has received text messages, e-mails and phone calls from people who hope he’ll explore issues of concern to them. He said he heard from Hawaiian groups eager to discuss sovereign lands.
Hee sat down with Civil Beat and reviewed some of the big issues he’s sure to face as chairman:
On his priorities
“The erosion of prime ag-lands for housing developments, in the minds of some, have been unfettered, and have been made regardless of the fact of this whole question of whether there’s enough water. I probably will be the author of a bill that will require the land use commission on projects that are on productive prime ag-lands that have a request for development to do so with a super majority instead of a simple majority.
And I will propose to give the land-use commission to have the authority to require the developer on an acre-for-acre basis to find replacement land so that if 1,000 acres of prime ag land is being developed for housing, that a thousand acres of similar prime ag land is set aside for the farmers.”
On civil unions
“I supported civil unions. Unless there are some dramatic changes, I think it’s reasonable to expect that some kind of civil unions measure will pass,” Hee said. “Hopefully some of the concerns that were raised can be addressed, but there is a lot of passion on all sides.”
On prosecutors’ priorities
“Law enforcement will put a package through. Generally they request stiffening of penalties, like DUIs.”
On human trafficking
“It was addressed last year but I expect we’ll be dealing with that issue again. I would expect that the prosecturos will try to finetune the measure but the fact that bills are not perfect is not a surprise for me. When you have 25 Senate members and 51 House members, they like to tinker with the bill.”
On other hot issues
“Puppy mills seems to be a hot issue. I think we will deal with that. There won’t be a shortage of bills in this committee. I’ve been at it for a few years, and we’ll take it as they come.”
Hee said the although his committee doesn’t deal directly with the budget, “the budget will be a huge issue for everyone.”
It’s been a busy day for new Senate leadership and Civil Beat caught Maui Sen. Shan Tsutsui in the elevator — he held the closing door as we ran for it — on his way out of the State Capitol.
“We’ve done a lot today in terms of meeting with the different members,” Tsutsui said. “The first priority is to make sure we’re all on the same page. We’re going to try to set up a meeting next week to meet up with the new governor and the new administration so once the session begins, we know we’re all on the same page.”
Funny how the notoriously slow elevators at the Capitol seem to move a lot more quickly when they turn into interview spaces.
It’s required by law that the Lingle administration provide transitional space for Team Abercrombie during the gubernatorial transition, but it’s unclear just where that space will be. Abercrombie staffers say it might not be in the Capitol, but could be in another building on the State Capitol complex. They hope to find out definitively this afternoon.
It won’t be official until legislators formally give the go-ahead, but the Senate hasn’t wasted any time in organizing post-election. A Senate member tipped off Civil Beat on the new leadership late Thursday night, after the decisions had been made.
The picks run counter to much of the buzz about who might have replaced former Senate President Colleen Hanabusa since she was elected Congress earlier this week. There was speculation in and around the Capitol that current Senate Vice President Russell Kokubun would take over as the Senate president.
Now, as new legislative leadership begins to take shape, a clearer picture of the coming Abercrombie era is beginning to emerge. More important leadership decisions are expected to be announced today. Keep up with Gov Watch today as we follow the latest.
To catch up on Gov Watch, read our coverage from the beginning: