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In the Gridiron 2013 show at Diamond Head Theatre last August, which spoofed Hawaii politics and news, there was a fun little ditty about Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui.
Sung to the tune of Allan Sherman’s 1963 hit single “Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh,” the lyrics began thusly:
Hello Neil it’s — Shan Tsutsui, Here I am in — Kahului!
You might guess that — I am smilin’, To do work for you while on a Neighbor Island.
The song goes on to say how pleased Tsutsui, the former Senate president, is to have “upgraded” from his job at the Legislature to LG. But he also complains he’s very bored because he has nothing to do. The song ends with these words:
Wait a minute! I get money. To be idle? Gee that’s funny!
Maui free time! Gee that’s bettah! Gov’nor Abercrombie disregard this lettah!
Funny, but also truthful. Hawaii’s lieutenant governor has very little power. His or her main duty is to take over should something happen to the governor.
It happened once: When Gov. Jack Burns fell ill with cancer in 1973 and was incapacitated, Lt. Gov. George Ariyoshi took over. Ariyoshi was then elected governor in his own right the next year. (Burns died in 1975.)
The lieutenant governor job has sometimes been a natural stepping stone to the top job. Two LG’s succeeded their bosses when their terms ended: John Waihee followed Ariyoshi in 1986, and Ben Cayetano followed Waihee in 1994.
The lieutenant governor job has sometimes been a natural stepping stone to the top job. Two LG’s succeeded their bosses when their terms ended.
Others were not successful. Mazie Hirono tried to succeed Cayetano in 2002 but lost to Linda Lingle. And Duke Aiona tried to succeed Lingle in 2010 but lost to Neil Abercrombie.
(Of course, Hirono is now serving in the U.S. Senate while Aiona is running for governor again.)
Today, Tsutsui is running for re-election, having taken the job in December 2012 when Brian Schatz was appointed to the U.S. Senate. Ten other people are on the ballot as well.
But why? Why would anybody want the job of LG?
Well, for one, it pays more than $140,000, the same as the Hawaii attorney general and not much less than the governor’s own salary. (Note: I previously used the figure of $114,200, but the salary increased both in 2013 and on July 1.)
For another, to run for LG you only have to be a registered voter, a resident for five years and 30 years of age.
And there really are few responsibilities. The LG’s official website has this to say about the gig:
The Lieutenant Governor serves as the assistant chief executive, becoming Acting Governor upon the absence of the Governor from the state.
In Hawaii, the Lieutenant Governor also serves as the legally designated Secretary of State. This designation requires the Office of the Lieutenant Governor to be responsible for the following:
In other words, the lieutenant governor does practically nothing.
Clayton Hee wants to change that. The influential state senator thinks he can bump Tsutsui from his perch. (Three other Democrats are in the race, but it’s really between Tsutsui and Hee.)
Here’s what Hee has to say in his Civil Beat Candidate Q&A about why he’s gunning for LG:
I am seeking the office of lieutenant governor because I believe the office is under-utilized.
I believe that the overwhelming majority of Hawaii people are not aware of what, if anything the office of lieutenant governor does. Many people have shared with me that they believe the office of the lieutenant governor is a “do nothing” office.
I will change that perception.
Hee says “it’s unfortunate” that the office does little. If elected, the senator says he’d like to be “a catalyst” on the issues of homelessness, invasive species and Native Hawaiian, issues that may not rise to the level of the governor’s attention.
It’s a serious campaign. Hee, who ran unsuccessfully for LG in 2002, has raised more than $660,000 for this race and spent over $520,000. His campaign finance report that ended July 25 said he still had about $140,000 left in cash.
Hee also raised another $26,000 over the past two weeks and received contributions from Cayetano, former Attorney General Earl Anzai and a couple of executives from The Kobayashi Group, a major real-estate, development and investment firm.
But Tsutsui has done better. He has raised just over $892,000, spent nearly all of it and has about $69,000 left in cash. And he raked in another $50,000 over the past two weeks including from the president, CFO and VP of Mitsunaga & Associates, a major architectural, engineering and construction management service.
Polls, including Civil Beat’s, show the race is up for grabs.
The candidates know this, but Tsutsui has declined to debate Hee, choosing instead to run fun political commercials that make viewers smile and feel good. Hee’s approach is old school, with ads boasting of his legislative accomplishments and chastising Tsutsui for skipping debates and doubling the cost of the LG office to $1.2 million so he can work on his home island of Maui.
What’s Tsutsui’s vision for LG? Here’s what he said in Civil Beat’s Q&A:
In addition to the day to day functions of the lieutenant governor’s office, we are currently working on several other initiatives that will benefit our community:
Tsutsui also says he has a record as LG.
“I have continued to work cooperatively with leaders and constituents alike, not concerned with the usual politics, but instead seeking to foster a collaborative working environment where the responsibility and authority is shared and all are able to reap the benefits of focusing on the issues at hand,” he said in the Q&A. “I would like to continue these efforts to move our state forward.”
He continues: “Early learning is a start, but also keeping our keiki engaged in learning includes efforts outside of the classroom, which is why I initiated the Resources for Enrichment, Athletics, Culture and Health (R.E.A.C.H.) program to provide after-school programs to middle and intermediate students. Offering students positive alternatives during after-school hours can positively impact classroom attendance and behavior and make a difference in the lives of our keiki today and into the future. Programs like REACH and others will help to support and strengthen the public school system.”
The race for Hawaii lieutenant governor has been overshadowed by three bigger races: governor, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House. But, come Sunday — the day after the primary — the election starts anew.
In the general, it will either be Abercrombie-Tsutsui or Abercrombie-Hee, or Ige-Tsutsui or Ige-Hee, against Aiona and either Kimo Sutton or Elwin Ahu and Mufi Hannemann and Les Chang.
That’s a lot of either/ors. It’s a three-way race, and there is a very good chance Hawaii will have a new gov and LG sworn in in December.
Time to start paying more attention, no?