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Quick: name an accomplishment by a Hawaii lieutenant governor.
Yeah, we couldn’t either. And we’re journalists.
But we gave it some thought and it’s true Hawaii LGs have made contributions. Ben Cayetano established the A-Plus after-school program, Mazie Hirono pushed for pre-school education, Duke Aiona advocated for a healthy diet and exercise, Brian Schatz spearheaded clean energy efforts, Shan Tsutsui focused on sports and Doug Chin supports the state’s Aina Pono Farm to School Program.
Josh Green, who will be sworn in as Gov. David Ige’s No. 2 on Dec. 3, has promised to use his medical background to take on homelessness and opioid abuse.
The reality, however, is that Hawaii LGs are constitutionally and statutorily given few powers and responsibilities. We need to change that if we want to make the job — which, after all, pays $140,220 annually, only $9K less than the gov — more useful.
Under the Hawaii Constitution, the lieutenant governor serves as the assistant chief executive and becomes acting governor in the absence of the governor or when the governor is unable to exercise and discharge the powers and duties of the office. The latter happened in 1973, when George Ariyoshi become acting governor when John A. Burns fell ill.
So, what does a Hawaii LG do? Just four things, according to the LG’s official website:
But an LG’s influence, if any, primarily derives from how well he or she gets along with the top dog, who is allowed to have the second in command “perform duties and undertake projects.”
Too often, our governors ignore our LGs, as we saw with Ige and Tsutsui. This is a waste of time, talent and taxpayer money. There is much more that a Hawaii LG can and should do.
The Hawaii Legislature, with Ige’s blessing, should amend state law to give the LG a real job description. That’s what 19 other states do, of the 45 states that have lieutenant governors.
The Alabama, Texas and Washington LGs have the greatest number of statutory duties. The Alabama lieutenant governor, for example, serves on more than 20 boards that make more than 400 appointments across state government. Since Hawaii has more than 170 boards and commissions, ones that are a challenge to fill and so often go hungry for members, this would be a very useful responsibility to give to an LG.
The Washington lieutenant governor has 54 statutory duties including chairing an economic development and international relations committee, serving on boards and making dozens of appointments. Each of these LGs also preside over the state Senate, something that 22 other LGs do as well.
Hawaii has actually reduced the responsibilities of LGs. In the mid-1990s, the LG was in charge of elections. But, worried about the appearance of conflict of interest, that duty was transferred to an independent office so that no elected official would administer elections. We should consider adding that responsibility back to the office.
Some states elect LGs in separate elections rather than have them run on the same ticket as the governor. Some are elected by the state Senate. Both ideas are worth consideration.
Interestingly, the Hawaii LG also serves as the “legally designated” secretary of state, something rarely articulated publicly. Hawaii is one of only a few states that does not have a formal secretary of state.
It’s not clear that a state as small as Hawaii needs a secretary of state, however, whose primary duties in states that have one are to run elections and administer uniform application of business contracts and practices. Other responsibilities, though unique, seem unnecessary: Indiana’s regulates car dealerships, South Dakota’s handles concealed weapons permits and South Carolina’s has cable franchise authority.
But Hawaii’s governor needs a real partner on the other side of the Capitol’s fifth floor. Let’s give the LG real powers. Otherwise, Josh Green might be tempted to put on his blue scrubs and stethoscope and go back to practicing medicine.
The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair, Jessica Terrell and Landess Kearns. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.