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The most important member of Gov. David Ige’s staff became even more important when he was named chief of staff Wednesday.
Ford Fuchigami, who has served as administrative director in the Office of the Governor since November 2017, will continue in that role, but he now assumes new duties as chief of staff.
Mike McCartney, who served as chief of staff through Ige’s first term, was appointed to serve as director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism.
A press release announcing McCartney’s appointment Wednesday morning made no mention of the dual roles for Fuchigami, a former director of the Department of Transportation under Ige.
But meeting with reporters after the Legislature opened its 2019 session at the Capitol, the governor explained that Fuchigami would become “administrative director chief of staff.”
“It’s just about trying to look at the talents that we have and try and put them in the best place to serve the public,” Ige told reporters.
Fuchigami does not require state Senate confirmation, but McCartney does. So does Denise Albano, who Ige on Wednesday appointed chair of the Hawaii Board of Agriculture, and Phyllis Shimabukuro-Geiser, who was reappointed deputy to the chair.
If he is confirmed, McCartney will extend what is a lengthy resume in state government and politics.
He is a past president and chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, former executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, former director of the Department of Human Resources Development, former president and CEO of PBS Hawaii, a former state senator and former chair of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.
In the press release, Ige said that DBEDT is “focused on achieving an innovative, sustainable economy for our state. Mike’s vision and past experiences make him the ideal person to lead this department and create economic opportunities for the future.”
Concerning Fuchigami, the press release quoted the governor stating, “Ford has been a key member of my leadership team, and I value his ability to work with diverse stakeholders and manage multiple priorities.”
The merging of two powerful posts into a single role is something House Speaker Scott Saiki called for last week, saying it would make it be easier for the Legislature to work with the administration.
He said it has been frustrating trying to figure out who is in charge of the governor’s office, something that House Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke also noted in a recent budget briefing.
“You can’t bifurcate at that level,” Saiki said. “You have to have one person in charge.”
The governor was asked about three Cabinet appointees that are reported to lack Senate support: Jobie Masagatani for another term as the head of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, Nolan Espinda’s reappointment to lead the Department of Public Safety, and Roderick Becker’s appointment as director of the Department of Budget and Finance.
Ige expressed confidence in his picks.
“We’ll look and see,” he said. “I am proud to nominate them. I think that they all have records to stand on and the qualifications that are necessary to serve the public as leaders in their departments. And I look forward to the confirmation process.”
The governor added, “I trust that all the senators will give the nominees a fair shot, examine who they are and what they stand for, what their qualifications are, and whether they can do the jobs that I’ve appointed them (to do). I feel very confident that all of them can serve in the capacities that I have nominated them for.”
Senate President Ron Kouchi, at a separate meeting with the media, acknowledged that some of Ige’s Cabinet appointments have indeed raised concerns with senators, but he would not say which ones. He said he’s been in meetings with the nominees to discuss the concerns.
Kouchi said he has had open communication with the governor about any Cabinet positions he feels may not have enough votes to be confirmed.
“For now we need to let the process work itself out,” said Kouchi. “You’re measuring work performance, job evaluation like any other employer would and it has nothing to do with who you supported in the gubernatorial race.”
The Senate president and other legislative leaders openly backed then-U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa over Ige in the Democratic primary last year. Kouchi called the media’s focus on his support for Hanabusa frustrating.
“I make a choice on who I want to support in the election, and now every action that I take is being measured by that choice that democracy creates for me?” he said. “It negates any reasons I may have technically for not agreeing with the governor.”
Kouchi added, “I hope when I have disagreements with the governor, I can articulate why I think I have a better path.”
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