Josh Green Can Find Inspiration In Past Inaugural Addresses - Honolulu Civil Beat


About the Authors

Perry Arrasmith

Perry Arrasmith is a second-year master’s student with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Hawaii Manoa, where he is also a graduate degree fellow at East-West Center. Raised on Oahu, he is a graduate of Aiea High School and Harvard College. 

Colin Moore

Colin Moore is the chair of the School of Communication and Information at the University of Hawaii Manoa.


A successful inaugural address is both a personal and a political speech. For newly elected governors, it provides a rare opportunity to explain how their story became intertwined with the history of Hawaii.

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The speech must be bold, but also unifying; it must be concrete, but provide a vision that’s broad enough to guide the state for the next four years.

Before Governor-elect Josh Green gives his inaugural address Monday, he may want to consider the words of his eight predecessors whose speeches we gathered as part of a larger project at UH Manoa’s Matsunaga Institute for Peace.

These speeches reflect the ambitious plans that followed statehood as well as later efforts to meet the challenges of economic development and environmental sustainability while preserving Hawaii’s unique sense of place.

Through the hopes and dreams of past governors, the speeches tell the modern history of Hawaii.

A Model For The World

In the first decade after statehood, pride in Hawaii as a successful multiracial democracy led to an unbridled sense of optimism about its place in the world. The inaugural addresses of this period emphasized the strength of Hawaii’s diversity and its unrealized potential as a Pacific leader.

Speaking in 1959 during a time of heightened racial tensions on the mainland, the first elected governor, William Quinn, professed his faith that Hawaii would “be the sparkling beacon of free democracy in the Pacific — that from you the peoples of the free Pacific world will draw new strength and new faith in American ideals.”

The Cold War provided the backdrop for John Burns’ first address, where the new governor spoke of Hawaii as the “hub of the great wheel of the Pacific” that could become a center of exchange and understanding and provide an alternative to communism.

“In the harmonious blending of peoples through understanding and trust,” Burns argued, “we have no peers.”

From Optimism To Pragmatism

By the 1970s, after years of economic growth and unchecked development, governors shifted their focus from international ambitions to maintaining Hawaii’s enviable quality of life.

“Success,” Gov. Burns observed in his third inaugural address, “inevitably breeds new challenges; the rainbow’s end is, as it should be, elusive and forever ahead of us. Our economic successes have focused growing public attention on the need to preserve those very elements in Hawaii that make life here more attractive than anywhere else.”

2020 State of the State Gov Ige Gov Cayetano Waihee and Ariyoshi enjoy.
The 2020 State of the State address by Gov. David Ige at the Capitol included in the audience former Gov. Cayetano, former First Lady Lynne Waihee, former Gov. John  Waihee and former Gov. George Ariyoshi. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Gov. George Ariyoshi, speaking in 1974, found that Hawaii needed to “be selective in promoting balanced economic development that stresses quality and compatibility with our unique insular nature.”

As the post-statehood prosperity faded, he explained that Hawaii must become “increasingly self-sustaining” with more attention paid to “balanced economic development and controlled growth.”

The result was the State Plan Act of 1978, a critical element in his vision for Hawaii’s future.

Gov. John Waihee expanded on this theme in 1990 to argue that local ingenuity could create a sustainable future.

“Let us rediscover our inseparability with nature,” Waihee said in his second inaugural address. “We are islands, the sky and the sea. We need to ask ourselves how our ancestors did so much with so little, and why we are able to do so little with so much.”

Enduring Challenges

Although subsequent governors continued to emphasize the strength of Hawaii’s multi-ethnic heritage and the need for balance, they were more likely to acknowledge the state’s struggles with corruption and economic diversity, as well as the dark history of the overthrow.

As he took the oath of office in 1994, Gov. Ben Cayetano admitted that “integrity in government was the number one issue in the minds of Hawaii’s voters.”

He also acknowledged the specter of 1893, observing that “we are still trying to find a way to deal with the lost sovereignty of the Hawaiian people.”

Former Governors Linda Lingle (right) and Neil Abercrombie (left) look on during the inauguration ceremony for Governor David Ige, at the state capitol in Honolulu, HI, Monday, December 3, 2018. (Civil Beat photo Ronen Zilberman)
Former Govs. Neil Abercrombie and Linda Lingle at the 2018 inauguration ceremony for Ige at the Capitol. Ronen Zilberman/Civil Beat/ 2018

Cayetano, a student of history, recognized that the haunting “echoes of Captain Cook’s landing long ago at the mouth on the Waimea River” set the stage for the creation of “a 21st-century response to the values and mistakes of our 19th-century predecessors.”

Linda Lingle, the first Republican governor since Quinn, used her 2002 speech to announce a “New Beginning,” and an end to “one-party politics.”

In contrast to her Democratic predecessors, Lingle criticized the “heavy-handed” nature of state government, pledging to confront “an anti-business reputation that has scared away investors and entrepreneurs.”

Memories Of Hawaii’s Past

By 2010, the nostalgic tones of Neil Abercrombie’s and David Ige’s inaugural addresses were an acknowledgement that, for many, Hawaii had not become a Pacific beacon of prosperity — and both governors charted a return to the more hopeful and equitable Hawaii of their youths.

Gov. Abercrombie, who arrived in Hawaii only one month after statehood, sought to invoke the optimism of that earlier time. As he considered his life’s journey, he called upon the people “to reflect on those who came before us, who overcame the challenges of nature, economic struggle, war, discrimination” before we can go forward.

Gov. Ige’s address shared this sense of nostalgia, but recalled the Pearl City of his youth, when it was arguably easier to access a quality public education, obtain affordable housing, and locate decent health care. His speech was centered around a simple, well-known Japanese phrase in Hawaii: “kodomo no tame ni — for the sake of the children.”

The Ninth Governor

As Governor-elect Green prepares for his inaugural address, we hope he reflects on the words of the eight governors who came before him. He might take inspiration from George Ariyoshi, who believed an inauguration served three purposes:

“It is a time for evaluating that which has gone before — for all the wisdom, which that brings. It is a time for remembering that which we still must do — for the sense of purpose, which that gives. And it is a time for reaffirming our faith in ourselves and in our democratic form of government — for the strength of conviction, which that allows.”

When Green delivers his speech on Monday, we look forward to hearing how our ninth governor understands Hawaii’s past, reminds us of the work to be done, and sets us on a course for a brighter future.


Read this next:

Danny De Gracia: Josh Green Has Big Shoes To Fill As Governor


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About the Authors

Perry Arrasmith

Perry Arrasmith is a second-year master’s student with the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Hawaii Manoa, where he is also a graduate degree fellow at East-West Center. Raised on Oahu, he is a graduate of Aiea High School and Harvard College. 

Colin Moore

Colin Moore is the chair of the School of Communication and Information at the University of Hawaii Manoa.


Latest Comments (0)

Instead of yet another Hawaii inaugural address that really only the government class themselves even listen to at this point (preaching to the one party choir), I urge gov Josh to spend time going door to door to listen directly to the concerns and priorities of the people (even though only 27% of whom actually voted for him).

Sally · 1 month ago

Mahalo for the trip down memory lane. It is fascinating to revisit the unfulfilled promises and missed opportunities catalogued in the speeches of past Governors.The nostalgic tones of Neil Abercrombie’s and David Ige’s inaugurals when both governors charted a return to the more hopeful and equitable Hawaii of their youths encapsulates the problem our state faces perfectly.Our politicians are captives of their past. It's impossible to drive the state to the future when you navigate by looking at your rearview mirror. The world has changed and is still changing, Hawaii cannot progress and prosper by focusing on its remembered, idealized history The incoming Governor has the advantage of not being born or educated here. Hopefully he will not succumb to the "Hawaiian Way" canard that has created many of the issues we now face. Da Rail and Da Stadium and the botched merger of HECO with NexeEra are three of the most obvious. The pathological fear of mainland interference has resulted in unqualified residents managing projects beyond their capabilities.Governor Green has an opportunity to transform our thinking and our state. Hopefully he will be an activist, Hawaii needs one.

Peter_Bishop · 1 month ago

Josh Greens’ Inauguration is open to the public tomorrow December 5th at The Blaisdell. Doors open as early as 9 AM , prelude 10:15 , ceremony starts at 11 and Josh is sworn in as Governor at noon . Starting at 10:15 the inauguration will be live fed to all news media . For those of us who support Josh this will be an exciting day , filled with emotion , Hope , and lots of Aloha

Skips45 · 1 month ago

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