Josh Green was sworn in as Hawaii’s ninth governor since statehood on Monday in an inauguration ceremony at the Blaisdell Arena where he called on the audience to join him in caring for all residents as “one ohana, one family.”

He gave Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald a happy fist bump at the podium after taking the brief oath of office, and thanked his father, mother and others in the audience for their support. He recalled how he learned about Hawaii’s sense of unity and community connection while working as a physician on the Big Island.

“They taught me the true meaning of aloha. I learned how people in Hawaii take care of one another. I saw how our local families, communities, churches — how they all reach out when people need our help, and how we all try to lift people up whenever we can,” he said. “I also know how difficult things are for our local families.”

The new governor pledged to ease the tax burden on residents, build more housing for the homeless, and move aggressively to cope with climate change, all of which echo themes from his successful campaign this fall.

Josh Green is sworn in as the ninth governor of Hawaii by Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald as Green’s wife Jaime holds the Bible, and their daughter Maia looks on. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

Green, 52, praised the performance of state government during the pandemic, saying the drive to vaccinate residents and take other steps to guard against Covid-19 saved thousands of lives, and led to the lowest death rate from the disease of any state in the nation.

Sylvia Luke, a longtime lawmaker who has been one of the most powerful members of the state House for a decade as Finance Committee chair, was also sworn into office as the new lieutenant governor. Luke announced she will be leading the new administration’s drive to expand preschool opportunities for Hawaii’s children, and to expand access to broadband in underserved communities.

About 650 people attended the event marking the start of the Green administration, including lawmakers, three county mayors, four former governors, and outgoing two-term Gov. David Ige and his wife Dawn. The floor area of the arena was less than half full when Green took the oath of office a minute after noon.

Standing next to Green when he took the oath was his wife Jaime, who is the state’s first Native Hawaiian first lady. Green’s children Maia and Sam led the pledge of allegiance.

Green enters his fifth floor office at the state Capitol office with an image as a progressive who is interested in social issues, and he also carries with him a sizable stack of specific policy proposals he has pledged to quickly pursue.

Green has said he will immediately introduce a bill that would eliminate the excise tax on food and medicine while at the same time imposing a new “climate impact fee” on arriving tourists. The idea is to ease the state tax burden on local residents, while squeezing a bit more money from visitors.

He has also said he is prepared to use the governor’s emergency powers to expedite housing construction, and said he intends to propose a stiff tax on vacant homes in Hawaii as a way of pressuring absentee owners to add those properties to the housing inventory that is available locally for rent or sale.

Green told reporters after the inauguration Monday he also wants to move forward quickly on planning and procurement for a replacement for Aloha Stadium. “I’m passionate about getting this thing done,” he said.

“That stadium project is important to us. Why? Because in the next eight to 12 months we may face some part of a recession, and we want to have big projects going, we want to have people employed,” he said.

Sylvia Luke is sworn in as lieutenant governor by the chief justice as her husband Michael holds the Bible. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

To accomplish most of those goals, Green will have to win over members of the Legislature who labor in the offices on the floors below him. Many of those lawmakers are former colleagues of Green, who served in the state House from 2004 to 2008, and in the state Senate from 2008 to 2018.

One advantage Green will have as he advances his agenda that other governors did not enjoy is money. Thanks largely to the fiscally conservative Ige and gobs of federal support during the pandemic, the state had a record-setting $2.6 billion cash surplus in the fiscal year that ended June 30, and is projecting a $2 billion surplus this fiscal year.

But the Legislature will be grappling with some high-priority issues of its own. Lawmakers will be mulling an extraordinary package of reform measures this year drafted by a commission created by House Speaker Scott Saiki in an attempt to restore public trust in state government.

That panel was created during the uproar earlier this year surrounding criminal convictions of then-state Rep. Ty Cullen and former state Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English — both Democrats — in a scheme in which they accepted bribes in exchange for steering special interest legislation.

Saiki’s Commission to Improve Standards of Conduct last week announced a sweeping package of more than 30 proposals designed to make it easier to investigate and prosecute fraud and corruption, and reduce the power of money in state politics.

Green has already endorsed the idea of term limits for state lawmakers, which was also proposed by Saiki’s commission, and has said he wants to restore public trust in government. But it is unclear what role Green will play in the debate next session on the commission’s larger package of proposed reforms.

Commission Chairman Dan Foley, a retired Hawaii appeals court judge, said the commission worked extensively with staff in the state Attorney General’s Office as well as others in law enforcement, including the FBI, to develop the proposals to facilitate prosecutions for fraud, false claims and false statements.

Green has appointed Anne Lopez as his new attorney general, and Foley said he hopes his new attorney general and her office would continue to support those reforms.

“We’re giving tools to state and county law enforcement to investigate and prosecute fraud, false claims and false statements, that they don’t currently have,” Foley said.

“We did not hear directly from Josh Green himself or his campaign” on the commission’s work or its proposals, he said, but Green certainly has the power to influence the ethics debate if he chooses.

The commission currently expects each of its proposals will be introduced next month in the House, and Green has a range of options available to him if he chooses to push aggressively for reform. He can speak in favor of the measures, have his department heads do so, or even incorporate the commission’s ideas into his administration’s bills, making them his own.

Those kinds of clear signals of support from a governor in his first year in office would almost certainly carry significant weight with lawmakers, and Green told reporters Monday after his inaugural address that he is “open” to those ideas.

“If they give us legislation, I’m all for it, really,” he said. “I think there could be a lot of campaign spending reform that would be good … There’s a lot of other substantive change that would make things a lot cleaner here in the state of Hawaii.”

House Republican Minority Leader Lauren Cheape Matsumoto said Green will need to quickly address the issues raised by the series of scandals in Hawaii in recent years as well as the commission’s proposals to address them.

“The biggest thing that the next administration is going to have to overcome is really that transparency and ethics issue,” she said. She said the breakdown in overall public trust of government in Hawaii is “huge.”

Gov. Josh Green delivers his inaugural address Monday at the Blaisdell Arena. Green said he intends to move quickly to release $50 million in funding for nonprofit social service organizations, and wants the money freed up by the end of the year. David Croxford/Civil Beat/2022

The incoming leader has never operated an organization even close to this size before. That was certainly true of Gov. David Ige too when he was elevated from the state Senate to governor in 2014, and Green is no exception.

As of noon on Monday, Green was abruptly placed in charge of a state government that consists of nearly 47,000 employees, including the University of Hawaii and Department of Education.

As longtime observers of Hawaii government and campaigns have noted, it’s easy to run for office on a platform of reforming government, but it’s another thing to actually run the state.

The governor’s immediate staff is made up of only a few dozen people, so the monumental nature of the task ahead for Green has understandably prompted political insiders to closely watch his top appointments.

So far, Green’s Cabinet appointments seem to be aimed largely at installing people with years of experience in running state government as it is, rather than a determination to radically change the direction of state departments.

For example, Lopez served as special assistant to Attorney General David Louie during Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s administration, while his Budget and Finance director appointee Luis Salaveria was deputy budget director during the Abercrombie years.

Green’s transportation director appointee Ed Sniffen has been serving as deputy director for Highways in DOT under Ige, and Green’s appointee as the director of the Department of Public Safety is Tommy Johnson, who has been deputy director of Public Safety under Ige.

Green’s appointee to the post of director of Department of Labor of Industrial Relations is Jade Butay, who ran the DOT under Ige; and Green’s appointment to director of the Department of Human Services is Cathy Betts, who ran that same department during the Ige administration.

Maj. Gen. Kenneth Hara will continue on as adjutant general for the state Department of Defense, and Jordan Lowe will remain as the director of the new Department of Law Enforcement.

Green told reporters Monday his “core leadership team” will be made up of Lopez, Salaveria, his chief of staff Brooke Wilson, and senior policy adviser Blake Oshiro, who served as deputy chief of staff under Abercrombie.

He said he planned to meet with staff quickly to discuss the eruption of Mauna Loa volcano on the Big Island as well as the  controversy over Hawaii Tourism Authority’s contract to market Hawaii tourism on the mainland.

Green said he has also tasked Lopez with immediately reviewing an apparent legal tangle that has stalled $50 million in grants-in-aid funding that has been mostly earmarked for Hawaii nonprofit social service organizations. He said he wants that money released by the end of the year.

“In the next, say, 48 hours, we’ll see what my attorney general can come up with,” he said. “We are very attentive to this problem.”

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