Tsutsui is Hawai‘i’s newest lieutenant governor
LIHU‘E — The Lieutenant Governor’s Office is moving to Maui, chasing after Hawai‘i’s newest second-in-command politician.
“State Sen. President Shan S. Tsutsui has accepted the position of Lieutenant Governor of Hawai‘i, effective immediately under the order of succession,” Gov. Neil Abercrombie said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Tsutsui, a Maui resident, is replacing former Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, who left for Washington Wednesday night to occupy the void in the U.S. Senate caused by the recent death of U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai‘i.
“I certainly look forward and I’m excited about this opportunity and the challenge that lies ahead,” said Tsutsui, adding that his decision was made together with his family. “The goal is to not relocate my family.”
During the 24 hours prior to the announcement, Tsutsui said he had numerous conversations with Abercrombie about the roles and responsibilities that would have been entrusted on him if he accepted the position.
“It’s an exciting day for me; it’s bittersweet in some sense, because I really feel like I’m leaving a group of close friends,” Tsutsui said of his colleagues at the state Senate.
Tsutsui was first elected to the state Senate in 2002. From 2005 to 2010, he was the Senate Majority Caucus leader, a position currently held by Sen. Ron Kouchi, D-Kaua‘i. In 2011, Tsutsui became the first state Senate president from Maui, and the youngest one ever. He was born on Aug. 9, 1971.
“I’m hoping with the opportunity I have at the Lieutenant Governor’s Office to … serve, help and assist and be a bridge,” he said. “The governor has done a great job over the last several years communicating with the Legislature, and I’m hoping to just add some value to that.”
During his campaign for governor in 2010, Abercrombie spoke several times against an O‘ahu-centric administration. On Thursday he reiterated his campaign vows by saying he had started his campaign on Maui as a symbolic gesture.
By state constitutional law, the state capital is in Honolulu, Abercrombie said, but there is nothing in the law to prevent that there could be additional offices elsewhere.
“When I spoke to the Lt. Gov. (Tsutsui) as a successor to Sen. (Brian) Schatz, I said … ‘We’re going to establish the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Maui,’ and so there will be an office there,” he said.
The official governor’s home is still in Honolulu, because of the seat of government is on O‘ahu, said Abercrombie, but he also said he wanted to make it “very, very clear” that Hawai‘i is a “multi-island” state.
“Lt. Gov. Tsutsui will be working out of Maui and O‘ahu, officially,” he said. “I’m very pleased about that.”
With Tsutsui as Hawai‘i’s lieutenant governor, Abercrombie will now have to pick a state senator for Maui’s 5th District. According to the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes, Chapter 17, section 3, the Democratic Party has 30 days to send three names to Abercrombie, and he has 60 days from the date of the vacancy to pick a name.
As far as who will be the Senate’s president, staff at the Legislature’s Public Access Room said it will be up to the Senate. Sen. Vice President Donna Mercado Kim, D-14th District, did not respond for a request for comments by press time.
Tsutsui stepping in as lieutenant governor could throw a wrench on the Public Lands Development Corporation, which was created after Abercrombie signed Act 55 on May 20, 2011, following the state Legislature approval of Senate Bill 1555 the same year. To date, Act 55 has been arguably Abercrombie’s most unpopular action.
In September, Tsutsui posted on his Senate website that the situation with the PLDC calls for “thoughtful scrutiny and examination.”
“Although I will continue to monitor the actions of the PLDC, including the adoption of its rules, I will be introducing legislation in the 2013 legislative session to address the PLDC and its problems and shortcomings,” Tsutsui wrote on his official website on Sept. 27. “I plan to propose separate bills, one to repeal Act 55 … as well as a bill to narrow the scope of the PLDC’s authority and reduce or eliminate current exemptions from normal processes and procedures.”
The PLDC has broad powers to develop public lands while circumventing county zoning laws. Many have interpreted it as also having power to circumvent state environmental laws by getting rid of agency reviews that trigger environmental assessments.
While on a visit to Kaua‘i this year, Abercrombie blamed the Legislature for Act 55, by saying he signed it because it was a bill passed by the legislators who were elected by the people. But Abercrombie has also said publicly he would veto a potential repeal of Act 55 by the Legislature.
About a month ago, Abercrombie asked the PLDC to take a back seat for now, deferring action on pending rules while public concerns about the corporation are fully considered and addressed.