Talk Story: Carrice Gardner

With little fanfare but a strong sense of presence, Carrice Gardner ponders her role as Gov. David Ige’s go-to lady.

Growing up on Kauai, it hasn’t always been a life of politics for Gardner, a confident 39-year-old who spends her days juggling the governor’s busy schedule, keeping him in front of an influential cast of constituents, and rallying behind his efforts to foster a healthy economy while balancing a schedule that demands transparency.

Gardner, who attended high school in Kapaa, later returned to the island with a hunger for politics that never really abated.

The Garden Island recently caught up with Gardner to find out what makes the self-proclaimed bookworm tick and why she decided to turn a would-be career of politics into a desk job that puts her front and center on a daily basis with the state’s top elected official.

As the liaison between the people of Kauai and the governor, what should TGI readers know about you?

I can tell you this: As the state’s top elected official, Gov. Ige is passionate about every decision he makes — and how it will ultimately impact the people of our island. Studying politics and economics at Pepperdine left me with a strong desire to make certain we are always doing what we can to strengthen our commitment to education.

What political changes can we expect from the governor’s office?

Generally speaking, one of the things that Gov. Ige has been committed to during his political career is restoring faith in government, and that means more than just improving transparency and staying abreast of local issues. It’s important for the governor to keep an open and healthy dialogue of the issues on a daily basis while serving as a sounding board to the community. Whether it’s crusading for the homeless, visiting environmentally sensitive locations or holding key meetings with elected officials, the governor takes his role very seriously.

How does he governor hope to balance growth with new business, while continuing to engage the public?

One thing is clear to all of us at the statehouse: Growth will occur. What we need to do is guide growth smartly; to work closely with our elected officials to determine how to strike a healthy balance in the marketplace while providing higher educational opportunities to the public. And we need to focus on all this while continuing a our efforts to building strong economic sustainability.

What is your relationship with the governor on a daily basis?

We definitely stay in contact. First and foremost, I am his liaison to the community. When I’m not with him at meetings, I tend closely to his calendar, visit Oahu when necessary and keep him on track to follow a path that leads to effective leadership.

In terms of job creation, how would you rate the governor as a leader?

A big part of it is achieving balance. You need to balance economic opportunities with social demands that means making sure that these elements come forward to build a healthy workforce. What does this mean? Well, for starters it means finding and capitalizing on economic opportunities such as innovation, manufacturing, technology and agriculture — to sustain and build a health economic outlook, it all comes into play.

As the governor’s spokeswoman, you are often the first person in line to deal with him on divisive community issues. Why is it so important to be an effective communicator?

If you can’t convey your message accurately, passionately and with conviction, many people might begin to second- guess your motives. I have always made it clear, both professionally and politically (although I keep politics at a distance), that the interests of the community far outweigh any preconceived notion that I am attempting to advance my career for political gain.

Do you foresee any changes in the daily operations of the governor’s office?

In the short-term, no. Generally speaking, Gov. Ige will remain committed to restoring faith in government just as he has always been. What I would like to continue to see here on Kauai is a governor who supports transparency as he continues to be even more responsive to citizens and elected officials. To continue that, Gov. Ige must focus on an open dialogue and never lose sight of that.

In terms of leadership and education, what advice do you have for the governor?

We have a lot of local talent in our schools with a lot of smart kids. He really wants to support and foster a healthy and rewarding classroom to provide a learning atmosphere while nurturing students with a strong desire to learn here, work here, play here … and most importantly to stay here!

What is the most satisfying part of your job?

To know with confidence that when the day is over, I have represented the governor’s office with the highest level of respect and professionalism. Gov. Ige has placed an enormous amount of responsibility on me and it’s something I take very seriously.

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