Capitol Watch

Hawaii Politics & Government

Capitol Watch

Ige Appoints Kim to Be Special Adviser to the Governor

The governor had picked her to head the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations but had to withdraw the nomination due to residency restrictions.

·By Nathan Eagle

Hawaii Gov. David Ige has found a new home for Elizabeth Kim.

He wanted her to head the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, but had to withdraw the nomination last week after realizing she was ineligible due to residency restrictions.

Gov. David Ige has appointed Elizabeth Kim to be special adviser to the governor.

Shawn T Moore/Office of the Governor

The Constitution requires any governor-appointed department heads to live in the state for at least a year immediately preceding the appointment. Kim had been working in Washington, D.C., after President Obama appointed her to serve as director of the Office of the Executive Secretariat, an agency that falls under the U.S. Department of Labor.

Ige announced Monday morning during his State of the State address that he has appointed Kim as special adviser to the governor.

“Elizabeth’s impressive experience in Washington, D.C., will help the state tremendously in securing more federal dollars,” Ige said.

“We all know Elizabeth’s story: a bright and talented person from Hawaii who wants to come home, but can’t find the opportunity to do so. I am committed to creating more opportunities, not just for Elizabeth, but for all of our children to return home to fulfill their dreams and contribute to Hawaii.”

In his address, Ige said federal officials have told him there is roughly $940 million in federal money available to the state “for the projects, proposed for the right reasons and at the right time.”

Hawaii House Democrats Unveil Majority Package — Without Any Bills

Broad priorities take shape but details remain a mystery.

·By Nathan Eagle

House Democrats held a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Capitol to announce the majority caucus legislative package but offered little in the way of details about any of the priorities they plan to focus on this session, which convened Wednesday.

Fixing public infrastructure, facilitating business and increasing participation in government will be the main themes, Majority Leader Scott Saiki told a foyer full of reporters.

The plan is to focus on “festering” issues that have long-plagued the state, he said, before turning it over to committee chairs to broadly discuss what they plan to tackle.

House Speaker Joe Souki addresses some questions from media during press conference.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The dozen or so goals they listed in a subsequent release seemed reasonable — and a lot like what the state should already be doing. The reps said they want to protect the public interest while modernizing the electrical grid, create a sustainable public hospital system, modernize the tax collection system, increase local food production, protect military bases, standardize voting procedure and increase technology to allow for neighbor island tele-participation, among others.

When the Star-Advertiser’s Gordon Pang asked if there were any actual bills the reps might want to share so the public could see what ideas they have to achieve their lofty goals, Saiki said the bill cut-off deadline is next Thursday. So, no.

Last year, the Senate and the House got together and unveiled a joint majority package — complete with the bills that lawmakers would use to try achieving

Capitol Watch

Health Connector, Hawaiian Electric Merger Top Senate Minority Priorities

The state Senate's lone Republican, Sam Slom, unveiled his top areas of focus for the 2015 session.

·By Nathan Eagle

Sam Slom, the Senate’s lone Republican, and minority staff have unveiled their priorities for the 2015 legislative session, which convenes Jan. 21.

Transparency and accountability will be the overarching theme. Under that umbrella are five areas of focus: the state economy, education, the Hawaii Health Connector, oversight of the Public Utilities Commission in light of the pending merger between Hawaiian Electric Industries and NextEra Energy, and positively affecting the cost of living for residents, according to an announcement Wednesday.

Sen. Sam Slom, accompanied by Senate Minority staff, speaks during a press conference in his office Wednesday.

Senate Minority

“With the planned merger of Hawaiian Electric Industries and NextEra Energy before year end, the Public Utilities Commission will be doubly challenged to ensure prompt and thorough oversight as well as public dialog to ensure that this transaction truly benefits the citizens of Hawaii,” legislative aide Kathy Higa said.

She also questioned whether the state should give more money to the Connector, Hawaii’s insurance exchange that was created under the Affordable Care Act, when it’s not expected to become self-sustainable for another seven years — and that depends on quadrupling enrollments.

“Presented with an estimated $28 million request for funding, we have to ask whether there are more effective ways to reach Medicaid/CHIP beneficiaries and help individuals and small businesses determine eligibility for tax credits,” Higa said.

Paul Harleman, budget director, said the Senate minority will introduce a bill to eliminate the corporate income tax to boost Hawaii’s business climate.

“In Hawaii, corporate income taxes account for less than 2

Capitol Watch

State Offers Guides to Help Consumers Save Money on Insurance

Hawaii Insurance Division releases annual premium comparison guide.

·By Nathan Eagle

The Hawaii Insurance Division has released its annual premium comparison guide aimed at helping consumers save money by shopping around for more affordable plans.

“You could potentially save hundreds of dollars by reviewing our premium comparison guide and figuring out which insurers are charging less,” Insurance Commissioner Gordon Ito said in a release Tuesday. “Consumers often tell us that our guide helped them figure out who to call and the type of questions to ask about their policy.”

The guides are for health, homeowner/condo/renters and motor vehicle insurance plans. They can be found on the Insurance Division’s website here.

Gordon Ito, Hawaii Insurance Division commissioner.


Star-Ad Editorial: Caldwell Needs To Take Responsibility for Rail

Honolulu's mayor should be front and center in the debate over whether to extend the general excise tax instead of leaving it up to an appointee.

·By Nick Grube

When Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell ran for office he promised to be “hands on” and “build rail better.”

But now that the controversial project is going over budget by as much as $700 million he seems to be backing away from that pledge in hopes of avoiding the political fallout.

That’s the thrust of a Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial that published in the newspaper Wednesday.

Honolulu’s rail project is now estimated to cost nearly $6 billion, which is much higher than the $5.2 billion that was promised.

Cory Lum / Civil Beat

The newspaper’s editorial board criticized the mayor for shirking his responsibility when it comes to convincing lawmakers to extend a half-percent surcharge on the general excise tax.

Caldwell has indicated that work will be left up to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation Executive Director and CEO Dan Grabauskas, a political appointee who doesn’t have to worry about re-election.

As the editorial board put it:

That’s a disappointing stance from a mayor who campaigned on the promise to “build rail better,” and was elected in 2012 in part due to his support for rail transit and his pledges to “ensure better station design, less visual impact, tighter financial controls, and paying attention to community concerns.”

In other words, Caldwell promised a nervous public that he would make sure rail was built right. It’s time for him to make good on his promise — not hand it off to someone else.

One of the

Capitol Watch

Hawaii Health Connector Unveils Sustainability Plan

The state health insurance exchange's report acknowledges missteps and corrective course of action.

·By Nathan Eagle

The new head of the Hawaii Health Connector, the state’s health insurance exchange, has released a nearly 200-page report detailing the nonprofit’s plan to become sustainable.

Jeff Kissell, who was hired as executive director in October to turn the Connector around after a series of missteps, acknowledges the uncertainty surrounding enrollment and revenue.

Jeff Kissell, executive director of the Hawaii Health Connector, speaks to lawmakers, Dec. 29, 2014.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

But he maintains in the report that Hawaii’s economy stands to gain more than $500 million in federal tax benefits under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The Legislature passed a bill last year requiring the Connector to present a sustainability plan before the next session starts Jan. 21.

Kissell and staff appeared before a panel of state lawmakers last month, answering questions and making their case for additional Hawaii taxpayer support.

The Connector wants the state to give it a “capital investment” of $28 million over the next seven years, at which point it is expected to become self-sustaining.

Read the report below.

Hawaii health connector 2014 annual report from Civil Beat

Ige Picks New State Labor, Communications Directors

Hawaii governor is working to fill remaining Cabinet positions yet this month.

·By Nathan Eagle

Hawaii Gov. David Ige has chosen Elizabeth Kim to head the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and Cindy McMillan to be his communications director.

Elizabeth Kim, Gov. David Ige’s newly appointed head of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

Shawn T Moore

The two picks, which he announced in a news release Monday, are the latest to round out his Cabinet. The governor has yet to appoint an Attorney General and a handful of others, but has said he plans to by the end of January.

Kim currently serves in President Obama’s administration as the director of the Office of the Executive Secretariat at the U.S. Department of Labor, advising the secretary and deputy secretary, according to the release.

Gov. David Ige’s new communications director, Cindy McMillan.

Office of the Governor

“Elizabeth brings executive management experience in federal, state, and local level policy formation,” Ige said.

“She is a proven leader that has demonstrated success in managing a large staff as well as implementing major programs and initiatives at a high level. Elizabeth’s wealth of knowledge, national experience, and leadership equips her to lead the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.”

McMillan most recently led advocacy and communication efforts for Pacific Resource Partnership, the release says. She’s also served as executive vice president at Communications Pacific and a legislative aide to members of the Honolulu City Council.

“I’m enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with Governor Ige to ensure that his priorities are communicated accurately and the

Capitol Watch

Group Wants $150K for Consultant to Help with Hotel Tax Revenue Recommendation

Report to Hawaii Legislature looks at history of how much TAT money the state gives the counties.

·By Nathan Eagle

A working group that’s trying to figure out how just much hotel tax revenue the state should give the counties is planning to ask the Legislature for $150,000 next session so it can hire a consultant to help.

The 13-member group, created under a law passed last year, released its interim report to state lawmakers Friday.

The final report is due prior to the convening of the 2016 session. It’s expected to recommend to the Legislature the appropriate allocation of the transient accommodations tax revenues between the state and counties based on the division of duties and responsibilities between them.

The state has expanded its share of hotel tax revenue by capping the counties’ share. Source: State-County Functions Working Group interim report

The counties have a long history of fighting for what they consider to be their fair share of TAT revenue from the state. The hotel tax money is their second biggest source of revenue after property taxes.

The counties used to get 44.8 percent of the overall amount collected, but it was capped in 2011 at $93 million to split among Kauai, Maui, Honolulu and Hawaii counties. After heavy lobbying from the counties, the Legislature decided to give the counties an extra $10 million in 2015 and 2016 to share — far less than they would have received if lawmakers would have lifted the cap as requested.

Here’s the working group’s interim report.

Ige Appoints Pressler to Head Hawaii Department of Health

Pressler currently serves as chief strategic officer at Hawaii Pacific Health.

·By Nathan Eagle

Gov. David Ige has appointed Dr. Virginia “Ginny” Pressler to head the Department of Health, taking over where Linda Rosen left off.

“Ginny has more than 35 years of experience in the medical field and has held administrative positions for more than two decades,” Ige said in a statement released Friday. “A well-respected member of Hawaii’s medical and business communities, Ginny’s wealth of knowledge and experience equips her to lead the Department of Health.”

Ginny Pressler

Office of the Governor

Pressler’s appointment is subject to Senate confirmation. She is currently the executive vice president and chief strategic officer at Hawaii Pacific Health, the largest health care provider in the state.

Rosen is set to start her new job next week as CEO of the beleaguered Hawaii Health Systems Corp.

Pressler was deputy director of the DOH’s Health Resources Administration from 1999 to 2002. The release says she was instrumental in obtaining 60 percent of the $1.3 billion tobacco settlement fund for public health purposes and initiated the Tobacco Trust Fund, Healthy Hawaii Initiative, Hawaii Outcomes Institute and Hawaii Uninsured Project.

Ige is slowly but surely putting his Cabinet together. He announced six other members on Dec. 3 and a handful of other appointments.

University Hires State Budget Director to Be Chief Financial Officer

The University of Hawaii Board of Regents has approved Kalbert Young's appointment.

·By Nathan Eagle

The University of Hawaii Board of Regents on Thursday confirmed the appointment of Kalbert Young as vice president for budget and finance and chief financial officer of the entire UH System, school officials announced.

Young served four years as finance director under Gov. Neil Abercrombie, overseeing the state’s $12 billion operating budget. He’s credited with helping turn Hawaii around financially during his tenure.

But with a new administration comes a new Cabinet, which left Young looking for a new job. Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday that Wes Machida, who headed the Employees’ Retirement System under Abercrombie, would be his budget director.

Hawaii Finance Director Kalbert Young and the governor’s chief of staff, Bruce Coppa, in 2013.

Civil Beat file photo

“Kalbert Young is highly regarded as a finance professional and as an outstanding communicator,”UH President David Lassner said in a release. “He will be a tremendous asset to the entire University of Hawaii as we work together with Gov. Ige and the Legislature to build a better future for our students and residents.”

Starting sometime around Jan. 5, Young will be UH’s chief financial affairs officer, responsible for leading and directing the university’s systemwide financial management and budgetary functions, the release says.

“I am excited for the opportunity to work with everyone on the UH management team and within the UH community to implement improvements that will advance everyone’s goal of evolving, growing and building our state university toward even greater prominence,” Young said.

“I look forward to my role in guiding the System’s financial, fiscal, and

Louie Out, Hawaii To Get New Attorney General

New Hawaii Gov. David Ige is still looking for a replacement, but admits it might be challenging to lure someone from the private sector.

·By Nick Grube

David Louie’s term at Hawaii’s attorney general ended when David Ige was sworn in as governor Monday at the State Capitol.

David Louie is no longer Hawaii’s attorney general.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ige will not keep Louie in his cabinet, and instead will be relying upon Russell Suzuki on an interim basis until a successor is chosen.

Suzuki was Louie’s first deputy attorney general for the past four years.

Ige told reporters at his first press conference that it’s been a challenge to fill certain cabinet positions in part because of the salary level.

Especially for the attorney general and budget director, Ige said the pay is “not commensurate with the private sector.”

It’s expected Ige will announce more cabinet appointments later this week, but that he will likely be filling positions well into January.

Final Preparations Underway Before Ige’s Inauguration

Roughly 2,000 seats have been set up in the Capitol rotunda for Monday's ceremony.

·By Nathan Eagle

The normally empty open-air rotunda at the Capitol was quickly filling up with people Monday morning for David Ige’s swearing-in ceremony.

The longtime state lawmaker is set to become Hawaii’s eighth elected governor at noon. 

An estimated 2,000 chairs have been set up along with a stage where Ige and his lieutenant governor, Shan Tsutsui, will take their oaths of office.

Chairs in the Hawaii Capitol rotunda are starting to fill up as people rehearse before the crowds arrive for David Ige’s inauguration ceremony Monday.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The morning ceremony is expected to involve students from Ige’s alma mater, Pearl City High School; a procession of veterans, including the famous 442nd Regimental Combat Team who will be carrying a flag from the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye; Raiatea Helm singing the national anthem; Pomaikai Lyman and the Kahaluu Elementary School Ukulele Choir singing Hawaii Ponoi; and an invocation by the Rev. Danny Akaka Jr.

After Ige and Tsutsui are sworn in, the afternoon’s festivities are slated to include dancing that happens to represent a wide range of constituents. There will be taiko drums and shishimai lion dogs; Miss Oahu Filipina doing a bamboo dance and some flamenco; a Japanese minyo classical dance; Scottish pipes and drums (and dancing); Korean classical dancing; and of course hula.

Civil Beat will be following the action throughout the day.

House Speaker Unveils Leadership Positions, Committee Chairs

Luke retains control of Finance; Rhoads keeps Judiciary; Tsuji takes control of Agriculture.

·By Nathan Eagle

House Speaker Joe Souki and the Democratic majority met in caucus briefly Wednesday afternoon before unveiling the 2015 leadership team and committee chair assignments for next legislative session, which convenes Jan. 21.

“The team that we have formed represents the kind of talents and abilities that will best serve our residents and will address the issues facing our state,” Souki said in a statement. “We look forward to engaging in meaningful discussions with Governor-elect David Ige and his administration to continue to identify ideas and solutions to help Hawaii move forward.”

The Senate organized last week, keeping Donna Mercado Kim as president, and announced its committee memberships Tuesday. There were few significant changes made in either chamber as compared to last session.

Hawaii House Speaker Joe Souki, left, and Majority Leader Scott Saiki talk to reporters after announcing leadership positions and committee chairs for the 2015 session, Nov. 12, 2014.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Members of the House leadership are:

Speaker of the House: Joseph Souki
Vice Speaker: John Mizuno
Majority Leader: Scott Saiki
Majority Floor Leader: Cindy Evans
Majority Whip: Ken Ito
Asst. Majority Leader: Chris Lee
Asst. Majority Leader: Roy Takumi
Speaker Emeritus: Calvin Say

2015 House Committee chairs:

Agriculture (AGR): Clift Tsuji, Chair; Richard Onishi, Vice Chair
Economic Development & Business (EDB): Derek Kawakami, Chair; Sam Kong, Vice Chair
Veterans, Military & International Affairs (VMI): Romy Cachola, Chair; Ken Ito, Vice Chair
Tourism & Culture and the Arts (TCA): Tom Brower, Chair; Takashi Ohno, Vice Chair
Labor & Public Employment (LAB): Mark Nakashima, Chair; Jarrett Keohokalole, Vice Chair
Public Safety (PBS):  Gregg Takayama, Chair; Kyle Yamashita, Vice Chair
Transportation (TRN): Henry Aquino,

Capitol Watch

James Pflueger Donates $4,000 to Libertarian Jeff Davis’ Campaign

The Honolulu car dealer was sentenced to jail soon after giving the Hawaii candidate for governor his biggest contribution yet.

·By Nathan Eagle

Two weeks before retired Honolulu car dealership owner James Pflueger was sentenced to jail for his role in the fatal Ka Loko dam breach, he made one of the biggest political donations of his life.

State campaign finance records filed this week show Pflueger gave $4,000 to Jeff Davis, the Libertarian candidate for Hawaii governor, on Sept. 30.

Pflueger, 88, was sentenced Oct. 15 to seven months in jail after pleading no contest in July 2013 to reckless endangering in the first degree. State prosecutors had alleged that Pflueger had illegally filled in the dam’s spillway, which, following more than a month of heavy rain on Kauai, led to its breach on March 14, 2006, washing away everything in its path and killing seven people.

Libertarian Jeff Davis speaks during a gubernatorial forum at UH West Oahu, Aug. 26.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

The campaign contribution is the largest Davis has received to date. He has raised $5,463 since entering the race and spent $472 as of Oct. 20.

The donation also appears to be the single largest that Pflueger has given, at least in the past several years. Campaign finance records show he has given a total of $4,000 to Colleen Hanabusa, but that happened over the course of two years between 2007 and 2009.

Pflueger has also given money to Mufi Hannemann, but not recently. He donated $2,000 to Hannemann in 2010 when he stepped down as Honolulu mayor to run for governor as a Democrat. But he hasn’t contributed to Hannemann’s campaign this year

Capitol Watch

Hawaii Rep. Awana: Don’t Dump Illegal Fireworks on Waianae Coast

Lawmaker is "exasperated" by plan to store and blow up the cache of fireworks involved in the 2011 fatal explosion.

·By Nathan Eagle

Hawaii Rep. Karen Awana sharply criticized a plan Monday that calls for using a rural property on the Waianae Coast as a place to store and dispose of a large cache of illegal fireworks.

The commercial-grade fireworks are the remnants of a stash that was involved in the 2011 explosion at a Waikele storage bunker that killed five people.

“This plan to bring hazardous fireworks into our backyard is downright exasperating,” Awana said in a statement. “Both the state and city have used the Waianae Coast as a dumping ground for far too long.”

Rep. Karen Awana official photo

Hawaii House of Representatives

She learned of the plan through a public notice in the Star-Advertiser last week that said the fireworks display firm Grucci Inc. is asking the state Department of Health for an emergency permit to store and dispose of the fireworks at 87-879 Paakea Road.

Awana, a Democrat who represents towns on the westside of Oahu, criticized government and company officials for not reaching out to the community about the proposal.

“We have seen the danger that it poses to the public and the community, and now they want to store and dispose of these fireworks here amongst our neighbors,” she said. “There has been no outreach or information from the parties involved with the members of the community who are being forced to bear this weight. While I still oppose this proposal, I will work towards facilitating a public meeting with all stakeholders so that the community will have an