Anyone wondering how Maui’s own Shan Tsutsui is doing over in the Lieutenant Governor’s office really ought to read yesterday’s Honolulu Star-Advertiser story “Tsutsui yearns for bigger role” (subscription required). In case you didn’t get the headline’s subtle subtext, it would seem that he’s had better jobs in his 44 years.
“I was involved in more strategic meetings; I was always involved in those things under the previous [Neil Abercrombie] administration,” Tsutsui told reporter Sophie Cocke. “Under this [David Ige] administration, probably not so much.”
Though Tsutsui assured Cocke that “I don’t ever want to be the rebel,” it’s clear that Ige himself has all but sidelined him to that role. Here’s a remarkable example: “Tsutsui said he isn’t sure who Ige’s strategic advisers are. ‘I assume they have a team,’ he said.”
This is just the way things are with lieutenant governors in Hawaii. Tsutsui was elected on his own, so Ige can’t get rid of him, but he can give him nothing to do–a point Cocke brutally sharpened with this paragraph:
“Hawaii lieutenant governors have little power unless afforded it by the governor. As Tsutsui sat in his office chair, a stack of name change applications in need of approval rested on his desk, one of his few official tasks as lieutenant governor.”
That’s right, folks: the former President of the Hawaii State Senate now sits at his desk approving name change applications.
The story briefly mentions speculation that Tsutsui may run for Maui Mayor in 2018, which sounds great–if we still have a mayor’s office by then. Because if Maui County Council Chairperson Mike White gets his way, Arakawa will be the county’s last elected mayor.
On Sept. 1, White sent over a package of stuff (mainly a June 28, 2015 Maui News editorial, and his own Maui News op-ed from July 19, 2015) to the Cost of Government Commission. In it, White asks the panel to study “the potential cost savings and efficiencies” derived from Maui County adopting a county manager form of government.
“A county manager would be a professional administrator appointed by the council,” White wrote in his cover letter to the commission. “This form of administration would provide stability in operations and draw professionally qualified department heads and deputies. The county manager would carry out the policies and execute ordinances established by the Council.”
Most municipalities in the U.S. have city or county managers at the top (not to be confused with Maui County Managing Director Keith Regan–who’s also running for the Maui County Council next year; he’s a mayoral appointee). In those cities and counties that have a mayor, it’s usually a figurehead position, rotated through the City or County Council. But the real power of running departments is vested with the manager.
While this does indeed “promote efficiency and professionalism in government,” as White says it does, it also places the levers of power even further away from the electorate (and vastly increases the power of the City or County Council). Normally I’d say this was a bad thing, but given the recent revelations about the political machinations from the knuckleheads running Mayor Alan Arakawa’s administration these days, it’s hard to say Maui might not benefit from White’s suggestion.
Photo courtesy Shan Tsutsui’s former state Senate office