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Advice To Governor Neil Abercrombie

Call for extended Hawaii Legislative Session now

Scott Foster  Jan 29, 2011

The Governor Spoke... I watched Governor Neil Abercrombie's State of the State address on TV, only a few days after attending an event where the Governor spoke and took questions from a gathering of perhaps 100 diehard Democrat supporters and 12-15 elected Democrats. I thought the two speeches eloquent, well composed, and both were delivered in a far-more measured tone than one might have expected from "firebrand" Neil Abercrombie. While the old Neil was very much in evident, he was uncharacteristically subdued, and I rather like his new style.

I've known the Governor for many years and once had what I thought to be a rather cordial relationship. That relationship changed dramatically after I met with him shortly after he was first elected U.S. Representative. I went to his Honolulu office to express my concerns about the unseemly actions of one of his close friends and I still have Neil's handwritten "thank you" note ending with, "I look forward to working with you in the years to come." Despite the cordial rhetoric, we never much talked after that and I'm sorry for the outcome. As I understand it, his close friend is one of the people currently vetting key administration appointments.

Abercrombie deserves a honeymoon, but...
As I recently wrote here in "A New Democrat Governor & Administration", "Whatever one's political persuasion, one might hope that all would wish our new governor success -- for like it or not, Neil Abercrombie is now the Captain of our little canoe and we are in the midst of an economic storm which could indeed drown us all." While I do continue to believe it important to give our new Governor a little breathing room -- the time to at least learn where the light switches and bathrooms are -- events seem to be overtaking Governor Abercrombie.

Very Vexing Vetting…
On January 27th, the Governor's just-appointed interim State Health Director, Dr. Neal Palafox abruptly resigned after the news broke that he may be under investigation for medical billing fraud. The good doctor was once on staff at Wahaiwa General Hospital and was previously the Medical Director for the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The failure of Governor Abercrombie's senior advisors to adequately vet Palafox was noted by Senator Clayton Hee who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee where the confirmation of all of the Governor's appointments takes place. Meanwhile, when asked by a Hawaii News Now reporter about the unusual situation with his new-ex boss, recently-appointed Deputy Director For Environmental Health, Gary Gill replied, "Nope, nope, nope, no. Thanks for trying". So much for the new administration's openness and transparency.

There are many other appointments awaiting the Senate Judiciary's scrutiny and I want to call special attention to Governor Abercrombie's recently-appointed interim Director of the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA), Kealii Lopez. writer Kimo Kapa`a detailed many of my own concerns in a recent article HERE . With the obvious failure of the Governor's vetting process for the Palafox appointment, it would behoove the Senate Judiciary Committee to carefully evaluate Lopez' qualifications -- given the fact that the DCCA regulates industries and businesses which comprise some 40% of the state's entire GDP.

To round out a recap of the Governor's recent appointments, one can expect many lawsuits because of a quick decision made by the aforementioned Deputy Director For Environmental Health, Gary Gill who issued a recall of more than 100 local food products processed at First Commercial Kitchen. According to Hawai`i News Now, "A day after a recall [January 26th], health officials are still trying to figure out which brands should be on the list. The state Department of Health plans to send out a revision soon that will only include items manufactured at First Commercial Kitchen during the last three years." The story went on to say, "Officials said they released the names of products and businesses posted on the company's website because they weren't getting the information they needed from the Waipio business [First Commercial Kitchen]."

As the new Governor has often noted (and indeed used it as his main campaign theme), it is "A New Day In Hawai`i." Perhaps like never before, Hawai`i is confronted with a tsunami of serious challenges -- any one of which would take significant time and the best minds available to adequately address. Meanwhile, the State House was very late in organizing and assigning important committee chairs and hiring staff, there is a huge hole in the state budget with no Administration budget expected until May, and the new administration is still working to fill many key administrative and staff positions. Many of those already at work are new to the job and certainly to many of the daunting, often-intertwined issues which directly impact the public's health, public safety, livelihoods and our future well-being.

At last count, over 800 bills are in the hopper to be considered by the legislature and we are already at the end of the first full week. Article III, Section 10, of the Hawaii Constitution states that the regular sessions of the Legislature are limited to sixty legislative days -- "excluding Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, the days in mandatory recess, and any days in recess pursuant to a concurrent resolution." This is not simply enough time for the new administration, the many new legislators and their already overworked staff to deal with it all in a considered manner. My one piece of advice to our new Governor would be to call for an extended session now and give all concerned the time to settle in. This "new normal" is not a time for political expediency or game playing.

UPDATE: The primary Honolulu City dump aka "The Waimanalo Gulch Landfill" is now partially open again after "a wall" of heavily-contaminated water, garbage, and mud containing a veritable witch's brew of heavy metals and chemicals such as chlordane, fecal matter (processed then dumped as "sludge" from Honolulu County's wastewater treatment plants), and medical waste containing full vials of blood and syringes all came roaring down after a heavy rain caused a "cell" to burst" -- closing the beaches on Oahu's Leeward Coast. This was first reported here on January 18th, 2011

Call for extended Hawaii Legislative Session now

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