Neil Builds An Administration

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - December 22, 2010

Areporter walked into the governor’s Dec. 15 news conference, looked at a list of appointments to be announced and said: “No attorney general? No director of the Department of Health? Let’s go home.”

He stayed, of course, to hear Gov. Neil Abercrombie introduce the director and three deputy directors of the Department of Transportation, deputy directors of the Department of Accounting and General Services and the Department of Human Services, the adjutant and deputy adjutant generals of the Department of Defense, the director of the Office of Community Services, the consumer advocate and the insurance commissioner.

With the day’s appointments, Abercrombie and his staff had looked through - by the governor’s own reckoning - some 4,000 resumes, in what he characterized as “as open a process as exists anywhere in the country” in selecting 14 of 16 directors and 12 deputy directors.

His appointments show that the Abercrombie administration will not be “Honolulucentric,” one of his campaign promises.

At earlier press conferences, Abercrombie named two veteran Hawaii Island state senators, Russell Kokubun and Dwight Takamine, as directors of the departments of Agriculture and Labor, respectively. And he dipped into Maui County’s talent pool for his money men: Kalbert Young to become director of the Department of Budget and Finance, and Fred Pablo to become director of the Department of Taxation.

Abercrombie’s career has been decidedly Honolulu-based - Manoa Valley and Oahu’s 1st Congressional District; but he spent a disproportionate amount of his campaign year working the Neighbor Islands, and his appointments reflect that. They also indicate that the governor either didn’t want or couldn’t get political heavy hitters to fill his cabinet. Indeed, the most frequently heard question following the release of each new list of Abercrombie appointees was: “Who are these people?”

Of course, many of the state’s heaviest hitters were never in the running; they had thrown their support early on to former-Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Others, no matter their affection for Abercrombie, simply weren’t interested in the grief or the loss in income - or both - a directorship entails.

Just as likely, Abercrombie wanted to advance “public employees” to whom he has frequently referred as one of the state’s “most underutilize resources.” He said as much on Dec. 15 when announcing Glenn Okimoto’s appointment as transportation director. The 57-year-old Okimoto has served as budget director of the University of Hawaii system, airports and harbors administrator in the Department of Transportation, and comptroller in the Department of Accounting and General Services. He would bring, Abercrombie understated, “institutional memory” to his new post.

Abercrombie’s appointments spoke, if in more-muted tones, of the 72-year-old Abercrombie’s desire to tap the talent of youth for his New Day in Hawaii. Budget and Finance director-designate Kalbert Young is 41. And of the 11 appointees named on Dec. 15, four were in their 40s.

Abercrombie’s press people best demonstrate his embrace of youth. Press secretary Donalyn Dela Cruz is 35, communications director Josh Levinson is 34, and deputy communications director Laurie Au is 26.

In characterizing his new appointees, Abercrombie says: “These are not political intriguers. They got here on their merit.” That’ll do. It’s Abercrombie’s job to provide the intrigue.

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