KAANAPALI - Gov. Neil Abercrombie is "of course" endorsing Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui of Maui to retain the second highest post in the state, the governor said prior to his keynote address to the Maui Chamber of Commerce on Friday.
"Of course, we are a team," Abercrombie said of himself and Tsutsui, the former state Senate president whom he appointed to fill the position in 2012, after a domino effect of appointments following the death of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
Without naming them, Abercrombie said he knows the other Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor "very, very well," but that it's not about personal relationships. Running with Tsutsui is about the "future of Hawaii," he said.
Outgoing Maui Chamber of Commerce Chairman Nelson Okumura talks to Gov. Neil Abercrombie prior to the start of the Maui Chamber of Commerce’s annual installation lunch, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, Friday at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.
The Maui News / MELISSA TANJI photo
The other Democratic lieutenant governor candidates include state Sen. Clayton Hee and former television reporter Mary Zanakis.
Abercrombie said that he appointed his former Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to Inouye's position in the U.S. Senate for the future of the state, as well. He defied Inouye's request to have U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa replace him. Newly confirmed assistant secretary for insular areas for the Department of Interior, Esther Kia'aina, also was in the running. All were "excellent" candidates, he added.
Schatz and Hanabusa currently are duking it out for Inouye's old seat, with the Democratic nominee to be selected in the Aug. 9 primary election.
The governor himself appears to be in a tough primary fight as well. According to a recent Civil Beat poll, Abercrombie's opponent, state Sen. David Ige, had an 11 percentage point lead.
"I've done ahead in polls; I've done behind in polls," Abercrombie said about the Civil Beat poll, adding that he was down in the polls during his first victorious gubernatorial run.
"What I do is work hard every day" to restore faith and trust in government, he said.
The governor wanted voters to know that there is strength in the economy, which wasn't there three years ago, when he took office.
"We're back. We're in the black. We're on the right track," he said.
Abercrombie repeated that phrase at least two times during his keynote address before the Maui Chamber of Commerce, which was holding its installation luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort & Spa.
During his address, Abercrombie touted how the state had found its way out of the Great Recession, which began in 2007 with calamity in the nation's financial markets. He said that when his administration came into office there was a $220 million state deficit in addition to furloughs, program cuts and layoffs.
Last year, the state saw an $844 million surplus. This year, Abercrombie said he expects the surplus to be lower, about $698 million.
"I think that shows results," he said.
He also touted the state's declining unemployment numbers, currently hovering around 4.4 percent. This is below the national rate of about 6 percent and below the 7 percent on Oahu and 8 to 9 percent on the Neighbor Islands when he became governor.
Speaking to a room of more than 100 businesspeople, Abercrombie said that he runs the state like a business. He called his billions of dollars in infrastructure projects, such as highways and airports, part of his business.
"They are your investments," he said.
Abercrombie pointed to the multimillion-dollar bathroom renovations being done in phases at Kahului Airport; the current rehabilitation work on the H-1 Freeway on Oahu; the opening of the Lahaina Bypass; the new Kahului Airport access road under construction; the new Kihei high school and the airport's new consolidated rental car facility; and the new Central Maui Regional Park.
The governor said that now is the time to be building because interest rates are the lowest in the history of the state and the projects put people to work.
Under his watch, the state also has committed funds to unfunded retiree pensions and medical insurance. On Monday, the state put down $100 million to prefund the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund.
"We're no longer a pay-as-you-go state," Abercrombie said, adding that this policy will be recognized positively by credit ratings agencies.
Other things the governor touched on in his speech:
* He noted that the Hawaii Council of Revenues for now has predicted "no less" than 5 percent annual growth into 2020.
* He pledged not to raise taxes if re-elected.
The Maui Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors for 2014-15 were installed during Friday's meeting. Jim Walsh of Atlantis Submarines is the chairman. Directors are: Marilyn Chapman, Maui Disposal Co.; Charles Dando, American Savings Bank; Debbie Finkiewicz, Maui Closet Co.; Gwen Hiraga, Munekiyo & Hiraga; Leland Kahawai, First Hawaiian Bank; Myles Kawakami, Hawaiian Carpet One; Mike Kelley, Beach Activities of Maui; Jeremy Kozuki, Home Maid Bakery; Thomas Leuteneker, Pueo Coffee Co.; Dan Ligienza, Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.; Mahina Martin, Maui Electric Co.; Michael Mochizuki, Office Max; Lester Nakamoto, Bank of Hawaii; Rick Nava, MSI Maui; Kit Okazaki, State Farm Insurance; and Kevin Yoshida, Central Pacific Bank.
Ex-officio officers are: Tom Cole, attorney; Lisa Paulson, Maui Hotel & Lodging Association; Jeanne Skog, Maui Economic Development Board; and Terryl Vencl, Maui Visitors Bureau.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.