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Tsutsui announces resignation

With resignation, Tsutsui is headed home to Maui

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui speaks at the opening of the Central Maui Regional Sports Complex in Kahului in 2016. The lieutenant governor said in a news release Monday that he will return to Maui and work for Strategies 360. His resignation is effective Wednesday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photos

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui is resigning from the state’s second highest office effective Wednesday and will be returning to his home on Maui and joining a public affairs, communications and research firm.

The Maui High School graduate, who was elected to the state Senate in 2002, rose to Senate president in 2010 and then lieutenant governor in 2012, made the surprise announcement Monday. He will be joining Seattle-based Strategies 360, which has offices in Hawaii and 11 other western states and Washington, D.C., as senior vice president.

In an interview with The Maui News in October, Tsutsui said he was not running for re-election as lieutenant governor or for the open Maui County mayor’s seat. He cited family reasons for his decisions, wanting to return to Maui and to focus on his two daughters still at home. His eldest daughter started in college on the Mainland last year.

“With a grateful, yet heavy heart I am announcing today that I will be resigning as the lieutenant governor of the state of Hawaii,” he said in his news release.

“Over the past 15 years, it has been my honor and privilege to have served the people of Hawaii, first as a state senator from Maui and Senate president, and currently as your lieutenant governor,” Tsutsui said. “Throughout that time, I have always been mindful of the tremendous responsibility that comes with public office. I have greatly appreciated the trust and confidence that was bestowed upon me and have done my best to build a better Hawaii through collaboration and hard work, while honoring our shared core values of honesty, integrity and respect.”

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui is shown campaigning for lieutenant governor on Maui in 2014. Tsutsui is resigning his office this week to join a lobbying and public affairs firm.

Tsutsui pointed to his cooperative and collaborative style as Senate president and lieutenant governor.

“I did my best to ensure that all senators were respected and heard,” he said. “As your lieutenant governor, I have continued to work cooperatively with leaders in the public and private sectors, as well as members of the public, with that same level of respect and attention.”

Among the highlights of his more than five years as lieutenant governor, Tsutsui cited two education programs — the establishment of the Resources for Enrichment, Athletics, Culture and Health, an initiative to support after-school programs in more than 40 public middle and intermediate schools, and taking over the Farm to School Initiative, which turned into the ” ‘Aina Pono: Hawai’i’s Farm to Cafeteria Initiative,” to increase the purchase and consumption of local food in school cafeterias.

Tsutsui came to be lieutenant governor in the wake of the political dominoes created by the death of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye on Dec. 17, 2012. Then-Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz was appointed by then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie to fill out Inouye’s term and convinced Tsutsui, who was first in line of succession, to take the state’s second-highest post. Abercrombie promised a partnership and to open a Maui office so Tsutsui would not have to spend all of his time on Oahu.

Tsutsui won the post outright in the 2014 election, but the man who convinced him to take the job, Abercrombie, lost to David Ige.

During his four years under Ige, Tsutsui has been sidelined on many issues, including those involving Maui County, such as the privatization of Maui Memorial Medical Center. In the October interview, he described his relationship with Ige as “cordial.”

“I have a lot of respect for him, but I think we have a little bit of different styles, and I respect that,” Tsutsui said. “He is the governor and his approach on things, which I may have done them differently, at the end of the day, he gets to make those calls.

“I don’t have any hard feelings.”

Ige said Monday that “it is with a mixture of sadness and gratitude that I learned of Shan’s decision to step down from his position as lieutenant governor.”

“He has dedicated the last 15 years to serving the people of Hawaii,” Ige said. “As lieutenant governor he has worked tirelessly on Aloha Stadium and the Farm to School Initiative in our effort to boost local food production in our state. I also applaud Shan’s effort to support after-school programs in our public schools.

“I wish Shan and his family the very best always.”

Ige spokeswoman Jodi Leong said Monday that the governor was notified of Tsutsui’s resignation Monday morning, before the public announcement.

Senate President Ron Kouchi said Monday that he is not interested in becoming lieutenant governor.

“While it was known that Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui would not be seeking re-election to his current office, being informed that the effective date of his resignation is in two days leaves me with mixed emotions,” Kouchi said Monday. “While I am personally happy that Shan is able to spend more time with his family, who has sacrificed in order for Shan to serve Maui, the state Senate, and the state of Hawaii, I am professionally saddened because Shan’s resignation leaves a gaping hole in our current political fabric.”

House Speaker Scott Saiki is next in line. He did not respond to queries about his becoming lieutenant governor Monday.

If Saiki declines, the state Constitution says the attorney general, finance director and comptroller are next in line in that order.

Tsutsui starts his new job Wednesday. He described Strategies 360 as a company that offers targeted public affairs, strategic communications and research services to position clients for success, no matter what the challenge. The company has experts drawn from the worlds of government, politics, the news media, quantitative and qualitative research, advertising, marketing and creative design.

“As I leave public service, I look forward to continuing to be a part of Hawaii’s future and helping to forge a new path that honors our shared beliefs and my continued commitment to improving the lives of the people of Hawaii,” he said.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.