Governor Lingle delivered the keynote address at the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce Business Luncheon Friday, September 7 and updated members on actions her Administration is taking to address the state's fiscal and economic challenges by creating jobs, investing in capital improvement projects and focusing on Hawai`i's long-term economic future.
Watch the Governor's speech (35 minutes), plus Q & A (7 minutes) courtesy of Akaku.
Aloha everyone, it’s great to be here with you today. For me, it’s great to be home and to see so many of my friends, and as I look out into the audience today if I start naming them, we would be here quite a while, but even if I only named the past presidents of the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce: I see my good friend Jimmy Haynes sitting back here, a former president. Of course, your current president Chubby Vicens. Judge Mossman of course, a former president, and my former director of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Micah Kâne is here.
The managing director (Sheri Morrison) for the County of Maui is here. The Maui member on the Hawaiian Homes Commission has been such a big part of our success in my administration, Perry Artates, is here as well, good to have you here Perry.
I saw some legislators here in the room and I just spoke to them. I didn’t have a list, but I see Senator Brickwood Galuteria is here, Senator Kalani English, Representative Mele Carroll. I don’t know if there are others, those are just the ones I have seen.
And I’m especially happy to be here and to have sat next to a very old friend of mine during our lunchtime period, he’s also one of your former presidents of the Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, he and I were first elected together to the Maui County Council in 1980. I know it’s a long time ago, Howard Kihune your former president.
I don’t think Howard would mind me telling you this about him in those early days, but when we were elected in 1980 we came in the same time, three of us came in that year, three brand new people who were freshmen and the freshmen were me, Howard and Wayne Nishiki. We had quite a freshman group!
We have stayed friends all these years, but I used to tell Howard during those first years and for those of you who know a little Maui history, you know that Howard was never defeated for office, he left office voluntarily. I wasn’t surprised because what I used to tell him all the time was Howard, you’re too nice for politics; and I think I was correct He’s just a sweet, sweet man, a gentleman, a great person and a good friend, and it’s good to be with you here, Howard. And we’re of different political parties, by the way; but in those days it didn’t matter the way it seems to be today so that was a special treat for me.
I’m looking forward to the silent auction because I’m of the belief that this organization, the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce, and native Hawaiian chambers of commerce generally, are perfectly positioned to be able to provide the kind of leadership we’re going to need in this decade ahead. They have the ability to cross between a good clear understanding of the economy and business and what that takes and the heart and culture of the people and the place of Hawai‘i: the people and the land.
You are the only organization, I believe, who brings those two aspects of our lives here together. And these are both critically important aspects of what makes living in Hawai‘i so wonderful. So I believe and I will predict that in the next few years your membership is going to explode. You’re trying, and you’ve got a tremendous organization already, I know that you are a relatively young organization but I expect in these years ahead:
Decision makers are going to come to you, people who want to do projects are going to come to you, and other business people who may not be native Hawaiian are going to come to you because this is where the two aspects of our lives that both have to be healthy, this is where they come together.
If we don’t have a healthy economy everything else we want to do: provide our children with a great education, have enough resource officers to protect our natural environment, have money that we can help the needy – everything we want to do relies on a strong economy.
On the other side, if we loose what’s so special about a people and a place, if we just pay lip service to culture and it’s not authentic, then we’ve lost what we are. So being able to bring these two things together the way your organization uniquely can, I think is going to position you in the years ahead to become an extremely important organization, more so than you may have yourselves even realized.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to come, and to the extent I’m a little bit of an outsider of the organization, sometimes it takes someone to tell you what maybe you would think would be maybe too prideful or too arrogant to believe it, but I believe it. This organization is going to be a premiere organization in this county and in the state of Hawai‘i. And I’m excited, that’s why I was looking forward to coming here and sharing some of my thoughts with you today.
When I arrived, Chubby and Howard and Judge Mossman were telling me about the ceremony that took place this morning on the beach and I was sad that I wasn’t there to see it, to witness it, to be a part of it. But he said that they had a DVD of it or a tape of it and I’ll look forward to watching that and just hearing about it made me feel very good so it must have been just a very moving experience for those of you who were able to watch from the shore.
Now, I read yesterday that Dr. Leroy Laney was here on the island of Maui and he spoke about the economy, and Dr. Laney always does a great job and he gives some good statistics and he talks about occupancy levels and personal income levels and issues affecting the economy.
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I read the article and I read some of his quotes and I wanted to pick up on a couple of things he said and build my remarks around that. I had some prepared remarks but some other things have hit me since this morning and reading what he had to say. He talked about this recovery being a gradual recovery, and I think some people, most people probably look at that and just look at the negative aspects of that, and honestly it’s pretty negative.
The recovery is going to be a long time. We want it to be quick enough so people get back to work quicker, so businesses do better, so we have the money we need so we can carry out all the things we want to do in the community, but there is an opportunity in the fact that it is a gradual recovery, and those of us in the Administration at the State government, we talk a lot about this these days, we talk about finding opportunity in difficult times. We can all sit around and talk about how difficult it is and we can quote numbers and tourism is down but where are the opportunities?
That’s what I want to talk about today. I think the opportunity is this: It gives us a chance, because we have been suffering an economic decline over the past at least year-and-a-half, two years, it gives us an opportunity to prioritize our actions.
What does that mean?
It means to put what’s most important first. And then what’s second important next, and don’t get these things mixed up.
So our priority is to recover economically. That has to be our top priority. Why? Because without that recovery, we cant do any of the other things we want to do.
A gradual recovery gives us a chance to pause and recognize that we have to prioritize these actions and I’m going to talk about what my priorities are at the state level.
It also gives us the chance to reflect on the fact that our actions have consequences. And I’ll talk to you specifically, what I mean by that.
It also gives us a chance to decide what it is we are for, rather than what it is we are against. In our time it seems to be that people are real quick to tell you what they’re against what they don’t want, but they don’t seem to be able to articulate a clear vision for what we do want. What are we for? And then put at least as much effort behind what we’re for as behind what we’re against.
So now let me break down those three things: priorities, consequences for our actions, and what we’re for and what I believe we should be for and I apologize in advance if I believe we should be for things that you don’t, but you asked me to come share my views so I’ll do my best and I respect that fact that not everyone will see it the same way, and that’s okay.
First of all, let’s talk about priorities. I said the economy was number one and it is. A critical component of that is energy security for the people of Hawai‘i. So that we are not reliant on shipping oil from across oceans that’s been purchased from foreign countries and foreign companies and that we send billions of dollars outside of the state. And these two things are not separated. The economy is not separated from energy security and a clean energy future – these two things are linked together.
The third and the final priority for me is education. And again these things are linked together. You can’t have a strong economy if your people aren’t educated in the fields where jobs are going to be created in the future.
So that for me was the easy part, setting priorities. The economy, energy security and a clean energy future and a top-notch educational system – K-12, preschool, university – just education. Retraining of workers is part of that, workforce development is also a part of education. And my opinion is, these three things are not separate, they’re all linked together: the economy, energy and education.
The second point I made to you is that a gradual recovery gives us a chance to reflect on the fact that there are consequences to our actions. Sometimes we’re aware of the consequences and we’ve weighed them and we know these are the consequences but we want to do it anyway, and I think that’s good. Sometimes, we don’t think about the consequences we just do things as government or as an individual, and when the consequences hit, people are taken by surprise.
That’s because politicians in particular don’t stop and consider what the ramifications of what you’re doing are. Of this law you just passed, what impact it’s going to have on investments into the county, what impact is it going to have to the state if we raise the hotel room tax at a time when people all over the world are looking for the least expensive vacation they can find – that’s the very time we raise the hotel room tax.
There’s a fallout to that, there’s a consequence to that kind of action. Now, in Dr. Laney’s article one of the points was that Maui is going to have a hard time coming back, a harder time than other outlets because of our success of promoting Maui as a high-end exclusive kind of place to come. And he’s right about that, in my opinion.
It will be harder for us now because we have positioned ourselves as a high-end exclusive, quality place to take a vacation. But we know the consequences of that. We really didn’t need Dr. Laney to tell us that.
We know when people are looking for bargains it’s harder for us to come back, but we made a conscious decision because we don’t want to be over-run with people. So if they can sell one hotel room at $300, or we can have two people come at $150 each but it doubles the number of people coming, that’s okay. We made the decision long ago in Maui that we were going to target that market. I think it was the right decision long, long before I came along. I think it’s a right decision now. But again, it’s just an example that there are consequences to the actions that you take.
I’ve been dealing with it this week – you may have been reading or listening about it – with the collective bargaining that is going on with the public employee unions. When I came out with a plan to furlough employees, I did it because the consequence of not doing it was to have layoffs.
The unions decided to fight about that issue and the consequences have been layoffs. I believe they are unnecessary consequences. I believe we could have much, much earlier – a year ago – come to an agreement on the furlough plan; but they made a decision and their decision had consequences. The sad thing is, the consequences are not for them. The union leaders’ jobs were not affected, their salary wasn’t affected; but certainly the people they represent were deeply, deeply affected.
I mentioned the increase in taxes for the hotel room tax having consequences; but there have been other decisions that have consequences here in Maui.
The Superferry decision and the lack of support that we received from the business community and the political leaders of Maui had consequences. Everybody knew what they were against. Everybody was quick to talk about the process that wasn’t followed, and that we should have followed a different process, in their opinion. They drafted laws to tie our hands, and to make it difficult for the Superferry to survive.
There were consequences for the political leadership here not stepping up and coming out strong and saying, “We need this. If there were steps that weren’t followed, let’s get that handled; but we’re for this alternative for our people.”
I stood in Honolulu one day and watched as the Superferry unloaded its vehicles. The people drove their trucks, their cars off the Superferry. All local people, all small business people, all the kids going back to college, and now they could take more stuff because they could put it in the back of their car, or the back of their truck.
I think there are few episodes that have been as pathetic in the lack of political leadership as there were in that Superferry situation. I know that in my opinion, the majority of people support the Superferry – certainly the business community did – but they weren’t very clear about it. They weren’t very vocal about it. They didn’t really put too much effort. They certainly didn’t put much effort as those who were against.
That’s my point. We need to put at least equal effort into the things that we’re for, as the things we’re against. Otherwise, we won’t end up with the things that we’re for.
Dr. Laney’s article pointed to a couple of laws that had been passed on Maui in the last couple of years. One regarding the amount affordable housing that is being required for projects, and one requiring proof of water. Whether you are in favor or against the ordinances, and I’m not going to comment on my opinion about them; but I am going to say again, there were consequences to passing those kinds of ordinances. Consequences on projects being able to go forward. Consequences whether or not people even want to invest money with these kinds of ordinances. So it is important to know that our actions definitely do have consequences.
On this theme of what we’re for as opposed to what we’re against, I had this experience as it relates to one of our priorities – the energy priority. It involved gas caps. Remember a few years ago when the Legislature passed a gas cap on the price of wholesale gasoline? I was against it. We would talk about it – and this discussion went on for two or three legislative sessions – finally one day, someone from my team said, “You know Governor, I hear that you’re against it; but what are you for? Okay, prices are going up. We’re still dependent on foreign oil. We’re still lacking in security that we need to have our own sources of energy here. So, okay, you’re against the gas cap; but what are you for?”
It was like a big light bulb went on. I said, “Of course. People want to know if you’re not for this, what are you for?” And I believe we have been able to articulate now a very clear vision of energy independence, energy security – the things that we are for. We actually have put together something called the Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative – HCEI. We worked with the county governments. We have an agreement with the United States Department of Energy to have 70 percent clean energy by the year 2030 and that 70 percent is not all renewables – 40 percent are renewables and 30 percent are efficiency and conservation.
But that’s 70 percent within one generation – clean energy for our state to make us more secure, to make our economy stronger. So being able to be for something is important; and being able to actually put it down on paper, to come up with a plan and then articulate it to other people, to ask them to come in and share their opinions and be a part of it is very important. I believe it is one of the reasons why the HCEI initiative has so much support across the state.
It’s the one area where the Legislature and I work very closely together and I think it’s because it’s something we’re for. It’s not – they’re against and I’m for, or I’m against and they’re for – we’re both for it. So it’s finding things that we are for.
Now as a part of the Clean Energy Initiative, as I mentioned 40 percent renewables. Maui and Maui County have an important role to play in the renewable portion of the Clean Energy Initiative. They especially have a role to play as it relates to a proposed undersea cable to bring energy from Moloka‘i and Lâna‘i to connect it to Maui to be able to bring it to the island of O‘ahu where the majority of the people live.
Now, they’re going to be issues with the undersea cable, no question about it. There are going to be environmental issues, there are going to be cultural issues, there are going to be financial issues; but we could say the same thing about the wind project that went up at Kaheawa. There were environmental issues, there were cultural issues, and there were financial issues. You could say the same thing about the wave energy project off the Haiku area. There are environmental issues, cultural issues, and financial issues. In fact, I can’t think of a renewable energy project that someone couldn’t raise an issue and then say, “That’s why I’m against it.”
Think about it like this: is any one of those alternatives – wind, solar, wave, ocean thermal energy conversion, geothermal, hydropower – is any of them as bad as taking $5-7 billion a year out of the Hawai‘i economy and giving it to a foreign country or a foreign company to buy oil to ship it across the ocean to burn into the atmosphere? I take the position that none of those are as bad as burning fossil fuel, sending pollution into the environment, sending our money outside of the state, creating no jobs for the people of Hawai‘i. Just taking those billions every year – the very thought of it should upset all of us. That depending on the price of oil, every year, we take our own money that we could be using to create jobs here at home for our people and we hand it off to a foreign country or a foreign company. Our state is the most oil-dependent state in America – 97 percent of our oil, of our energy is produced with fossil fuels that we import to the state.
But that doesn’t create jobs for our people. So when this issue comes up about the undersea cable, or issues about the solar farm, or an ocean energy project, maybe use this context. Instead of seeing that project in isolation, think about it in the bigger framework. Is it as bad as sending our money out of the State of Hawai‘i to buy oil from foreign countries or foreign companies? And then burn it and send the pollution into the atmosphere? I take the strong position that there is nothing you can point to that is worse than what we are doing with our money, than what we are doing to our environment.
So this gradual recovery gives us all a chance – it gives me a chance to think through these issues. I want to say that I think as a Chamber of Commerce in particular, and because Maui is a place I care so deeply about, I wanted my speech to encourage you to get involved more politically, to hold your political leaders to a higher standard. When they come out against things, ask them, “What are you for? How are we going to get our farmers projects to market on O`ahu? What is your solution, Senator? Representative, what is your solution?
What about all of our craftspeople who want to participate in the big craft shows that happen at the Blasdell Center in Honolulu? I can tell you that people are participating – they put all their products in the car and drive it off to the crafts fair and they come back. So what is your solution so that they can do that and make a living for themselves and their family?
The Chamber, because you represent businesses, I believe it is your kuleana to pose those kinds of questions. What is your solution? You don’t want another hospital to be built in South Maui, you don’t think it’s a good idea – well here are all the problems we are trying to solve – what is your solution? How will we deal with these issues?
I want to share with you before I get to what I’m for here on Maui, I want to share an experience I had on the Big Island over this past year involving a project that was either a “you’re for it, or you’re against it” kind of project. I was sitting in my office and I received a call from a group who was involved with the Thirty Meter Telescope project on the Big Island. They call it TMT. They wanted to build this Thirty Meter Telescope in a sensitive area – a culturally and environmentally-sensitive area. They were going to invest $1.5 billion in the telescope, they were going to invest millions of dollars in the local school system and the university, they were going to employ a lot of people – construction initially, but over time, they would employ a lot of good people in scientifically-based jobs. So this group that called me up said, “Governor, we’re having a problem moving this along and we wanted to come in and talk to you about it.”
They were dealing with the University of Hawai‘i at the time and they needed to get leases and permission – they needed the university to meet with them. Of course, they needed me to be with them. So I called the President of the University and at the first meeting, I had the chairman of the Board of Regents, and a couple regents from the Big Island and we talked about this project. I basically said to them, “Do you have other multi-billion dollar projects that you are working on? Is that why you’re not giving attention to this project that creates so many jobs? Because I’m for it, I’m telling you, I’m for it.”
And they, to their credit, sprang into action. The people of the Big Island had never experienced something quite like this before. By the way, the Thirty Meter Telescope, the way it all turned out, we were competing between Hawai‘i and the nation of Chile in South America. Not only was this a construction and jobs issue; but whoever got this telescope would be the center of this kind of astronomy for decades and decades to come.
So we were in this competition, and we were promoting why we should get it, and it came to a vote of the board of the TMT. It turned out that we won, and Hawai‘i got the Thirty Meter Telescope, and it will be a one–and-a-half billion dollar investment in the state, it will create jobs. Not everybody agrees with me, and I believe that the project does a lot to recognize the cultural aspects, the environmental aspects, the financial aspects, the educational aspects. But did they satisfy everyone? No. But you know in your own life that you can’t satisfy everyone, so there comes a point where a political leader has to stand and say, “I respect those people who have a different point of view, but I’m for it.”
And if you’re against it, then I think you have appropriate kuleana to say, “If you’re against that, what are you for – for our children’s future? What are you for? How will you create these kinds of jobs? How will you create this kind of investment in the state? How will you position Hawai‘i as a center for science in the world? What is your solution?”
I believe that had the people of the Big Island not come together – and by the way, labor and business came together and they would hold signs on the street. Do you know how with the Superferry there were signs that said “down with the Superferry,” “impeach Lingle,” whatever they were saying… [laughter] … That’s okay, Judge, I had those “impeach Lingle” signs with the ceded lands issue too.
Picture this, the community coming out on the street – not for something they were against; but they were for. As far as the eye could see, businesspeople, the university community, the labor community, children coming out and saying this is our future. We’re for it. “Yes on TMT,” that was their sign. I honestly believe political leadership would not have been enough to win the board’s vote without the community pulling together the way they did. They got the telescope. They’re building that bright future for the kids there on the Big Island.
So what am I for here? It just happens there’s a telescope being proposed. I know there are feelings on both sides of this issue; but I think it’s an appropriate time because as Dr. Laney said, “The recovery will be gradual.” That’s optimistic. On Maui, the recovery is going to be tough. You’re still in the downturn now. It has not turned around. I believe he was speaking nationally when he said the recovery would be gradual.
We’re not in recovery in Maui. Occupancies continue to be poor. Spending continues a steep decline. Unemployment continues to increase. We’ve all been reading about the Makena-Prince and what they’re going through right now, so in my opinion; there is no recovery that has begun. It will come and we’ll find opportunities when it does.
I was talking to your leadership about that, and they have the right attitude and that is, “Look for the opportunities and they are going to be there.” But for me, as I learn about the projects, the advanced technology solar telescope that is being proposed here on Haleakala; and I know as well as almost anyone how sensitive an issue like this is. I know that not everybody is going to agree with me about this, so why am I for it? Why do I even bother to speak up about it? Because it’s what I’m for. And if I’m going to ask you to stand up and speak up when you’re for something, then I want to be able to do the same thing.
I’m for it because it truly will position Maui as a center of world science in this field. The National Science Foundation has pledged $20 million to Maui Community College over the next two years for training to make certain that the jobs that are created – that our young people have a good chance for those jobs. Yes, it will create 100 jobs during the construction phase; but I think the more important aspect of it is the $15 million a year operating budget for the economy. That money comes from outside the state. That’s the kind that we need.
If you’re not for a project like this, what are you for? Think about it for a minute because let’s look at what Maui will look like when the recovery does come, which it will; but if we don’t start to move forward on what we’re for right now, I’ll tell you what it will look like when we recover. We’ll be equally dependent on tourism the way we are today and it’s an important component in the economy. I want it to be strong; but as you know, to have all your eggs in one basket – if something hits the economy like the recession, or the airline strike, or the way a natural disaster could – it could impact tourism. If our eggs are all in this basket, we have not made any progress beyond today. We’re at the same place we were when we started.
So if recovery takes two years and we don’t start moving on projects that we’re for and can truly bring about some diversification in the economy, we’ll be right where we are today.
The economy will look the same, we’ll have the same problems, and we’ll have the same current weaknesses. I leave you with the opportunity that I see in the gradual recovery that was described by Dr. Laney – it’s a chance to get our priorities straight, a chance to reflect that our actions do have consequences. It’s a time to outline and articulate what we’re for.
We all love Maui – whether you’re for the telescope or against the telescope – we all love Maui. You don’t love it more or less because you’re for or against it, but when you process the description I just gave you – think about it. If we come through this horribly difficult period and we come out of it right at the same place, well then shame on us and shame on your elected leaders for not putting you into a position for when we did recover so that when we recover, we are in a better position than we were when the downturn started. I know we can get to that better place, but it’s going to take all of us – us as political leaders, you as business and cultural leaders – and I believe we can do it.
I’m going to stop talking and take any questions that you might have; but remember the day I came here and I predicted to you that this organization will become the premier go-to organization for people throughout the state.