A Last Look At Politics In 2013

The year started amid uncertainty. The death of United States Sen. Daniel K. Inouye just prior to Christmas 2012 left policymakers worried. State Budget Director Kalbert Young voiced concern about an “Inouye effect,” i.e., an economic downturn caused by the loss of Inouye as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. In the new year, who could direct bushels of federal booty Hawaii’s way?

The year 2013 ended, however, in economic self-congratulation. State revenues were up high enough to create an $800 million budget surplus for the year. Gov. Neil Abercrombie crowed; House Finance chairwoman Sylvia Luke purred – as well they should.


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Sen. Daniel Inouye | Star-Advertiser photos

And the state unemployment rate had dropped to 4.4 percent, a full percentage point lower than a year previously. That 4.4 percent was the fourth lowest in the nation.

So economically, 2013 treated Hawaii well – at least statistically. To be sure, Hawaii’s high cost of housing, transportation and food did not drop. Nor did the state’s economy diversify even a smidgen. It remained tourism and the military and a few other things. Very few other things.

The regular legislative session went well. A coalition of minority Republicans and majority Democrats brought Joe Souki back to the Speaker’s Chair and provided him with undivided support. (Well, sort of undivided.)

The Senate lost President Shan Tsutsui to yet another Abercrombie appointment: this one to the lieutenant governorship. Vice chairwoman Donna Mercado Kim stepped up. At session’s end, tranquility appeared to reign.

But not for long. In November, the Legislature was called back into session to deal with same-sex marriage. Proponents had sufficient votes in both houses, but the House leadership allowed almost unlimited testimony to drag the scheduled weeklong session on … and on … and on. It focused legislators’ attention, but it proved traumatic for all. At its conclusion, Hawaii became the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage.

Hawaii lost two stellar public figures. The first, former state Sen. Cal Kawamoto, flew combat missions in Vietnam. After his retirement from the service, Kawamoto gave himself to Waipahu. As executive director of Waipahu Cultural Garden Park, he took a long, dormant dream of a plantation village and made it reality. He walked City Hall and the Capitol, lobbying, begging, exhorting – and Hawaii’s Plantation Village opened in 1992. In the ensuing years, tens of thousands of Hawaii’s youths have toured it, gaining in the process a three-dimensional understanding of the peopling of modern Hawaii.

The year 2013 also saw the passing of former Lt. Gov. Jean King. She served six years in the Legislature before winning election as Hawaii’s first female lieutenant governor, in 1978. King had enormous class and personal dignity, enough to know Hawaii’s meaningless lieutenant governorship was no place to waste eight years of a life. In 1982, she challenged Gov. George Ariyoshi, lost the Democratic primary and put politics aside forever.

To their credit, from start to finish of 2013, Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Gov. Abercrombie paved roads, resulting in some massive traffic jams. In 2013’s final two weeks, the president and his entourage also moved about Honolulu.

So in the waning light of 2013, blame your traffic woes on Kirk. Or Neil. Or Barack. It’s surely one of the three. Or all of them.