Sunday, December 30, 2012

2012 Hawaii Land Use and Politics in Review

People involved in land use matters know the adage, "politics is local," applies doubly to land use matters. Here are some highlights from the year. For the unfamiliar, Hawaii democrats rule the roost, so unless indicated otherwise, all the electeds referenced are registered democrats.

In the past week there has been a tsunami of change in Hawaii politics. December 2012 will surely be looked back upon as a significant epoch in Hawaii's political history. A series of events were set into motion upon the passing of Hawaii's US Senator, Daniel K. Inouye, at the age of 88 on December 17, 2012. He served as Hawaii's senator since 1963 and is the second longest serving senator in Congress.

The US Senate vacancy was filled by the Hawaii Democratic Party and Governor Abercrombie with Brian Schatz, who was sworn in on December 27, 2012. Mr. Schatz is a Gen Xer who most recently served as Hawaii's Lieutenant Governor. He has a strong record of supporting environmental issues and climate change policies.

Mr. Schatz's appointment to the US Senate created a vacancy in the Lieutenant Governor's office, which was filled by state senate president, Senator Shan Tsutsui. Mr. Tsutsui is also a Gen Xer and took his new position on December 27, 2012. Among other things, Mr. Tsutsui was part of the legislature that passed the controversial Public Lands Development Corporation. Recently, he has been on record for amending or repealing that law. As Lieutenant Governor, Mr. Tsutsui said that he will be a liaison for the neighbor-islands. This may mean more support for rural and agricultural land use policies.

The vacancy left by Mr. Tsustui in the state senate president's seat caused some reorganization in the state senate. The new senate president is Senator Donna Mercado Kim, who has a record of holding government accountable (most recently, she led hearings investigating spending accountability issues at the University of Hawaii's athletics department). The senate vice president is Senator Ron Kouchi from Kauai.

Mr. Tsutsui's acceptance of the Lieutenant Governor's position also left a vacancy in the Maui senate seat. Maui Democrats will convene to select nominees for that position. If they nominate a state house member, it may tilt the delicate balance of leadership in that house. Earlier in the year, former house speaker Joe Souki announced that he had the votes to take back the speakership from house speaker Calvin Say, the longest serving speaker in the state house. Mr. Say subsequently gave his notice to step down, but not without first indicating his desire that Representative Marcus Oshiro take his place. House leadership will be settled on opening day of the state legislature on January 16.

Another significant happening in land use and politics is the federal court's final judgment and order that allows Hawaii's largest land use project in history to proceed. The plaintiffs in that case included former Governor Ben Cayetano who ran unsuccessfully against former City Manager Kirk Caldwell in the November elections. Mr. Caldwell will be sworn-in in January.

Land use laws and policies may be affected by these political changes. First, the federal monies tap has been turned off. Without seniority in Hawaii's Congressional delegation, it is unlikely that Hawaii will see the kinds of discretionary funding it enjoyed in the past. Hawaii is among few states with the highest per-capita receipt of federal funding. Much of this was due to Senator Inouye's seniority (which matters a great deal in Congress) and his position as chair of appropriations (the money committee). Mr. Inouye made such capital improvement projects possible as the East West Center, the new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Hawaii headquarters on Ford Island, and the once controversial H-3 highway. More recently, Mr. Inouye was instrumental in obtaining federal funding for Honolulu's $5 billion rail transit project. Without Mr. Inouye (and recently retired Senator Daniel Akaka), the state of Hawaii falls to the bottom of the pecking order in Congress. We should also see less new federal funding programs that target Hawaii.

Second, with the rise of Gen X leadership, values will shift and find its way into land use policy. The Boomers setup Hawaii's land use system to preserve land, which has been successful. Hawaii's land use system is slow, costly, and unpredictable. Gen X has shown more interest in sustainable use of resources over time, urban revitalization, environmental preservation, local agriculture, renewable energy, direct democracy, and mixed use commercial centers that support creative industries. In addition, Gen X is confronted with huge challenges such as climate change and unfunded government liabilities (e.g., infrastructure and retirement). Land use laws must change and adapt to this new political and environmental reality.

I doubt politics in Hawaii can be more intriguing in 2013, but anyone who tells you they can prognosticate about Hawaii's political future is selling you a bill of goods.

Thank you for reading the Hawaii Land Use Law and Policy Blog. Happy New Year!

No comments: