A Smooth Transition for Hawaii’s First Lieutenant Governor from Maui

April 21, 2013
By CHRIS SUGIDONO – Staff Writer, The Maui News

With four months under his belt, Hawaii’s first lieutenant governor from Maui, Shan Tsutsui, has made a smooth transition to a life of more attention – and protection.

The 41-year-old 1989 Maui High School graduate had already risen to the position of Senate president, another first for a Mauian, when Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed him to the state’s second-highest elected position in late December.

That came after Abercrombie picked former Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who died Dec. 17.

Tsutsui has called serving as lieutenant governor in the executive branch of state government “exciting and challenging.”

In an interview at The Maui News earlier this month, Tsutsui, who spent more than 10 years in the Senate, said his experience in the Legislature has helped him with his new job as the state’s second chief executive.

“If anything, the only thing different is those two big guys following me around,” he said, referring to his bodyguards, who escorted him to The Maui News offices. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.”

Unlike his job in the Senate, Tsutsui is followed by security personnel for all official business.

Although he denied that the two bodyguards are sleeping on bunk beds in a spare bedroom at their Waiehu residence, his wife, Lyndelle Tsutsui, said they have become part of the family -especially for their three daughters, Mikayla, 13, Kaylee, 9, and Kenna, 5.

“They were excited to have new uncles,” Lyndelle said in phone interview. “At first, they were curious, but it was fun just having these new uncles around.”

Tsutsui, who spends four or five days a week on Oahu, said the added security and notoriety have not caused him to see his family any less than before.

However, he said, “I felt like I was in a lot more control of my schedule before.”

“Now I have to be places statewide.”

When initially accepting the position, he said his primary goal was to act as a liaison between the Neighbor Islands and Abercrombie’s administration. Part of that goal included an additional office on Maui, so he could work from both Honolulu and the Valley Isle.

Tsutsui has office space in the old Department of Labor and Industrial Relations building, near Kaahumanu Church.

“It’s really like a basement,” he said. “We are still in the process of setting up a permanent office.”

Tsutsui said he has been in close contact with Mayor Alan Arakawa and Attorney General David Louie about designating an office for him on the island, adding that he is not looking for much. He stressed one key element for the space though, and that is to have teleconferencing capabilities, in order to speak face to face via a webcam.

In January, Tsutsui worked with a team of engineers to start a Neighbor Island Video Conferencing Pilot Project, which allows Neighbor Island residents to testify from home during the Legislature’s lawmaking session, instead of flying to the state Capitol. The Senate Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Technology and the Arts are piloting the project, he said.

“I think it would be a great thing to save taxpayers money,” he said. “You have a number of people who want to participate in these processes . . . By having a district office, it starts that long-term goal of providing more interconnectivity.”

The district office would not only serve as his permanent working space but also as a place for those who would like to speak with him or testify, he said.

Tsutsui is looking to start another pilot program and hopefully build its foundation on the Valley Isle in January.

He and Arakawa have talked about creating an after-school program for a handful of middle schools, and, if successful, implement it countywide in the fall.

“Kindergarten through 5th has the after-school A-Plus program, and high schools have a lot of activities like team sports,” he said. “The middle schools, for whatever reason, have always been short of extracurricular activities.”

Citing federally and grant-funded programs such as the Uniting Peer Learning Integrating New Knowledge program and the Promoting Academic Students Success program, Tsutsui said he wants to see more community involvement, “whether it’s ukulele club, robotics team or athletic sports.”

Despite his newfound executive power to move projects along, he recalled being initially opposed to his new job. He added that people close to him said he should stay as Senate president or risk losing re-election in 2014.

His wife, also a Maui High School graduate, and their three daughters supported the move to lieutenant governor.

“We all sat down and talked about the responsibilities,” Lyndelle Tsutsui said. “We encouraged him to take the position and allow him to better serve the people of Hawaii.”

Since taking the position, Shan Tsutsui has more than surpassed Abercrombie’s expectations as lieutenant governor, the governor said.

“He possesses a rare facility for putting people at their ease, especially in circumstances where contentious issues are at stake,” said the governor in an email last week. “His own self-confidence and clear vision where Hawaii’s future is concerned allows us to work together as a team with all constituencies.

“His knowledge of and relationships with members of the Legislature is his most valuable and welcome quality – a real plus for our administration,” Abercrombie said.

Tsutsui said re-election was the last thing on his mind, and when he took his current position he “threw that all out the door.”

“I looked at it and realized people want help today,” he said. “I felt I had the opportunity to help the governor, and if I can help change how people do things in Oahu, then yes, it was a very good decision.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.