Lt. Governor’s Op-Ed: Hawaii and President Obama’s Future

President_Barack_ObamaBy Lt. Governor Shan Tsutsui

Last week, President Obama launched a non-profit foundation to evaluate proposals for his presidential library.  In the coming months, the State of Hawai‘i will be making the case that locating this institution in Honolulu will be good for the President, good for our islands, and good for the world.

Thanks to the University of Hawai‘i team that has been leading this effort since 2008, Honolulu is considered a primary contender for a presidential center, along with Chicago and New York.  As Lieutenant Governor, I have been collaborating on this initiative with the Hawaii Presidential Center steering committee and Hawaii Tourism Authority, and we believe Hawaii brings several advantages to the table.

In a city cradled by mountains and sea, we can provide a uniquely impressive site.  In fact, the Abercrombie administration and the HCDA have already set aside vacant parcels near the ocean in Kaka’ako that feature stunning views, abundant green space, public accessibility, and proximity to UH facilities.  Our hope is that a presidential center there will help ensure that Kaka’ako maintains a civic and educational orientation.

Only Hawai‘i can tell his true American story—how a skinny kid with a funny name from a remote island in the middle of the Pacific grew up to be President.  These islands have shaped the President’s inclusive values and collaborative style of governing.  Our cultural diversity and indigenous values—our aloha spirit—foster cooperation and compromise. “We’re a single ‘ohana,” remarked President Obama during the 2011 APEC meeting.  “We remember that beneath the surface, behind all the different languages and some very long names, we all share the same hopes, the same struggles and the same aspirations.”[i]

Honolulu, the center of the world’s fastest-growing economic region, is also strategically positioned to tackle major problems—from climate change to the widening gap between the rich and the rest—that require fresh thinking and global solutions.  Building a presidential center in Hawai‘i that embraces the world and leans to the future helps President Obama not just preserve his legacy but add to it.

A presidential center in Honolulu will be good for us as well.  In the near term, it will bring in outside resources and create jobs.  In Little Rock, the Clinton center attracts 300,000 visitors a year and has catalyzed some $2 billion in economic development.[ii]

Over a longer time frame, a Hawai‘i presidential center, which could include research and education facilities in addition to a museum, will bolster’s the visitor industry by adding a world-class civic attraction and by showcasing Hawaii as a place not just to vacation but to innovate and work.

With education as a focus, Hawai‘i students and teachers will gain as well.  A policy research institute, like those at other presidential centers, will make UH more attractive to top scholars and enable it to produce even stronger classes of future leaders.  High-profile events hosted by President Obama will elevate Hawai‘i’s global stature and reinforce our reputation as a vital meeting place between the East and West.

We believe that President Obama’s future can be as important as his past and that Hawai‘i can make the difference.  At the APEC welcoming dinner, the President delivered a toast that can serve as our inspiration, and his, as we embark on this journey: “‘A‘ohe hana nui ke alu ‘ia.”[iii] No task is too big when done together by all.  Hawaii has been provided a unique opportunity to play a significant role in this nation’s history.  As a community united, we must embrace this opportunity and offer our collective support.





Published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser February 18, 2014