Second Act

As the Hawaii State Legislature has convened in late January to conduct business, it will also be hearing from candidates for offices appointed by the Governor. As many who read this blog know, that is in a wide, expansive list of offices that include various certification boards, all the way to those who serves on the Hawaii Tourism Authority. 

One of the boards that Governor Green can appoint is the University of Hawaii Board of Regents. Most times those appointments may make a short story on the 6:00 evening news, or a few inches of newsprint in your daily newspaper. Most of the time these appointments are of people who are better known in specific industries (banking, tourism, education, etc.). 

From Legislator to Councilmember, to Congressman, and then Governor of Hawaii, Neil Abercrombie may also become one of the first of a generation of former elected executives that continue their service as appointees to high-profile positions, like a Regent at the University of Hawaii.
PC: “Holiday Party at Washington Place” by Bytemarks is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

This time around, though, it could be interesting to see how those appointments fair, especially the one that is attached to Governor Message No. 596, “to submit herewith for your consideration and confirmation the following nomination: Neil Abercrombie Board of Regents of the University of Hawaii, Expiration Date: June 30, 2028.”

Formal approval by the State Senate of this Regent candidate would mark a new era in the role of former state and county executives, and what activities they get into after their time in executive service (Mayor, Governor). It would also show that, unlike in the past, former Mayors and Governors who may be looking to perform in an “act 2” of their career, it may be possible now. 

BEFORE GOVERNOR GREEN appointed former state and county executives in state roles, there were no real examples of state executives taking on newly appointed roles after service. 

In Hawaii, once the executives who served the state complete their terms, they usually return to their normal lives and blend back into society. For example, those who were lawyers before taking office, like Governor Waihee, typically go back to practicing law in high-level firms in Hawaii and on the mainland.

Some who were more academically inclined, taught. Former Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris went back to education, at least for a while (but has kept quiet over the years, so who knows). 

And then some just “did other things” that turned out to be interesting endeavors. Former Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi tried to get his old job back years after he left to run for Governor in 1994. Former Governor Benjamin Cayetano did the same thing.

Both lost. 

Other former governors like Linda Lingle went on to run for United States Senate and lost. While the most recent former governor, David Ige, has been keeping a low profile with periodic appearances at events. 

Former State Senator and Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa has been Chair of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit (HART)
PC: “170308-D-SW162-1173” by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

But now you have former Governor Abercrombie, along with former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and former State Senator and Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa being appointed to high-level, high-profile positions in both the state and the city, respectively, and asked to use their mana’o once again to move ideas and projects forward. 

SO, IF HAWAII is going down the road of having former elected executives appointed to offices after service, are we going down a new road, or are other states doing the same thing with their former executives? 

Turns out, a bunch of states have former governors appointed, among other offices, Regents to their state universities,

  • Georgia: Joe Frank Harris, former Governor (1983-1991), currently chairs the Board of Regents for the University System of Georgia.
  • Michigan: John Engler, former Governor (1991-2003), serves as a trustee for Michigan State University.
  • New Mexico: Gary Johnson, former Governor (1995-2003), sits on the New Mexico State University Board of Regents.
  • West Virginia: Jim Justice, former coal magnate, and current Governor (2017-present), serves as president of the West Virginia University Board of Governors.
As Governors like Josh Green tap former elected executives for high-profile appointments, those who served would need to be approved by bodies like the Honolulu City Council and (pictured) the Hawaii State Senate
PC: “House of Representatives Chamber, Hawaii State Capitol, Beretania Street, Honolulu, HI” by w_lemay is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

When it comes to appointing former elected officials to positions like the Board of Regents, the benefits depend on the goals of each party involved.

For example, if we are discussing a former Governor who departed with a low level of public support, a role like this could effectively restore their reputation, possibly leading to future campaigns for elected office or seeking greater influence within the state.

Having a high-profile person like a former Governor on board can be beneficial for the organization. Even the least popular former elected officials these days have supporters, which in turn, helps increase the organization’s profile in society. This advantage lets the former elected official bring two things to the table – a Rolodex full of phone numbers of influential people and the ability to call and ask for resources (money, assistance) to move the entity (university, tourism authority) forward.

In a world where it’s becoming increasingly difficult to obtain resources, having the ability to quickly acquire them using the influence of a former executive’s personality is seen as an advantage. In Hawaii, this earned asset, developed over years of service, may allow more individuals to engage in an “act 2” of their public service career now and into the future.