Tuesday, January 23, 2001
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Posted on: Tuesday, January 23, 2001

Program showcases lieutenant governor

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By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono is launching an effort that would give needy preschool-age children a head start, while raising her political profile toward an expected run for governor.

In his State of the State speech yesterday, Gov. Ben Cayetano yesterday proposed a preschool program for thousands of low-income toddlers, and said Hirono would lead the effort. The plan for 3- and 4-year-olds resembles the "A-Plus" after-school program that helped Cayetano gain visibility when he was lieutenant governor and preparing to run for governor.

When asked whether she hoped the Pre-Plus program would help her win the governor’s office in 2002, Hirono smiled and said: "I plan to succeed."

This is not the first time Hirono has launched a high-profile campaign as lieutenant governor. Two years ago she headed the "SWAT team" that was to "Slice Waste And Tape" by eliminating obsolete rules and regulations governing business.

She acknowledged then that the assignment could give her the public profile needed to win the governor’s race, but said later her efforts had been hindered by a lack of participation by the business community.

The SWAT project did produce laws to make government more efficient, such as eliminating 61 chapters of obsolete rules and regulations and giving legal status to electronic documents and signatures. The governor’s office also issued an executive order that eliminates a duplicated audit in cases where the state buys goods or services for less than $1,000.

Hirono said yesterday she had not abandoned the SWAT program.

"I do multi-tasking, you know," she said with a laugh.

University of Hawaii political science professor Yasumasa Kuroda said the Pre-Plus program would give Hirono the opportunity to showcase what she has done for the state as lieutenant governor, a position that typically produces few accomplishments. Kuroda said the preschool program certainly would give Hirono more visibility than her work to reduce red tape, though parents of low-income children have low levels of voter turnout.

"Certainly nobody is going to disagree with providing a more equal opportunity to all children, particularly the less fortunate ones in the state," Kuroda said. "It’s something that nobody can disagree over. This will help in the better-educated segment, in that they would like to see the reduction in the homeless and the less fortunate ones. With Hawaii being traditionally Democratic, this is a big plus for her.

"Education is a perennial issue that is mentioned by many voters, along with economy and highways," he said. "It will help her in a significant way."

House Minority Leader Galen Fox (R-Waikiki, Ala Wai) called the proposal to offer wider preschool access to young children "very good" because it encourages attendance at existing, privately operated preschools. That offers parents choices, which works well in education, Fox said.

Hirono’s involvement may have a political angle to it, Fox said, "but, heck, she’s probably going to try to do it well."

Sen. Fred Hemmings (R-Kailua, Waimanalo) said it’s clear Hirono is being given the Pre-Plus program assignment to help boost her chances of succeeding her boss.

"It’s a tried-and-true test of the system that this political dynasty passes on and picks their heir-designate," Hemmings said, "and passes some plums to them and hopes that it’s going to work at the polls."

Will it work, in fact?

"No. I hope not. I think we need a change."

Advertiser Staff Writers Kevin Dayton and Robbie Dingeman contributed to this report.

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