Aiona has to prove he can lead
Over the past four years, there have been family fun fairs, ribbon cuttings and prayer breakfasts.
Last week, it was a children's painting exhibit, an assembly at a middle school and a sixth-grade graduation.
And now Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona is gearing up to run for governor. Good thing he's starting early, because he has a lot to prove. His tenure as LG has been more first-lady-esque than gubernatorial. All he needs is the Ramona purse dog and the Vicki fishtail mu'umu'u.
Why has Aiona allowed himself to be marginalized the past four years? As a drug court judge, he was a powerful, charismatic figure. He looked huge in that robe, on that bench, handing down straighten-up-and-fly-right lectures to sorry-eyed addicts in his no-nonsense local-cadenced speech.
In one memorable exchange — memorable mostly because it seemed so odd in the formal courtroom setting — he pointed a thick finger at a sorry-looking drug court ward and challenged, "You got a job?" "Yeah," came the answer from a bowed head. "Where you got a job?" The guy had to clear his throat to get his words out, "Spaghetti Spaghetti." Aiona cracked a small smile, like a strict father pleased with his child's progress. "Spaghetti Spaghetti. Good good," and the guy grinned not because he got the joke, but because he had pleased the judge.
Without the gavel and black robe, he's become little more than political arm candy for a governor who has no spouse available to play the "softer side" of the team. Aiona has represented Hawai'i at events that were otherwise peopled by first ladies. He's also become the Designated Kama'aina to keep folks like Larry Price from fretting over where Lingle's people were born.
Granted, all LGs struggle with what to do with themselves. When the governor travels, they look so happy to be busy filling those duties. Otherwise, it's a lot of standing in the back and doing the expressionless Al Gore clap during appropriate moments in the governor's speeches. Mazie Hirono at least came up with that Blue Ribbon Red Tape Committee or whatever, which didn't amount to much but did allow her to come up with some pie charts and position papers.
Why isn't he knee-deep in policy issues or flying to D.C. to lobby for the Akaka bill instead of reciting thin slogans about family values? We don't need to be told to eat dinner with our kids.
Aiona was so good at giving pep talks to screw-ups and setting goals for other people's conduct. But we need more than that in the governor's office. He has three years to prove he can wear the pants and leave the purse dog to Vivian.
Lee Cataluna's column runs Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Reach her at 535-8172 or email@example.com.