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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 23, 2010

Looking for some more heft from Aiona

All of the candidates for governor this year go into the campaign with the aura of unfinished business about them.

With Neil Abercrombie, it's the unfinished congressional term. Assuming he declares his candidacy, Mayor Mufi Hannemann will have his unfinished term and most likely an unstarted rail project to contend with.

But James "Duke" Aiona has perhaps the most unfinished resume of all, thanks to the hyper-controlling political machinery that has kept Gov. Linda Lingle on track for nearly eight years but has kept her lieutenant governor on an extremely short leash.

That appears to be changing, with Aiona's recent declarations on the civil unions bill and the Akaka bill. Neither position was especially surprising, but the fact that Aiona said anything at all suggests a more unrestrained Duke Aiona, and we're eager to hear more.

Aiona has eight years of lost time to make up for. While the Democrats, Abercrombie and Hannemann, have binders filled with their legislative and administrative accomplishments, Aiona's political portfolio is a much thinner document, relying mainly on soft, ceremonial duties. (Don't take our word for it, review the press releases on his website going back to 2003).

We all know about the constitutional limitations of the lieutenant governor's office, but that's a little too convenient for explaining why Aiona has flown so far under the radar, especially during the economic crisis.

Lingle could have given Aiona any number of important assignments, but she has kept his sphere of influence extremely small, forcing him to make do with pronouncements and photo-ops on the evils of drugs, smoking, drinking, drugs and not getting enough exercise.

Lingle couldn't even find a spot for Aiona on her 31-member Economic Momentum Commission in 2005. Instead, he was announcing a partnership to distribute free gun safety locks and visiting fifth-grade classrooms to explain to kids why they shouldn't drink alcohol.

All worthwhile efforts, but all playing only to Aiona's strengths as a former prosecutor and judge.

After the administration's first term, we were hoping to see a more confident and experienced Aiona taking the lead, or at least visibly at Lingle's side, in tackling more complex issues like energy independence, economic diversification and improving public education.

Frankly, we wanted to see Aiona personally stretch for something requiring some political and intellectual heft.

Instead, as the state has struggled through a crippling recession, there's been no sign that Aiona participated in setting strategy. On issues like furlough Fridays, the O'ahu rail project and balancing the state budget, Aiona apparently hasn't been at the table. If Aiona has offered specific, strategic advice, we'd love to hear him talk about it.

Rail, and the deadlock between Lingle and Mayor Mufi Hannemann over her sign-off on the project, present Aiona with a perfect chance to show some leadership. As a resident of Kapolei, what are his thoughts on how the state's review should progress?

Aiona's speech to the state Republican convention last weekend was what you'd expect: a fist-pumping rallying cry that slapped the Democratic machine and promised leaner, smarter government.

That's fine for the convention, but the clock is ticking on Aiona to start showing some leadership and policy skills beyond delivering pronouncements and proclamations.