Reflecting on Hawaii and the nation

State of Hawaii and US

January marks new beginnings in our lives and in government. While we struggle with sometimes life-changing New Year’s resolutions, government has to convince us that their “resolutions” are the best priorities for our nation and our state. Government has to persuade us they have accomplished much in the past year, and that they have a plan for the future.

It’s interesting to compare President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union Address on January 12, 2016 with Hawaii Governor David Ieg’s second State of the State Address, given on January 25, 2016. I read the text of the addresses, so that I could focus on the words and not the delivery.

Opening remarks. President Obama begins with humor, a touch of wryness, and an acknowledgement that it is election season. Governor Ige begins on a somber note, with the end of sugar production on Maui.

Spotlight on change. The first issue that President Obama and Governor Ige bring up is change. President Obama states, “We live in a time of extraordinary change — change that’s reshaping the way we live, the way we work, our planet, our place in the world.” Governor Ige echoes this idea when he says, “Today, we live in a time of extraordinary change, where the past seems to have little relevance to what is happening today, let alone tomorrow.” It sounds good and it makes us feel that we are special, but change is a part of life. Probably every generation believes it is living in times of “extraordinary change.”

National priorities. President Obama succinctly outlines “four big questions” for the coming year. “First, how do we give everyone a fair shot at opportunity and security in this new economy? Second, how do we make technology work for us, and not against us — especially when it comes to solving urgent challenges like climate change? Third, how do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman? And finally, how can we make our politics reflect what’s best in us, and not what’s worst?”

Some of Obama’s solutions include “Pre-K for all,” hands-on computer science and math classes, great teachers, two years of free community college, stronger Social Security and Medicare, finding a cure for cancer, raising the costs of coal and oil, protecting the American people, going after terrorist networks, congressional districts drawn by bipartisan groups, and limits on campaign contributions.

Hawaii priorities. With three more years ahead of him, Governor Ige was more extensive in his vision for Hawaii. He identified seven broad themes of truthfulness, running government as a public trust, working with the community, governing with compassion, taking care of our children, building a legacy, and value-based actions. Each theme is subdivided into more specific issues facing Hawaii. For instance, under Legacy Building, Ige identifies the issues of tourism, agriculture, the military, and the economy.

Some of Ige’s solutions include funding public pension and health benefit funds, a tax modernization program, spending federal funds in a timely way, more affordable housing, cooler classrooms, and an Invasive Species Authority. The most compelling idea is the redevelopment of Kalihi – relocating the Oahu Correctional Facility and redeveloping the land for affordable housing, recreation, commercial development, and/or educational use.

Taking responsibility. President Obama’s biggest acknowledgement of failure is that “the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better.” After just one year in office, Governor Ige focuses on the ways he is responding to problems he inherited from previous administrations or couldn’t resolve in the past year, like the Thirty Meter Telescope, affordable housing, and overheated classrooms.

Closing remarks. President Obama stresses his belief in the American people’s goodness and decency, with general descriptions of hard-working, open-hearted people who are “busy doing the work this country needs doing.” Governor Ige spotlights the leadership of the late teacher Ron Bright and his commitment to values, but takes a circuitous route to (I think) call for “the unyielding affirmation of diversity” – asking us to accept and respect our differences with aloha.

Did you agree with the priorities outlined in President Obama’s State of the Union Address? What would you say if you were called on to give Hawaii’s State of the State Address?

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