It has been my privilege and the greatest honor of my life to serve as the Governor of the State of Hawai‘i since December 2002. Throughout these eight years I have had the opportunity to work with many outstanding people in guiding our state through extraordinary times. I am frequently asked what events stand out during our two terms.
There is no one answer, and while there are many initiatives and accomplishments that I look back on with pride, the most vivid memories I will carry with me always will be those that reflect the strength, resilience and aloha of the people of Hawai‘i.
We saw it when the Waipio All-Stars came from behind to win the 2010 U.S. Little League World Series. That memory will last a lifetime not because they won, but because of how they won – with a scrappy, never-give-up spirit that kept them playing on the Mainland for nearly three weeks.
But our winners are not just in sports. Hawai‘i’s public and private school students have shown that we can successfully compete with the best in the world in robotics competitions and aeronautic design challenges. Our students – and our state – will continue to benefit from the expansion of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education in our schools. I salute the entire robotics community for initiating robotics programs in 52 percent of our schools. Three years ago there were 95 robotics teams statewide. Today we have nearly 500 teams.
Another lasting memory I will cherish is my close relationship with the men and women of the Hawai‘i National Guard. Whether risking their lives in the remote deserts of Afghanistan and Iraq, helping residents rebuild their homes in North Kohala after an earthquake, or mentoring teenagers in the Youth Challenge Academy and About Face programs, the men and women of the Hawai‘i National Guard are a state treasure that should be appreciated and never taken for granted. It has been a singular honor to be their commander in chief.
Each of my Cabinet Directors has worked hard and achieved much during the past eight years, and I would like to highlight a few of their achievements which will continue to have a positive impact in the coming years.
- The Department of Accounting and General Services, together with public, private and non-profit sector partners built and opened nine homeless and transitional housing shelters, doubling the shelter capacity statewide. These efforts have helped thousands of homeless families and individuals get back on their feet, and resulted in a 165 percent increase in the number of homeless people transitioning into permanent housing.
- The Department of Human Services (DHS) helped instill dignity for public assistance recipients by helping them get back into the workforce, and in the process reduced welfare rolls by 40 percent. In addition, the team at DHS has received national recognition for its work in reducing the number of children in foster care by almost half, while ensuring these children remain safe and well-cared for.
- We expanded the types of mental health services covered under the Pre-Paid Healthcare Act and revamped uncontrolled spending in behavioral health services so the programs can be sustained and patients can get reliable care in the years ahead. Our state used to be ranked last in the country for how we treated residents with mental illness. Over the past eight years we have moved to 11th place among the states.
- The Department of Land and Natural Resources worked with environmental groups, native Hawaiian organizations, federal officials and the President of the United States to establish Papahānaumokuākea as the largest U.S. marine sanctuary, recently designated by the United Nations as a World Heritage Site.
- The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands (DHHL) and the Hawaiian Homes Commission worked tirelessly to live up to the state’s obligation and responsibility by awarding homestead leases to as many Hawaiian families in eight years than had been awarded in the previous 80 years. And DHHL didn’t just build houses, they planned and designed communities that embrace both program beneficiaries and their surrounding neighbors.
- State Civil Defense has been a steady hand in guiding our emergency response during times of threat and need, upgrading and improving our emergency communications and shelters, and providing assistance during disastrous floods, earthquakes and tsunami warnings. In addition, its work with FEMA and the National Weather Service has made Hawai‘i a safer place.
- The Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism (DBEDT) team had the vision to launch the Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative that has gained national and international attention and respect. Today the utilities, Federal, State and County governments, and others in the environmental and business communities are making significant progress toward achieving our goal of 70 percent clean energy by 2030. The work we have done and the foundation we laid have been hailed by the U.S. Department of Energy as a model for what other states, territories, and island nations can accomplish.
The outstanding work by the DBEDT team also resulted in a record year for Hawai‘i’s film, television and digital media industry, with close to $400 million in production expenditures this year. In addition, DBEDT has done an outstanding job of positioning Hawai‘i in the global marketplace and highlighting our role in the Asia-Pacific part of the world.
Not only did our administration achieve positive results in a wide variety of areas, but it also showed it could perform well under the most difficult of times. Because the global economic collapse at the end of 2008 occurred near the end of my term, it will always be associated with my time as Governor.
I am proud that my Administration was able to confront the most severe economic crisis in our State’s history and close an almost $3 billion gap in state revenues without increasing taxes. The leadership of our Budget and Finance team in cooperation with state agencies, helped with the difficult decisions I had to make as Governor to keep Hawai‘i from falling into the fiscally precarious situation some of our sister states now face.
When you serve as Governor, that means you must lead during both good and tough times, and I will leave it to history to judge my performance during the fiscal crisis.
I am proud of the 22 judges I was able to appoint through an open and transparent process. Their decisions will be a lasting contribution to justice and fairness in our judicial system.
None of the above could have been achieved without the trust and support of all the people of Hawai‘i who for eight years entrusted to me the well-being of our beloved state.
I leave office joyfully knowing that Hawai‘i’s people daily demonstrate to the world that an innovative, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural state in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, totally lacking traditional natural resources, can achieve great things.
Even though I have left my official duties behind, I look forward to staying involved in helping our state realize its full potential and reach its destiny.
Mahalo for all the courtesies you’ve shown me over the last eight years, and I wish each of you a joyous holiday season and best wishes for the years ahead.