House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro; Photo by Thelma Dreyer

House Majority Leader Blake Oshiro; Photo by Thelma Dreyer

BY BLAKE OSHIRO – Governor Abercrombie, Lieutenant Governor Schatz, Chief Justice Recktenwald, OHA Chair Machado, Mayor Arakawa, other honored guests. Colleagues, family members, and friends – Aloha and Welcome.

As we open the 26th State Legislature, I’m going to borrow a page from the new Administration’s theme, “this is truly a new day” for Hawaii.

Now, of course, I am not going to be even remotely attempting to take any thunder away from Governor Abercrombie and his State-of-the-State on Monday. Heaven knows, the sheer voltage, not to mention the volume, of our new Governor is not anything I can match.

So, what I can humbly offer, is my straight-talk and insights.  Please take my enthusiasm with the sincerity of which it is offered and do not take offense with what can sometimes be an “informality” of my tone and words. After 40 years, I’ve come to learn I am who I am . . . for good or bad and I can’t pretend to be something I am not.

And so with this, as the parameters of our “new Day,” I first need to recognize those for who it truly is a “New Day.”  I will let my esteemed Minority colleague have the privilege of introducing his new Republican freshmen.  But let me take the opportunity to once again introduce to you the Democratic Freshmen: Dee Morikawa, District 16, Niihau, Lehua, Koloa, Waimea; Mark Hashem, District 18, Kuliouou, Niu Valley, Aina Haina, Kahala; Linda Ichiyama District 31, Moanalua Valley, Moanalua, Salt Lake; Ty Cullen District 41 Waipahu, Village Park, Waikele

NEW DAY
I call this a “new day” for you because you are now at 2nd level of what I call the 3 levels of legislative leadership: 1.) politician – this is what you become that the day you decided to run for office. 2.) legislator – you become that today, when sworn in; 3.) statesman/stateswoman – highest level of our office.  It is representing your constituents by doing what is in the best interest for the state and creating policy that is best interest for all.

Now, whether I, or anyone else who is in the body meets the qualifications to be called a statesman, is entirely a subjective test.

And, during your careers, trust me, you will be called MANY MANY things. But in this time, as we head into the coming days of the session, what we sorely need, are statesmen.

Because statesmen shall be willing to work together, work collaboratively and cohesively to overcome some of the harshest realities.

Statesmen will be needed to help us address a $700 mil. budgetary deficit where we must look for creative approaches that still preserve services but not unduly burden private sector and residents.

NEW DAY

This is after we closed a $2.1 billion budget shortfall in 2009 and $1.2 billion in 2010 without increasing the general excise tax rate, without increasing income taxes on 97% of residents, and without taking the counties’ hotel tax share.

Statesmen will be needed to balance the needs of our fragile economy – one that likely has hit bottom and is only beginning a slow rehabilitation, to ensure that when the recovery happens, that we are poised to make the most of it.

And as statesmen must be able to see these positive signs on the horizon

We must continue our commitment to working with our Hawaii Tourism Authority to see that the steady gains and improvements in our #1 industry continues

·         We have already seen the data that visitors total spending in November 2010 rose 30.4 percent, or $227.8 million

·         Total expenditures for the first 11 months of 2010 were $10.3 billion, a 16 percent increase compared to the same period last year, according to preliminary statistics released today by the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority.

·         And for the third consecutive month (since September 2010) total visitor spending increased by double digits on all islands.

We must also do our part to protect jobs and keep people working by continuing support more construction, especially for the public sector projects to make up for what may be lacking in the private sector.

·         Our state is on the verge of beginning one of the largest public works projects in our history. Honolulu’s mass transit project will secure jobs, modernize our transit system, and shape our island’s growth for generations to come;

·         Key to this will be responsible land use planning – ensuring we “keep the country country,” and create a more energy efficient, sustainable urban core.

And we must look at ways we can continue to diversify our economy — looking at burgeoning industries like renewable energy, film, agriculture, and high tech. We must continue to offer and develop jobs that keep our college graduates here in Hawaii.

NEED FOR STATESMEN

The urgent need for statesmen is no more exemplified than the tragedy in Arizona. I’d like to quote President Obama, who made the following remarks on the recent shootings/violence:

“As we discuss these issues, let each of us do so with a good dose of humility. Rather than pointing fingers or assigning blame, let’s use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways that our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

This tragedy reminds us of the importance for us all to aim and achieve the highest level — shine past the vitriol and venom of political rhetoric; work hard and develop skills at becoming a legislator; raise the level of discussion and discourse to engage and inspire.

Finally, a preview of the session would be somewhat inaccurate and misleading if we did not deal with the obvious and contentious issue of civil unions.

Here, I cannot speak on behalf of the majority, for this is truly an issue that is not delineated nor designed by party affiliation or by our caucuses.  Instead, what I can say is that we must go back to being the statesmen/women — we must allow ourselves to have an honest and open debate on this topic, to avoid labels and rhetoric — and to find what is ultimately just and not let justice become subjugated by economics.

For to be “Just” – guided by truth, reason, and fairness, to get beyond our personal conflicts or past political expediency or re-electability – that is what we must seek as our north star, our constant point when we navigate through new and unexplored territories of policy, when we ride thru waves of uncertainty. We must hold fast to our gut belief in what is just.  And so long as we do so on the floor, in hearings with the administration before us — or sometimes, even in our own caucus — we can look back and know that we did what we needed to do and what we were elected to do.  Thank you.

Rep. Blake Oshiro, D-Aiea, is the House Majority leader. He delivered this speech on opening day of the 2011 Legislature.

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