A New Political Turn in Hawaii

Governor-elect Lingle plans to name tourism czar for cabinet-level post

By: Michele Kayal

HONOLULU Hawaii’s Governor-elect Linda Lingle, the first woman ever and the first Republican in 40 years to hold the office, plans to strengthen financial controls on government agencies linked to the state’s struggling tourism industry and appoint what one of her aides called a “tourism czar.”

The yet-to-be-named person will hold a cabinet-level post and report directly to the governor, said Brian Durham, Lingle’s campaign research director.

“The position would put together all the various tourism-related things spread throughout the government to give focus and attention to our largest industry,” Durham said.

Durham could not say how the cabinet post would dovetail with the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism and the governor-appointed Hawaii Tourism Authority, the state government’s most visible tourism entities.

Industry leaders have greeted the concept with enthusiasm, but said it must be executed carefully.

“If tourism is in the cabinet and interfacing directly with the governor, that’s good,” said David Carey, chief executive officer of Outrigger Enterprises and a tourism authority member. “The tourism industry needs to make sure the mechanics are constructive and that it doesn’t become too political.” Carey said he and others are concerned that conflicts could arise about the respective roles of the tourism authority’s director and the new cabinet officer.

“It could become a political conflict that could be destructive,” he said.

One of the czar’s first jobs likely will be to help the tourism authority strengthen its financial controls and performance measures. The state auditor earlier this year said the 13-member board, which commands a $61 million annual budget for the marketing and development of tourism, did not have appropriate controls. Lingle has said the group will not get more funding until she is satisfied with its accountability.

“We’ve been involved for the last couple of months in changing our operations to make them more accountable to state government and also more responsive to market needs,” said the authority’s executive director, Rex Johnson. “When the governor and I sit down and talk, I will try to explain those things to her.”

As governor, Lingle will appoint new tourism authority members as their terms expire.

The governor-elect also has supported a $75 million tax credit that was proposed for an aquarium project at the Ko Olina resort on Oahu’s leeward side. The plan was vetoed by outgoing Gov. Benjamin Cayetano.

Durham said Lingle is considering whether she will revive that measure.