Mufi Hannemann Interview

Mufi was my 3rd and final interview of the day (and it did feel like a marathon). Mufi is clearly happy and confident. And he's enjoying himself. What most struck me about Mufi in the interview is he is someone who is very good at his job - so good he makes it look effortless. He also had the largest group marching in the Kailua July 5th Parade - a ton of fire and police dept. members (off duty).

So on to the interview. Same first question was why does he enter the arena (of running for office).

Mufi took it at first that I was asking why was he running in this race. He talked first about how this is an executive job and he has been mayor of one of the largest cities in the country, also an elected job. He compared that to Neil's experience as a legislator and how he's looking forward to discussing Neil's record. And he brought up Duke as being a member of the existing system. He then discussed how everyone asked him to run. That with "the economy in the tank" and "the education system an embarrassment," then there would not be the push for him to run. He then talked about how he came in to a City that was broken and he's fixed it. And the state now needs the same effort to fix it.

I then asked him what caused him to run the first time. His answer can be summed up that he always saw this as his avocation. The big lesson he took from his first races (that he lost) was that people in Hawaii want you to pay your dues. So he then turned to the Council and worked his way up.

I asked him if he's enjoying himself.

Mufi replied that he loves it. He will miss the people he works with at the City, but that he is very excited at the opportunity he has to improve the state.

I next asked what the primary thing people want to know about what he will bring as governor.

Mufi first replied 6'7" - that everyone's first question is how tall are you. He then spoke seriously saying it's all about executive experience and a collaborative leadership style. (Mufi is hard to get off his message - he's really good at this which I respect but it makes getting something new out of him challenging for me.)

I then asked what he would do over the next 4 years that would surprise everyone. His reply was they would say he knows how to handle the state budget and finances.

I pushed back saying why would that be surprising. And his reply was the problems are so huge and there's not enough money to go around that the conventional wisdom is that this cannot be solved.

Next I asked if he has someone who is his insurgent (someone who challenges him on the fundamentals).

Mufi replied that he makes sure that he is not surrounded with yes men. He directs them "don't tell me what I want to hear, tell me what I need to hear." And he then added "and then we go at it." He then talked about how he loves to debate - but that when he gets a disagreement, they must offer an alternative. He brings up the important point that when he moves forward with a proposal, he has heard the alternatives and the pros & cons of each.

I next asked if there was a vote he took that hurt his political future.

Mufi immediately answered that people misconstrued his actions when he cleaned up Ala Moana State Park. That many depicted him as heartless & cruel for his action. Mufi says he did it to force the state to face up to its homeless problem. And that the City has an obligation to make the park safe and clean for all. (Mufi spoke to this in detail, including the arguments brought against him and the issues the City had with the State.)

I then asked the flip side - is there a program he would create.

This was a really interesting answer - Mufi said he would eliminate the tourism advisor and instead create a state CIO position.

My $0.02: First off, his answer included how he would fund the position rather than just adding in another cost. I took that as working within a budget and reallocating is baked into him - and that is critical to the financial world the governor faces.

He then discussed the benefit to the state that would occur if it had someone who understands what is needed to bring the state's IT systems into the modern era. He spoke in depth and very intelligently on the need for this. (I can back him up on this - this would be a gigantic improvement for the state and will save it a lot of money very quickly.)

Mufi then continued with this saying the first thing he wants to do is a top to bottom audit of the state finances. And he will lay down the law that no one will be fired from the info gained in the audit, unless they've been taking money from the till - but he wants complete cooperation. He sees the audit as critical to determine how deep in kim chee the state is in, how to find the potential cost savings, and how to determine the priorities.

He then added a spot-on observation "for education, I don't think it's a question of pouring more money in."

My $0.02: It's true that giving a broken system more money generally makes things worse, and it's key that the governor understand that. But it's a hard truth for a politician to speak and Mufi volunteered it. I think this showed Mufi is willing to speak honestly on hard problems where his answer will not be well received by all. And that speaks very well of Mufi.

He then followed up that he does want to have the education department pull in more grants to help the financial system. That led to his talking about how some executives will raid the funds in one department or agency to increase funds in another. He has refused to do this in the City and will refuse to do so in the State because the legislation & rules lay out who gets what and therefore it would be wrong to move those funds on his own. And people pay money in to something like the airport, but don't see any improvements from those payments and then wonder what's going on. Mufi was very passionate on this subject.

Next I asked what he was going to do to fix the K-12 schools.

He said step one is not worry about how the board and superintendent is selected and instead have the governor embrace the superintendent and help her or him fend off the DOE and help them move forward. He brought up the example of how he got everyone to work with his civil defense director.

Mufi next discussed having the schools aligned with the state's job needs. He then discussed how the state needs to generate more jobs that require and educated well paid workforce. Mufi sees rail providing a lot of this because there are a lot of these jobs that will be required for rail. And there will be additional jobs for the private sector work that is created due to the rail project. He sees rail as a business catalyst as well as a transportation system.

With that he moved on to boosting the film industry and bringing in more work on the Asian-Pacific front using UH, East-West Center, etc. to bring people in to create jobs in Hawaii around this work. And with these jobs, then once people get a College degree on the mainland, there are jobs in Hawaii that bring them back to the state after they graduate.

My bad: After the interview I realized I never circled back to ask Mufi about what efforts he and the superintendent then needed to talk to improve the schools. I hope the next person that interviews him can ask him for more details on this as I asked Duke & Neil as this is where the rubber meets the road.

My next question is one of my favorites because every politician loves the idea. So Mufi is elected and on the first day of session the legislative leadership says he can give them one bill and they will immediately pass it - what is the bill.

Mufi thought about this for a good 20 seconds. And then he said funding to restart the super-ferry and do the EIS. Mufi went into great detail about the great benefit that people in the state had when it was running.

I brought up Craigslist replacing classified ads everywhere as an example, I asked if we're going through a transformation as significant as the industrial revolution.

Mufi replied that this is occurring in the private sector, for a lot of very good reasons. But in the public sector people want to talk to a person. So in the public sector it is very customer service focused and therefore is reticent to see that same practice go to government.

In line with that I asked what happens when daily newspapers are gone (I figure in 5 years the Star-Advertiser will be gone).

Mufi started off that he hopes it never gets to that and there's always a need for good journalism. And not having that would be a concern to him. He then circled back to needing a stronger economy as that will help

Next I asked, 8 years from now after 2 terms, what will people say his big accomplishments were.

Mufi's immediate answer was "rail." He went in to all the reasons why this can be done quickly - and he was very passionate as he dove in to how this could be done fast and what Hawaii will get from it.

And the other question 8 years out - what next.

Mufi talked about how he's wanted to be in public service since he was a kid. So the next step would probably be in Washington.

I then came up with a wildcard question. What did he think about legalizing marijuana for export to the states where it is now being sold such as California and Colorado (we have "medical" stores everywhere).

Mufi replied that he had not thought of that before but he was willing to listen, hear the merits both pro and con.

My $0.02: Very fair reply as he had not thought of it before. But I am surprised this has not come up before - Hawaii could make a lot of money off of this, both in the jobs and the excise taxes.

I then asked Mufi about the Civil Unions bill as he had not, at the time of the interview, issued a detailed response to the veto (Duke & Neil had). I asked specifically if the legislature passed the exact same bill again and it was on his desk, would he sign.

Mufi replied that he will "roll up his sleeves" and work with the legislature to craft a bill. He will make sure the legislature will "understand my concerns and what my parameters are" and he will work to understand their concerns and parameters. He will try to come up with a bill that is mutually acceptable. He then followed up with "if that doesn't happen [mutually acceptable bill] I'm very open to throwing it on the ballot." He also stated that marriage must be between a man and a woman, but then followed up that he very much wants to end discrimination due to sexual orientation.

He also stated that they need to start on this early on. And that while this is difficult, he takes tough issues on.

My $0.02: Mufi will not sign an identical bill. But he is sincere in wanting to find a bill that is mutually agreeable and will work for that. And if agreement cannot be reached, he will support placing it on the ballot.

Mufi then concluded with some hilarious stories about when he applied for a White House fellowship. Go to 43:02 in the recording to listen to Mufi tell the stories because I can't do it justice.

So what do you get with Mufi? You've got someone who's a very experienced mayor and an absolute pro at politics. Mufi will determine where he wants to go, and will then figure out how to get there politically. And in those efforts people who don't get there way because he will push his projects through. But the end result is things will get done. Hawaii needs major change and that requires someone like Mufi who has the ability to push changes through.

I also want to address one other issue - I've read in numerous articles, blogs, etc. that Mufi can be a bully. I don't buy it. There was not a hint of that in this interview and if he's that good of an actor, he would be working in Hollywood. He clearly wants robust discussion of issues and proposals. He clearly will push hard to accomplish his goals. And there is a word for that - accomplished.

Mufi's passion is politics, figuring out what should be done, and then how to accomplish it. So will he be the education governor or the green energy governor or the rail governor? I don't think so. Instead I think he will be the let's figure out what to do and get it done governor. The thing is, the end result is the problems are addressed and the passion on the process can easily lead to accomplishing more.

Interview recording: Mufi Hannemann Interview