Hawaii has utilized a unique approach to the issue of succession to the office of lieutenant governor, and the format used in the case of permanent and temporary vacancies differ somewhat. Title 4, Section 26-2 of the Hawaii Statutes provides guidance on this dilemma. First, when a permanent vacancy occurs in the office of lieutenant governor, the next official in line to succeed is the State Senate President, and then after him or her, it is the Speaker of the Hawaii. But, the assumption of office is not automatic, as there is a clause that allows those two offices to be bypassed in succession to the lieutenant governor’s seat if, according to Section 26-2, they do not “resign promptly,” a period of time for which there is given no specific definition.
And, even though Hawaii has experienced the dominance of one political party for many years, it is possible to predict a situation where a legislator of one political party would not want to join the administration of another party and the governor most probably would not want them to join their administration–here it is critical to keep in mind the ticket system for election of the governor and lieutenant governor in Hawaii, where they are elected together, not separately, and are thus a partnership, to some extent. Recent political history provides some clarity on this potential statutory dilemma. When, for example, the incumbent lieutenant governor was appointed by the governor to the United States Senate in late 2012, the senate president, apparently after giving it some thought, did indeed resign “promptly” and join the administration of Governor Neil Abercrombie, thus avoiding any kind of succession crisis. However, Section 26-2 does permit the two legislative leaders to “decline the powers and duties” of the lieutenant governor’s office if they so choose without any harm to their own official standing. In that case, the line of succession extends automatically to the attorney general, finance director, comptroller, the director of taxation, and then the director of human resources. None of the aforementioned offices are elected, they are all part of the governor’s cabinet, and they do not have the option of turning down an appointment as lieutenant governor.
Now, in the case of a temporary vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office (defined by Section 26-2 as being either disabled or temporarily absent from the state), legislative leadership is not referenced at all. Rather, the power and duties of the office devolve automatically to the list of cabinet members mentioned mentioned above, starting with the attorney general who then becomes acting lieutenant governor for the duration of the disability or absence. Also, in this case, a subsection of section 26-2 does provide for the appointment by the acting lieutenant governor of a staff member within the office to perform the “functions” of the position, but that is all. Thus, the person designated under this subsection is not able to become, in essence, an “acting acting” lieutenant governor.