TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
NFIB members had some big shoes to fill when seeking a replacement for lobbying veteran Bette Tatum, who retired recently. The business group chose Melissa Pavlicek, above at the Legislature on Thursday, who lobbies on behalf of other clients as well.
New NFIB lobbyist hits the ground running
Melissa Pavlicek brings experience and enthusiasm to her new role as voice of the NFIB in Hawaii
Melissa Pavlicek is the new face of the National Federation of Independent Business in Hawaii. She took the responsibility of representing the 2,000-member organization last month from Bette Tatum, who now is enjoying retirement after 25 years of tirelessly promoting Hawaii's small-business interests before the state Legislature and other legislative bodies.
Pavlicek, 42, has her own history of working at the Legislature, both as a lobbyist and as a staff member for the House Land Use and Ocean Resources Committee and the Senate Ways and Means Committee. She also has worked for the Honolulu City Council.
The University of Hawaii-educated attorney is representing the NFIB through her firm Hawaii Public Policy Advocates, in which she is joined by her husband, Stephen Teves. Other clients of the firm include the Western States Petroleum Association and Bishop Museum.
When she isn't busy lobbying, Pavlicek is also chairwoman of the state Aloha Tower Development Corp., vice president of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and a director of the Hawaii Justice Foundation.
Before getting her law degree, the Baldwin High School graduate earned a UH degree in journalism, which helped her get jobs with companies and organizations such as Hill & Knowlton, AIM Insurance Co., the National Nutritional Foods Association and the California Independent Petroleum Association.
As if all that wasn't enough to impress the NFIB, Pavlicek was awarded the Girl Scout Council of Hawaii's Community Benefactor Award in 2000, and the Governor's Kilohana Award for Volunteerism in 2001.
On Wednesday, Pavlicek took a few moments to talk with the Star-Bulletin. She had just finished giving a speech at a luncheon.
Question: Which group were you speaking to today?
Answer: I was speaking to a group of people who participated in the Pacific Century Fellows program. They regularly get together and invite people from the community to speak to them, and I chair the Aloha Tower Development Corp., and they wanted to hear about what was going on with that area.
Q: You're chairman of the Aloha Tower Development Corp.?
A: It's a volunteer position for a quasi-state board under the state DBEDT (Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism) that oversees the development of the area between Kakaako and the airport.
Q: How long you been doing that?
A: Just about a year, and we have a developer who is proposing a project at Piers 5 and 6 and we hope to hear about it in the next couple of months.
Q: What kind of project? A commercial development?
A: Initially it was a proposal for a residential fee-simple project, but our agency does not have the authority to sell that land in fee simple, so we are asking them to come up with another proposal.
Q: What was your job before you took on the NFIB position?
A: Well, I was working at Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, at a law firm, so I worked with a few of these same clients, and in July I decided to open my own office (Hawaii Public Policy Advocates). So I feel very fortunate to have NFIB recently hire me, and it fits with a lot of work that I'm doing, in that I feel that small business is such an important part of our economy. So I'm excited to work with them.
Q: Other than being an attorney, do you have any business experience?
A: This is my first experience owning my own business. I did work at the Legislature, so NFIB was especially interested in my legislative background and experience, because the largest portion of what I would be doing for NFIB would be communicating small-business issues to legislators.
Q: Where is your office?
A: Davies Pacific Center. I work for NFIB but I also have other work that I do.
Q: As an attorney?
A: Yes. I have mostly legislative clients right now.
Q: What does that mean?
A: I do lobbying besides just for NFIB. I also represent the Western States Petroleum Association and Bishop Museum.
Q: What kind of training for this job did you get from your predecessor, Bette Tatum?
A: Bette still speaks with me frequently and is very accessible and devoted to small business. She's retired now, but she continues to be a terrific resource.
Q: Who actually chose you for this job?
A: Bette Tatum along with the chair of the NFIB leadership council in Hawaii, Ron Heller, and several other NFIB staff people. There was a panel who interviewed candidates here.
Q: How did it happen that you wanted to have this job?
A: I actually have worked with Ron Heller on a number of legal matters. He's an attorney, and he mentioned that they (NFIB) were looking for a lobbyist and were interested in talking with me. So I applied for it.
I really think that working at the Legislature to bring good information from the private sector makes for good policy, so I often look for opportunities to work with organizations that have a good message, and I think NFIB really does.
Q: How's it going this session for Hawaii's business interests?
A: I think it's too soon to tell, but there has been a lot of good discussion on issues related to small business.
NFIB has been supporting a reduction in the unemployment insurance payments. NFIB considers the payments to be a tax on small business. The state has collected the premiums for so long that they could pay out even if they (businesses) paid nothing. So we're hoping for a reduction in the payment amount, and a bill has moved through several House committees, and there's another measure that we're hoping will continue to move through the Senate.
Q: Are there any priority issues that NFIB is dogging this session?
A: There are several other bills that are moving. One would allow sole proprietors and the owners of limited liability companies to exclude themselves from workers' comp requirements.
By the way, we don't take positions unless the (NFIB) members have been polled and speak on the issues. There's no board that decides these things. We actually send ballots to the members, and we have a very strong feeling among the membership opposing the general excise tax increase for rapid transit that passed last year. That's something that we're still opposed to and are constantly working on.
We're also concerned about the eminent domain power of the state, being able to condemn the property of one owner for the benefit of another.
Q: About the GET, is that a done deal? And if it is, what's your hope?
A: I guess a couple different issues are not finally decided. One is, this issue of raising the tax could be put on the ballot. We'd also like to see an environmental impact study (for the proposed rail transit) before the tax is raised.
Q: If there was only one thing you would hope for the Legislature to accomplish this session, what would it be?
A: I guess if we could lower the unemployment tax on all businesses, that would be a real accomplishment -- and I pick that because it shows real promise of being achieved.
Q: Do work with lobbyists much -- form coalitions and such?
A: Yes, on certain issues, definitely. We try to join forces with the Chamber of Commerce, Small Business Hawaii and a wide variety of groups.
Q: Do you ever find common ground with the unions?
A: Yes, and on this unemployment insurance matter, although one of the unions testified in opposition, I thought there was common ground to find resolution to the fact that the state had collected sufficient money, and the union would like to find a way to increase the benefits that are paid out from that fund.
From discussions from that hearing, I think there definitely is some common ground, and, in fact, my first job was at the ILWU as an intern.
Q: While you were going to school?
A: Right after I graduated with my B.A. in journalism.
Q: What would be the ideal business climate in Hawaii? Have you thought about that much, or are you really more issue by issue?
A: Lowering the cost of doing business in Hawaii and supporting existing and new businesses.
Q: Supporting how?
A: Whether that means cutting red tape or having creative programs and access to resources. I can't be any more specific unless we talk about specific issues.
Q: Have you gotten a sense yet of what NFIB members think about the Lingle administration? Are they generally disappointed or do they think she has been doing a reasonably good job since she took office in 2002?
A: You know, I am too new to the organization to really speak on behalf of what the general sentiment is. I would say I would hope that representatives from both parties would understand small business and make good progress.