Hawai‘i ACLU Hires New Executive Director

December 13, 2017, 10:55 AM HST (Updated December 13, 2017, 12:01 PM)
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Josh Wisch. Courtesy photo.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Hawai‘i announced today that Special Assistant to the Attorney General Joshua Wisch will take over the helm in January 2018 from long-time Executive Director Vanessa Chong, who is retiring.

Chong became the organization’s executive director in 1984 and first joined its staff in 1981.

“All of us at the attorney general’s office are proud of Josh Wisch as he starts his next chapter,” Attorney General Doug Chin said. “Josh is extraordinarily talented and has a very big heart. The ACLU of Hawai‘i is getting a great person to lead the organization during a turbulent time for civil rights.”

Wisch’s last day with the State of Hawai‘i will be Jan. 2, 2018.

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Starting Jan. 3, 2018, Attorney Dana Viola will replace Wisch as the special assistant to the attorney general—a role which includes being the department’s spokesperson and legislative liaison.

Viola previously worked for the attorney general’s office from 1999 to 2009.

The search drew over 100 applicants nationwide.

Wisch has over 15 years of cross-sector professional experience in Hawai‘i. His management background, in addition to his understanding of Hawai‘i, the legislative process and past experience leading political campaigns and issue advocacy, is expected to significantly advance the ACLU’s agenda statewide.

Wisch earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon University and his J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center.

The transition comes at a critical time for the ACLU, which is facing a barrage of challenges on multiple fronts, including erosions to the rights of immigrants and LGBTQ individuals, attacks on reproductive health services for women and ensuring free speech and protest rights for all points of view. Additionally, the organization continues to press for much-needed reforms of the criminal justice system.

Board President Barbara Ankersmit said, “Joshua will lead ACLU’s continuing evolution in a rapidly changing climate to tirelessly assert and protect hard-won freedoms. We look forward to Joshua creating more partnerships with communities statewide.”

Wisch said, “I am humbled to be joining the ACLU Hawai‘i at such an important time. Vanessa Chong’s work for more than 30 years building the Hawai‘i affiliate and safeguarding our civil liberties has been extraordinary. Her legacy is an inspiration and I am grateful for all the support she, the Board, and staff have provided during this transition. I am proud to join a group of people dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of everyone in our state, and assure you that my heart is in the work.”

The ACLU of Hawai‘i is an affiliate of the nationwide ACLU, the country’s premier organization dedicated to protecting civil liberties and civil rights since 1920. A nonprofit and non-partisan organization, the local ACLU has more than 4,000 members and donors, a staff of seven and an annual budget of more than $1 million.

The mission of the Hawai‘i affiliate of the ACLU is to protect the civil liberties contained in the state and federal constitutions through litigation, legislative and public education programs statewide. The ACLU is funded primarily through private donations and offers its services at no cost to the public. The ACLU does not accept any government funds.

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