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Abercrombie's top aide, from Congress to Capitol

By Richard Borreca

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 02:17 p.m. HST, Nov 14, 2010



It is probably the biggest, most important job in state government that you never heard of: administrative director to the governor.

The post is spelled out in the state Constitution, but the duties are not. The job usually goes to the governor's most trusted assistant.

Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie quickly gave it to his congressional chief of staff, 40-year-old, Iowa-born Amy Asselbaye.

On Dec. 6, Asselbaye joins the ranks of Barry Fukunaga, Bob Awana, Charlie Toguchi, Sam Callejo, Josh Agsalud and Sus Ono -- the first woman in the ultimate old boys club.

She served as the operations director for Abercrombie's victorious campaign, directing and meshing the grassroots, policy, media and communications campaign groups.

Abercrombie insiders say the reason his campaign was so publicly free of any drama or mixed messages is primarily due to Asselbaye's steady hand.

Along with Asselbaye, Abercrombie named Andrew Aoki, a 41-year-old attorney, as deputy chief of staff.

"They were the heart and soul of the campaign," Abercrombie said in a prepared release.

"Amy and Andrew both have young children in Hawaii's public schools and they understand the issues facing families in Hawaii," Abercrombie said.

The often loquacious governor-elect has clamped down on interviews with his staff during transition, relying on his spokeswoman Laurie Au for public comment, so Asselbaye was not available to publicly talk about her new position.

Others say she is well-suited.

Outgoing Attorney General Mark Bennett worked with Asselbaye, when the state was lobbying for passage of the native Hawaiian recognition bill, supported by both Abercrombie and Gov. Linda Lingle.

"She is a great person to work with," Bennett said, adding that he was struck by her "practical and common-sense approach to difficult issues."

The biggest job of the governor's assistant is to be the savvy traffic cop who knows what to route directly to the governor and what can be handled by staff.

"You want someone who isn't going to overstep their bounds, but also someone who isn't going to take every little thing to the governor," Bennett advised.

After graduating from Florida State University with a political science degree, Asselbaye worked on political campaigns, met Pete Rouse, who was then chief of staff to former Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., and is now President Barack Obama's chief of staff. Rouse helped her get a job with Abercrombie's office, starting as a 23-year-old congressional correspondent writing letters for Abercrombie.

She progressed through various jobs until Abercrombie sent her here in 2003 to run the Honolulu office. Later Asselbaye was named chief of staff, directing both the Washington and Honolulu offices.

Bennett says someone can learn about Hawaii's layered state government, but "you can't teach common sense or learn good judgment, and Amy has both."

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com






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