Friday, November 27, 2015         


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Youth movement's fresh legs to carry Abercrombie's agenda

By David Shapiro


Neil Abercrombie, at 72, was sworn in as the oldest person elected governor of Hawaii, but it's notable that the start of his administration has been as much about youth as age.

While there are many old hands in Abercrombie's early appointments to the top jobs on his team, there also has been a significant nod to younger leaders.

Four of his initial Cabinet appointees are in their early 40s -- Sunshine Topping, 40, at Human Resources Development; Kalbert Young, 41, at Budget and Finance; Alapaki Nahale-a, 42, at Hawaiian Home Lands; and Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, 44, at Public Safety.

Abercrombie's chief of staff, Amy Asselbaye, is 40, and her deputy, Andrew Aoki, is 41. The new governor's communications team is Josh Levinson, 34, Laurie Au, 26, and Donalyn Dela Cruz, 35.

The primary symbol of youth in the new administration is Brian Schatz, elected Hawaii's second-youngest lieutenant governor at 38.

"Hawaii was built by people our age," Schatz declared in an inaugural speech in which he called his generation to service. "Democracy is not what we have, it's what we do. We need to step up and lead in whatever way we are able."

Schatz has been an example, serving four terms in the Legislature, running a major nonprofit group and chairing the Hawaii Democratic Party.

He organized the local "draft Obama" movement around members of his generation who, in many cases, were taking their first steps into politics. The fresh enthusiasm they generated carried forward to this year and was a significant factor in the sweeping victories of both Abercrombie and Schatz.

The new lieutenant governor is bright, articulate, forward-looking and plays well with others. He's politically ambitious, but not in a way that threatens the boss he genuinely admires, and he could break the mold of previous No. 2s regarded as fringe players in a job that has few official responsibilities.

Abercrombie has assigned Schatz to lead his Hawaii Fair Share Initiative to draw more public and private investment to Hawaii, and Schatz will play a leading role in the planning for next year's pivotal APEC summit in Honolulu.

Hawaii's older political generation has until now been stingy in yielding power to the young; besides a 72-year-old governor, our top public jobs are filled by two 86-year-old U.S. senators and two congresswomen who are at or near age 60.

Experience has great value and deserves respect, but skewing too old risks an unhealthy imbalance in the constant tug-of-war over allocating public resources between current and future needs.

It's to Abercrombie's credit that he seems committed to opening the door to a new generation and giving more seats at the table to those who will have to live with the decisions made today.

David Shapiro can be reached at or


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