Sunday, November 29, 2015         


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Canoe metaphor overturns when budget wave hits

By Richard Borreca


Attention, speech writers: Drop the canoe metaphor.

It turns out, unlike what Gov. Neil Abercrombie and previous state leaders have told us, we are not all in the same canoe.

You are in your state government management canoe and we are in our state public employee canoe, or our about-to-be-laid-off-social worker canoe or our tourist industry canoe.

We don't want to be in your canoe, and we are a tad skeptical about you wallowing around in our canoe.

So Mr. Abercrombie, keep that paddle in your canoe; go tax some other canoe.

Last Friday, Abercrombie went before Sen. Clayton Hee's Judiciary and Labor Committee to make his case for dropping the state-paid Medicare Part B premiums to save the state $47 million a year. Public workers and retirees in attendance booed and hissed.

The public worker unions don't want any significant changes in their benefits. Instead, they say, if the state can't afford the goodies, raise taxes to get more money.

An obviously frustrated Abercrombie afterward told reporters: "I am the governor. I'm not your pal. I'm not your counselor. I am the governor. And I am determined to be truthful with everybody about what we have to do together to survive."

This is a real Nixon-goes-to-China moment. The late GOP president made his political career talking tough to Communists and being the most doctrinaire Cold War warrior, so when he opened up relations with the People's Republic of China and shook hands with Chairman Mao, the action became a metaphor for a surprising political act.

Abercrombie and labor are joined at the hip, ankle and shoulder. They walk together. Big national labor unions support him -- and during his 20 years in Congress, when Abercrombie was scored by AFSCME, the largest public employee and health care workers organization in the U.S., it said he had voted with them 86 percent of the time.

Closer to home, Abercrombie named Dwight Takamine as his labor director. Takamine and his father are the absolute face of labor on the Big Island; they were born with ILWU cards. Now Takamine will enforce state labor laws.

Whom did Abercrombie name to be his chief negotiator to bargain with the public workers: someone from business or management? No, the long-time head of the local Seafarers Union, Neil Dietz.

And Abercrombie had not been in office one month when he gave the public workers $18 million in assistance to restore the 60-40 split in state health insurance payments.

Still the unions are displeased. To cut the state budget deficit, Abercrombie wants to tax state pensions. The majority of people getting those pensions are public worker retirees. Democrats look at them as the bedrock of the party.

One state labor leader, who did not endorse Abercrombie, said he had a nightmare about visiting Gov. Abercrombie in his office and asking, "What's in the closet?" Out pops former Gov. Ben Cayetano, who worked on reforming the state civil service and left office opposed by many in labor. After he was out of office, much of the reform was repealed by a union-backed Legislature.

For all those years that Abercrombie was the reliable vote for unions, in Hawaii there were doubts. Now that Abercrombie is trying to balance the budget by taxing pensions, their fears are confirmed.


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

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