Saturday, July 26, 2014         


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Hawaii Democrats hope unity will help them hash out success

By Richard Borreca


Quick menu question: The governor is Hawaiian and represents the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, the speaker of the House is Japanese and from Kauai, and the Senate president is Chinese and represents big labor — what do you serve them for breakfast?

Hash with scrambled eggs, what else?

Honest, that was the favorite Washington Place breakfast menu item when former Gov. John Waihee, House Speaker Richard Kawakami and Senate President Richard Wong used to meet during Waihee's term.

Scramble this, hash that, toss in that and pretty soon you have agreement on a legislative agenda, Waihee recalled this week.

That is what Democrats are hoping will happen now with the new Democrat at Washington Place, Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

Wednesday the Legislature opened with a subdued sense. There was no formal order like last year to cut out the parties in deference to the crashed economy. So there were crowds, but small and quiet.

Although former Gov. Linda Lingle was in attendance, she said little and left quickly.

Why stay? As Waihee noted after the session shut down on Wednesday: "The Legislature at the end of Linda Lingle's term was pretty hostile."

Now, as Waihee and others observe, "there is a new spirit in the air."

Lingle was often criticized for being unable to talk to the Democrats in the Legislature.

If Lingle excelled at wholesale politics, with glossy briefing books, elaborately staged news conferences with custom banners and backgrounds, she stumbled in making individual sales; she couldn't do retail.

She denied that, saying that many lawmakers found her accessible — but this week, state Rep. Blake Oshiro recalled that a lot of defenses were up.

Recalling that when the Democrats wanted to run a bill or an idea past the Republican administration, "it had to be vetted through many, many channels during the prior administration so it would take weeks."

Today, Oshiro reports "direct access," noting that Abercrombie's administration is not as worried "about whether it impacts the message from upstairs."

Abercrombie's wholesale political pitch tends toward Jesse Jackson-like phrasing — as when he was asked about pressing state problems, he replied: "While they are not going to be solved, they are going to be resolved."

For all his rhetorical excess, Abercrombie is at his finest in small groups or one-on-one. Story after story came from his Big Island bus tour last year, where he won over voters by just listening to them talk.

Oshiro acknowledged that in the past, when legislation came from the Lingle administration, "the dynamics were different."

Now, he says, Abercrombie bills and Democratic legislation are likely to be thought of as "defending the whole building upstairs and downstairs ... this time differences will probably be worked out and a united front hopefully will be at hand."

Still up for debate is what this new majority will accomplish.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.


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