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Let's hope we get cake to go along with all the icing

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 1:47 a.m. HST, Jan 23, 2011

Tomorrow Gov. Neil Abercrombie defines his embryonic administration.

So far, instead of building up or hyping his first State of the State speech, Abercrombie has deferred to it, saying that his plans will be encompassed in the address to a joint legislative session.

What will he say?

Item One is that a year after trying state worker furloughs, after decimating the state work force and reeling in all the big, expensive state programs, Hawaii is projecting a nearly $800-million, two-year budget deficit, social welfare costs are approaching our education costs, and no one can tell you that the light at the end of the tunnel isn't a train.

And the Legislature is set to again take up what Rep. Blake Oshiro called the "800-pound gorilla in the room": the issue of civil unions.

Abercrombie is supporter-in-chief of a civil unions bill, but while he has been passionate in his endorsement, he has been less than precise in exactly what the bill should look like and how it should be specifically implemented.

And while it may not be an 800-pound gorilla, the issue of how to structure the selection of Board of Education members rises above rhesus monkey status.

Oh, did I mention that the budget still doesn't balance?

If we do not know how he will address — if not solve — these dilemmas, there is time to wonder how he will say it. Abercrombie is Hawaii's pyrotechnical rhetorical master.

If Abercrombie is on, he can provide a phantasmagoric speech that leaves everyone breathless, although wondering a half-hour later exactly what was said.

Sometimes there are State of the State speeches that are like a coach's pep talks. The governor gets up and cheers us on, assures us that good times are ahead and uses the canoe metaphor to exhort us to paddle together.

Reportedly excellent at this is Rex Ryan, the New York Jets coach, who is motivating his team this year with a historical speech ending with a talk about Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes, who went to Mexico in 1519 and ordered his boats to be burned upon arrival to prevent his men from going any way but forward.

The New York Times account reports Ryan shouting: "They burned their boats! I'm only asking you to give me seven weeks."

Abercrombie is the very definition of the passionate public servant, but tomorrow, perhaps the better speech advice would be given by President Ronald Reagan's former speech writer, Peggy Noonan, rather than Coach Ryan.

"Moving oratory is what you use to underscore a point. It is not in itself the point," she advised in a Wall Street Journal column.

"Nothing is more beautiful, more elevating, more important in a speech than fact and logic. ... Without a logical case to support, rhetoric has to do. It's like icing without cake," said Noonan.

A speech bristling with facts, accompanied by spreadsheets and calendars, may be what makes tomorrow's address memorable.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at


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