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Wednesday, August 20, 2014         

ON POLITICS


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Abercrombie's off-the-cuff style 'part of his charm'

By Richard Borreca

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If Gov. Neil Abercrombie's staffers haven't already made "damage control" a permanent agenda item on their daily to-do list, they should, because it doesn't appear that Hawaii's bellicose governor will be changing his style.

Last week's performance during a news conference to introduce Terry Lock as his early childhood education coordinator seemed to start out as a routine appearance.

Lock seems qualified for the job and the room was filled with the requisite crying babies and beaming moms, but then Abercrombie lurched into an unprovoked attack on the National Football League and the Pro Bowl. The Pro Bowl?

He picked the Pro Bowl because Bethany Hamilton, "Hawaii Five-0" or Sister Marianne Cope didn't cross his mind as something to lambaste? Who knows?

He called the pride of Hawaii's sporting industry "silly."

He equated money spent to bring the NFL weeklong event here with money that could go to public education; he said civil union ceremonies will make more money for the state, and then he called the NFL owners names.

What the soon-to-be 73-year-old Democrat did was needlessly complicate next year's election season by making his outbursts an issue and his support a liability.

How can ESPN and the other networks forget about the Aber- crombie outburst when they do their pre-Pro Bowl packages before the next Honolulu appearance? The NFL may not be publicly commenting, but as one executive who deals with the NFL said, "They are a bunch of tough lawyers and bean-counters."

Already, potential candidates for major office are quietly trying to parse how much Abercrombie will hurt their campaigns. Is it enough to just ignore him, or do you have to say something to disassociate yourself with him?

"You can only allow yourself so much time before that bizarre behavior rubs off on you," one veteran local political adviser, who asked not to be named, said.

Others counsel patience. Jim Loomis, the retired public relations guru who represented Abercrombie for many years, said the governor's style just takes time to get used to.

"Ultimately people will appreciate that he has enough confidence in the people that they can listen and judge for themselves.

"I find it refreshing, it is part of his charm," Loomis said.

Unlike heavily scripted politicians such as former Gov. Linda Lingle, Loomis added, Abercrombie is willing to talk off the cuff with some passion and energy.

Still Abercrombie's visions of class warfare give pause. It is one thing to understand the difference between the rich and poor and another to simply exploit it.

Once while debating the original Kakaako planning agency, the Hawaii Community Development Agency, Abercrombie, then in the state Legislature, called the planned condos: "Kennels for the rich." It was a funny line, but didn't advance the ball toward getting much-needed, low-priced housing built.

It is amusing when Abercrombie calls Donald Trump "a serial bankrupt" and concerning when he described former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as "the most overrated, unperforming individual in executive authority that I have ever seen."

Now when we see Abercrombie starring in his own "Raging Bull" movie, there is much concern that this will not turn out well.

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Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. He can be reached at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.






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