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Abercrombie not doing so well engaging public

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 2:23 p.m. HST, Aug 5, 2011

One month ago, Gov. Neil Abercrombie took his administration to the people with a town hall meeting at Moiliili's Washington Intermediate School.

At the time, the meeting was newsworthy because Abercrombie took credit not just for his administration's successes, but also said he was to blame for the administration's failures.

The "I am an imperfect vessel, shaped only by your desires for a better life" is always a good opening gambit, although eventually politicians have to either deliver the goods or get off the stump.

Afterward, critics faulted the governor for holding a "staged campaign rally" instead of a public information session. To this observer, the meeting was more "unstaged" than staged. Abercrombie avoided getting free air time by doing live shots with the three assembled TV stations at 6 p.m. and then wasted a half-hour with presentations, poetry readings and dancing with the kids.

Abercrombie this week made an effort at exploring his own administration by providing written, public answers to the questions posed during that meeting.

Now all the questions and administration answers are on-line on his state web page,

He was asked why the Board of Education isn't holding meetings on the neighbor islands. A fair question, because Abercrombie's campaign called for his ability to appoint the school board and be held accountable for its actions, inactions and results. He answered that question by essentially saying the meetings are held in downtown Honolulu because that's where they are held.

"The BOE continues to hold public meetings and invites public to participate and comment," Abercrombie answered, adding that you can always check out the BOE online or email.

He punted when asked about the BOE's plans to drop a required social studies high school graduation credit for high school.

After noting that he believes in social studies and was even an American Studies graduate, Abercrombie said that "the electives students are likely to take, are also valuable learning.

"The BOE and Gov. Abercrombie encourage the public to share their insights and thoughts," the governor's office said, offering a link to the BOE email.

Abercrombie also split the difference with questions about the controversial Ho‘opili development case that would take prime Oahu agricultural land for housing. And when asked about supporting local farmers Abercrombie urged consumers to "tell the grocer or produce manager that you want to buy more local produce." The idea is certainly not new: former Gov. Linda Lingle highlighted buying local agriculture in her 2009 State of the State speech.

Ditto for the state's prison problems. Lingle, like her predecessor Gov. Ben Cayetano, had tried to build more local prisons with little success.

Abercrombie was asked about bringing the nearly 2,000 Hawaii inmates in mainland prisons back here. He said he was all for it, although he added that the state just signed a $45.5 million-a-year contract to house Hawaii felons in Arizona.

During the community meeting, he was asked why they all can't be housed on Molokai with some "enlightened programs."

Molokai is too small, said Abercrombie, but added that he was working on a new prison on Maui, neglecting to add that Lingle had been working since 2008 to build the new facility at Puunene.

In all, Abercrombie gets credit for responding to the questions and making the information available on the web. Is he up to the communications and community-engagement standards of governors such as John Waihee and Lingle? Not so much.

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

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