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Gov success from Congress is a lot farther than it looks

By Richard Borreca


It turns out that Gov. Neil Abercrombie's fate may just be "Outliers" in reverse.

The brilliant Malcom Gladwell book, "Outliers: The Story of Success," explains how many of the outstanding, successful people became that way with a lot of help.

Some of it is circumstantial, some of it is because they had the opportunity to work harder than anyone else, and some become great because of family and culture colliding at the right time.

If Gladwell's theory holds, then a corollary may be that you could be an "outlier" in the other direction: No matter how good you are, you just may be fated to fail.

And that brings up a recent article by Louis Jacobson in Governing magazine's website, governing.com.

In a look at the history of governors who moved to the statehouse from the U.S. House of Representatives, Jacobson sees much risk and little success.

Looking at members of Congress who either filed for governor while serving in Congress, such as Abercrombie, or without serving any other state office in the interim, Jacobson found 13 governors.

Six of them left office enveloped in scandal.

Remember Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois governor nabbed for trying to sell the appointment of President Barack Obama's old Senate seat? And then there was Mark Sanford, the South Carolina governor who made "hike the Appalachian Trail" a double entendre for hooking up with an Argentine mistress. Also former Gov. Bob Wise, who decided against seeking a second term in West Virginia after an affair with a state employee was disclosed.

From that original list of 13, three other governors who used to be congressmen failed to win a second term. Then two more governors served another term, but left office with plunging disapproval ratings. Only two governors escaped with their reputation and approval rating intact: Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania and Rob Riley of Alabama.

The lesson to learn from all this is that being a member of Congress is not what you want on your resume if you are running for governor. While Abercrombie left Washington for Honolulu with his moral reputation intact, he was packing little more than a learner's permit about state government.

"Experts say the process of moving from the House to the governor's mansion poses a set of challenges for any new governor -- challenges that could spell the difference between a strong tenure and a weak one," Jacobson reports.

Just as Abercrombie's 56 percent disapproval rating says much about the success of his first 10 months in office, the apparent structural problems of going from Congress to governor haunt Abercrombie.

Time in Washington has little to do with learning local issues and cultivating local relationships, Jacobson says. Being known and liked by local political leaders and voters is a key that is often missing with members of Congress.

Then there is the issue of on-the-job experience. Abercrombie came in to head a workforce of 45,000, plan negotiations with the 76-member state Legislature and guide a state of 1.3 million with only the experience of running an office of a few dozen. To compound the inexperience, Abercrombie brought along his congressional staff to help run the government, which may have helped prompt the departure of his chief of staff.

"There is little experience in public office that prepares you more poorly for service in the governor's office than service in the House," Jacobson quotes one political expert as saying.

To suggest that someone who is 73, has served in the state House and Senate, the City Council and Congress for 20 years must now learn an entirely new skill set may be harsh, but it appears that's what Abercrombie has to do.

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

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soundofreason wrote:
"To suggest that someone who is 73, has served in the state House and Senate, the City Council and Congress for 20 years must now learn an entirely new skill set may be harsh, but it appears that's what Abercrombie has to do.">>>What's important here is that HE doesn't think so. And there ya have it.
on November 6,2011 | 02:53AM
WesleySMori wrote:
Soundofreason so you're saying, "You Can't Teach and Old Dog New Tricks"?? Sorry about that GOVERNOR ABERCROMBIE!!!! "GOD BLESS HAWAII & AMERICA"!!!!
on November 6,2011 | 11:42AM
LemonySnickets wrote:
People wanted change and they got it. Now they don't like it. "It will only get worst before it gets better" As if republicans have a miracle worker hidden somewhere. Many thought President Obama as the Messiah. If he was than we are going into final stage of Revelation when Jesus appears again.
on November 6,2011 | 09:26AM
shaftalley wrote:
it looks like Gov. Abercrombie has a lot of constructive work to do.and sooner the better.
on November 6,2011 | 09:35AM
holumuahawaii wrote:
After nearly eleven months of uninterrupted editorial attacks on the Governor, isn’t it getting to be time to reflect upon, and deal with, the real problems that afflict the state? Most people understand that our state and school buildings have been falling down from lack of repair caused by lack of adequate funding for nearly forty years—not by lack of proper understanding or of willingness of what to do. Most folks know, or should know, that our state government staff has been cut below any safe standards due to lack of adequate funding since the 1990’s—not out of anyone’s or any group’s stupidity or willful desire to harm the welfare, health, and safety of the people, but because of a faltering economy. The Governor attempted to solve the problems he inherited by asking for shared sacrifice, until things could get better. Most people said “No!” to that, telling the Governor, that if the ship of state that he called a “canoe” sank, that was just too bad and if it did, it would be his fault. No shared sacrifice. They felt they had sacrificed enough. Everyone seems to want someone to make a change to make things “better,” but no one wants to do anything themselves to effectuate that change. So they blame the Governor. Isn’t it time to look around and ask, “What can I do to make Hawaii a little more competitive with the rest of the country?” Or we can continue to monku. We can go on blaming some group or someone else, anyone else, as long as we don’t find fault where it belongs.
on November 6,2011 | 10:47AM
WesleySMori wrote:
The Governor was given a CANOE with plenty, PLENTY "PUKAS" with only a COUPLE of Life Jackets!!!! LUCKY the CANOE did'nt already sink!!!! The GOVERNOR NEEDS to PATCH the "PUKAS" as FAST as POSSIBLE,(with HELP of course) or WE ALL are going to DROWN!!!! ESPECIALLY the ONEs who Can't SWIM!!! "GOD BLESS HAWAII & AMERICA"!!!!!!!
on November 6,2011 | 11:29AM
KekoaBradshaw wrote:
The Governor hasn't used the "bully pulpit" which all executive have. He could have asked for "shared sacrifice" from all of us, but he didn't. He hasn't led by example. First thing in office was the thousands spent on bringing the Governor's mansion behind Washington Place up to his and Nancie's standards. He could have just said--"Look, Nancie and I will just ;live in our condo and save expenses used to keep up the mansion". He could have left some of the many PR-type jobs in State government unfilled ("Information Director"---aka highly paid PR flacks). He could have dropped the 24/7/365 chauffeur service that's been a hallmark of Hawaii's "imperial governorship" since the days of Ariyoshi. Lt. Gov. Schatz could have done the same---instead, nothing. (Just a few examples of the "fat" in the execuive brnach of the State governemnt.) I voted for Abercrombie, but sadly, he's way out of his depth as Governor.
on November 6,2011 | 12:38PM
Graham wrote:
He did not inherit the problems; he ran for the office hiding from the realities of the situation.
on November 6,2011 | 02:54PM
smith2650 wrote:
Your comments that "luck" is important as per "Outliers" is only partly correct. Remember the book cites the "luck" involved in getting the experience needed to be highly qualified when those qualifications were needed. Examples are the Beatles playing in Amsterdam; Bill Gates getting access to a computer in grade school; etc. The book noted that because these persons had the "luck" to get 10,000 hours or more of experience at a very early age gave them the skill to succeed in their profession. Your column suggests that Abercrombie just did not have the "luck". No, the point should be that he just does not have the requisit hours of experience of managing and/or running a state government at the CEO level and, so lacking, it should come as no surprise that he fails.
on November 6,2011 | 11:37AM
cojef wrote:
Statistical according to Mr Borreca artticle, Neil is doomed to failure if he doesn't get up on his haunches and get busy. However, he still could get re-elected if he plays ball with organized union, as Hawaiian voters are brain-washed by them. Running a small staff in his Congressional office, certainly is not similar the the 45,000 plus, he must manage. Yes there are department heads, but the rank and file must be on your side too. If you cannot demonstrate the smarts of a tested executive it will show. You then suffer the agony of having to prove yourself, which in the time span you have, makes for tough journey. God Luck, one-termer!
on November 6,2011 | 11:38AM
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