Wednesday, November 25, 2015         


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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,

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

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