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Governor gains in approval poll

Abercrombie wins back some support from Democrats

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 11:37 a.m. HST, Jul 31, 2012

Gov. Neil Abercrombie's job approval rating marginally improved after a more productive session at the state Legislature than the year before and signals that the state's financial condition is stronger.

The Hawaii Poll put the Demo­crat's job approval at 43 percent, up from 39 percent in February. The survey showed that the governor has started to win back some of the Demo­crats who were divided over his performance after his first year in office, but he remains a disappointment to union workers.

Fifty-one percent of Demo­crats approve of Abercrombie's performance, up from 47 percent in February. Thirty-seven percent who live in union households approve of the governor's work, up from 35 percent in February.

"Under governor's leadership we are on track in executing his plan to transform government," Bruce Coppa, the governor's chief of staff, said in an email. "In the last year our team has made a number of accomplishments towards moving his plans forward. As the governor says, we are in our second quarter. I believe that people are beginning to take notice that positive changes are taking place. There is still much to get done and we're committed to seeing it through."

After struggling during his first year, Abercrombie made several public-policy gains at the Legislature last session. Lawmakers approved a ceded lands settlement between the state and the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs, the regulatory framework for an undersea cable to move energy between the islands, and adjustments to the criminal justice system that could free up more prison space so more prisoners can be held in Hawaii instead of on the mainland.

Abercrombie also announced this month that the state finished the fiscal year in June more than $300 million in the black, a surplus built on state spending restrictions, labor savings and tax changes.

But many progressives and environmentalists were upset at the governor over his apparent willingness to allow regulatory and environmental exemptions to speed up state construction projects. A protracted contract dispute with the teachers union has also dragged down his standing with labor.

Abercrombie's job approval rating among Demo­crats and union workers, while inching upward, is still low for the state party's highest-ranking elected official.

State Senate Majority Leader Brickwood Galu­teria (D, Downtown-Waikiki) said Abercrombie has "kind of found some legs."

"The governor has never been hesitant about being himself," he said. "We get what we vote for. So if there's a good thing about it, it's that we know him. If there's a bad thing about it, it's we know him."

Wil Okabe, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said he thinks the governor's job approval rating went up overall because of the state surplus. But he said the surplus was created in part by sacrifices from public-sector labor unions, which may explain why the governor's performance is viewed more negatively in union households.

"It is on the backs of the public-union sector," he said.

The Hawaii Poll was taken by telephone by Ward Research among 756 very likely voters statewide from July 12 to 21. The margin of error was 3.6 percentage points.

State Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) said Abercrombie and his staff were more engaged with lawmakers during the legislative session, appearing at hearings and conference committee negotiations on the administration's priority bills.

"I don't think there's any question," he said. "First of all, I think last year, his first year, he bit off more than he could chew. And he got a number of his fellow party members mad at him because he made announcements really without talking to them and without figuring out what the political consequences would be.

"That did not happen to that extent this year. Part of it, I think, is explainable because this is an election year. Part of it because I think they had meetings — both House members and Senate members — and they told him what they were willing and able to do and what they weren't."

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