Wednesday, November 25, 2015         

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Next governor will carry background into office


Associated Press


Democratic gubernatorial contender Neil Abercrombie and his Republican counterpart James "Duke" Aiona hail from different generations and backgrounds, and whoever wins Nov. 2 will carry those characteristics into office for at least the next four years.

An Abercrombie administration would be led by one of the last remaining major Hawaii politicians who was an adult when statehood was achieved in 1959. At 72, he by far would be the oldest to enter the governor's office since then, and would carry with him four decades of political experience.

But Abercrombie's vigor belies his age. His once-trademark long hair and bushy beard is much shorter and grayer now, but the septuagenarian follows a workout regimen that would make some younger men blanch. His running mate for lieutenant governor is former state Democratic Party Chairman Brian Schatz, 38.

An Aiona administration would be headed by a former state judge and city prosecutor who entered elected politics a decade ago and won the lieutenant governor's office when Gov. Linda Lingle was elected in 2002.

At 55, Aiona if elected would share the title of oldest person to become governor since statehood with Democrat Ben Cayetano, who served prior to Lingle. Aiona's running mate, state Rep. Lynn Finnegan, is 40.

Forecasting how a candidate will govern is heavily influenced by what he or she has done in the past, said University of Hawaii political science professor Neal Milner.

With Abercrombie, who has long been on Hawaii's political stage in local, state and federal offices, voters will get "this combination of being clear on principles but being a collaborator and being willing to negotiate," Milner said.

As Abercrombie told an audience at a Big Island forum last week, "I think that I'm ready now ... to make that change and make those decisions that will take us into the future."

It's more difficult to anticipate Aiona, the lieutenant governor for the last eight years alongside Lingle, Milner said, adding, "The work in (that) office is so low key and so ill-defined and involves so few important decisions."

Aiona, though, perceives his political experience more substantively.

"For the last eight years, I've been working with the governor hand in hand," he said in a recent PBS Hawaii debate. "I feel I have that administrative experience that's necessary. ... I'm ready to go."

While his job duties as lietenant governor may not be well-known, Aiona can draw a crowd — as was evident during a stroll through an Aloha Stadium parking lot before a recent University of Hawaii football game.

"He's been a friend of the family for a really long time," said Kela Hanson of Honolulu, after warmly embracing Aiona. "I'm going to vote for him ... He stands by certain values and he sticks by it."

Born in Pearl City, Aiona hails from a large family with Portuguese, Hawaiian and Chinese roots. A Catholic, religion is a crucial element of his life.

"I've always put my faith first and foremost in my life," he said last week. "I've never in any way imposed that on any person or any organization or stepped over the bounds when I've served in my official capacity and it will remain the same as governor."

Still, Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders are promoting his candidacy mainly because of his opposition to same-sex civil unions.

Abercrombie usually prefers to keep his spirituality closer to the vest by simply calling himself a confirmed Episcopalian — discussing his spirituality broadly, but insisting that religion and politics keep a healthy distance from each other.

The arc of Abercrombie's long political career is more apparent. A vocal critic of the Vietnam War, his first campaign — for U.S. Senate — ended in defeat. He later won state legislative seats, lost a campaign for Congress, was elected to the Honolulu City Council and then won the 1st Congressional District seat he would hold for nearly 20 years.

Generally a liberal in ideological outlook, the former congressman nonetheless labored on the U.S. House committee that authorizes military spending and has won plaudits from a former conservative GOP colleague on another panel that dealt with environmental and resource issues.

He was born in Buffalo, N.Y. but has been in the islands since statehood — making him in many voters eyes as local as any Hawaii-born politician.

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