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Governor-elect's chief of staff wins bipartisan praise

Amy Asselbaye, a fitness buff, can expect some heavy lifting


Associated Press


If leading state government is like running a foot race, then Amy Brinkmeyer Asselbaye might be a good person to take along for the jog.

Democrat Neil Abercrombie will be inaugurated Monday as Hawaii's sixth elected governor since statehood -- and entering the gauntlet with him will be Asselbaye, who as chief of staff will be his top advisor, enforcer and gatekeeper.

It will not be a new responsibility altogether for Asselbaye, 40. The running enthusiast was Abercrombie's top deputy when he represented urban Honolulu in Congress, and her admirers -- from both political parties -- insist she is well suited to take on her new role.

When Asselbaye was tapped as chief of staff, "everybody felt that that was just a really great start for the administration," said Micah Kane, former director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands under Republican Gov. Linda Lingle. Kane and Asselbaye worked together on federal legislation to establish a native Hawaiian government.

"She's a very sharp, high caliber, honest person," Kane added.

Asselbaye, who declined an interview, is described by colleagues and acquaintances as organized, patient, collaborative and possessed with the good judgment chiefs of staff must have as they choose which burning issues to bring before a busy governor. In addition, she will speak and act with authority in public or private on behalf of Abercrombie.

Asselbaye's ability to remain cool served her well during the last year as the operations director of Abercrombie's campaign.

"She was a calmness in the eye of the storm," said former Honolulu Managing Director Kirk Caldwell, who volunteered on Abercrombie's campaign after losing a bid for mayor. "She always had a smile on her face (and) tended to calm the people down who were coming up to her saying, 'We need to do something and we need to do it immediately.'"

Dave Helfert, who was Abercrombie's spokesman in Washington, said Asselbaye was the congressman's eyes and ears in Hawaii as she interacted with state and federal officials, and business and community leaders on his behalf.

"To be in that position, you really have to know your boss," said Helfert, now an adjunct communications professor at American University. "You have to be able to channel him. You have to know not only what they think but kind of how they think. I think she did that very well."

Asselbaye's ability to "channel" Abercrombie derives from working for him the last 17 years, first as a legislative aide and then up the ranks until she became chief of staff in 2005. She, her husband and three children moved to Hawaii from Washington two years before.

Since then, she has spent countless hours on the native Hawaiian governance legislation, known as the Akaka Bill after its chief sponsor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.

When not in the office, Asselbaye teaches a strength and endurance class at a local gym, and she and her husband, Charles, are avid runners. The couple have entered the 8.15-mile Great Aloha Run in recent years, shaving 19 minutes off their times since 2006.

From a fitness standpoint, at least, the tall, lean Asselbaye seems the perfect adjunct for the short, barrel-chested 72-year-old Abercrombie, who lifts weights in his free time.

Helfert recalled Asselbaye working out at the House gym when periodically visiting Abercrombie's Washington office.

"She'd run me 'til my tongue was hanging out," he said. "I thought I was going to die doing these stupid (stretching) exercises and I looked around and she was literally doing 'em on one leg."

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