The Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state’s largest and most influential public-sector labor union, endorsed former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann yesterday in the Democratic primary for governor.
Randy Perreira, the HGEA’s executive director, said it was a difficult decision, and he praised former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Hannemann’s opponent, for his work on behalf of labor. But Perreira said Hannemann has the leadership and administrative experience for the job and is more familiar with issues facing the state’s public-sector labor force.
The HGEA has 43,000 active and retired members, including 28,500 workers in state and county bargaining units.
"Neil is a great guy," Perreira said, "and has been so very supportive of working people. But, unfortunately, he has been in Washington, D.C., for 20 years, and his understanding of issues that are facing government employees now is lagging behind what the mayor — or former mayor — Hannemann’s would be, just by virtue of the job he’s been doing.
"The sad thing is that in a situation like this, you can only take one date to the prom, and we made a choice. But it doesn’t mean that the person we didn’t choose is bad."
Hannemann described public-sector labor unions as "co-leaders" in government.
"Leaders cannot lead alone," he said. "You need a motivated work force. You need co-leaders with you every step along the way. And I’m grateful for this."
Hannemann and Abercrombie have split the four major public-sector labor unions that negotiate with the state. Hannemann has won the endorsements of the HGEA and the United Public Workers. Abercrombie has picked up the support of the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly.
Hannemann has also won the backing of the police and firefighters unions.
"This is a question of old-guard leadership versus a vision of the future," Abercrombie said. "That’s why there’s such a struggle going on inside unions now, whether it’s the trade unions or whether it’s the public unions.
"And those who are siding with the future, who have their eye on the future, are coming with us. The struggle that’s going on in some of the unions going the other way will play itself out in September, and I’m confident that those who do have their eye on the future are going to be with us."
The HGEA also endorsed Brian Schatz, a former Democratic Party of Hawaii chairman and state House lawmaker, in the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor. The union backed Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell in the nonpartisan Honolulu mayor’s race.
Jonah Kaauwai, chairman of the state GOP, asked what the Democrats would owe the HGEA in exchange for the endorsements. "How much will this cost Hawaii if any of these candidates wins election?" he said in a statement. "Hawaii’s hard working public union members will make a choice in November. They will vote to cut taxes, to practice fiscal responsibility in government and to improve Hawaii’s economy by keeping money in the hands of the families who worked hard to earn it. None of the candidates endorsed today has a record to show they are fiscally responsible."
Meanwhile, the Sierra Club Hawaii chapter announced its endorsement of Abercrombie yesterday.
"Good laws require good politicians," said Robert Harris, the Sierra Club’s director.
Harris said Abercrombie had a solid environmental record during his two decades in Congress and has released an environmental plan for the state that focuses on food and energy security. Abercrombie, however, has also supported offshore oil drilling, which the Sierra Club opposes.
"It’s certainly something that we did look at," Harris said. "However, we don’t necessarily have to agree with him on 100 percent of the issues. On the issues particularly relevant to Hawaii, we felt like, again, he really represented what the Sierra Club wants."