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EditorialOn Politics

Talkative Abercrombie learns how to listen

Neil Abercrombie is talking.

He is on the floor of the U.S. House and he is talking. He is in the Hawaii Senate and he is talking. In the committee room, Abercrombie is talking. Even when he is just with colleagues, Abercrombie is talking.

Blessed with the rhetorical skills and decibel range to blast the rust off the roof of the Mooheau bandstand as he did last Friday in Hilo, Abercrombie, the new Democratic nominee for governor, easily slips into bombast.

So before he could run for governor, he had to learn to be quiet and then learn to listen.

A skilled politician with 40 years experience, Abercrombie says he finds this current race for governor his most difficult.

A campaign consultant who has worked for other Democrats talked about Abercrombie on the condition of anonymity.

More than 18 months ago, during the early planning stages of his campaign, supporters met with him, telling Abercrombie he is a talker, not a listener.

Back then Abercrombie said in an interview that "it can be construed as lecturing, putting yourself in a position where you are telling them what they need to do. That is the wrong way to go about it."

Asked about the change today, Abercrombie says: "I learned how to listen."

"The people are saying ‘Listen to me.’ I learned not to lecture," says Abercrombie, a former college professor.

Abercrombie admits: "I really had to work at it."

The so-called "listening tour" used by politicians has become just another tactic in a political consultant’s bag of tricks — so when Abercrombie says he was listening, there was room to doubt.

Abercrombie explains he needed to find out if his ideas would be shared after 20 years in Congress.

"I had to find out what they thought of energy independence and what it meant to them," Abercrombie says.

But the conversation had to include the voters, and Abercrombie acknowledges, "I had to discipline myself."

The temptation, he says, was to listen to the first part of what voters said and then butt in.

"I had to listen all the way through and not just say ‘Yeah, I agree and here’s what I am going to do about it,’" Abercrombie says.

Abercrombie’s consultant explains it this way:

"Neil learned to relax and be comfortable in his own skin. Neil is smart, but now he listens."

Richard Borreca’s column on politics normally appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays; it runs today due to Saturday’s late-night primary election. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.


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