Even Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie’s biggest detractors have to give him credit for running a brilliant campaign.
A congressman who had spent the last 20 years in Washington, Abercrombie started out as an underdog to Mufi Hannemann in the Democratic primary in terms of both funding and endorsements but ended up beating the former Honolulu mayor by a staggering 22 points.
In the general election, he scored a convincing 17-point victory over a credible Republican candidate, Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, that still has the GOP shaken.
Abercrombie did it with a doggedly positive campaign of hope that was professionally run, free of drama and infighting, on-message and always mindful of presenting the candidate as gubernatorial.
After seeing him again and again working every corner of the state, voters were ready to accept the former long-haired campus radical as a mature and experienced leader who can move Hawaii forward.
It’s worth studying the way Abercrombie ran his campaign, because it seems to be much the same way he intends to run his administration.
For his first Cabinet picks, the governor-elect wisely avoided political types and went with "civilians" with established expertise: Waianae Harbormaster William Aila Jr. for Land and Natural Resources; banker Richard Lim for Business, Economic Development and Tourism; acting Waiawa Correctional Facility Warden Jodie Maesaka-Hirata for Public Safety; and charter schools executive Alapaki Nahale-a for Hawaiian Home Lands.
While these positions are where much policy will originate, if you look at his personal staff — the key gatekeeper jobs where policy is implemented, priorities are set, alliances are formed and the message is honed — Abercrombie has virtually transplanted his campaign team.
Amy Asselbaye, his campaign operations director, was named his gubernatorial chief of staff, and deputy campaign manager Andrew Aoki will be her deputy.
Abercrombie said Asselbaye will manage the governor’s office and Cabinet to implement state policies, while Aoki will oversee policy development and strategic planning. Clearly, this is where the greatest power will lie.
On the communications side, Josh Levinson, the field organizer for the Abercrombie campaign, will control the administration’s message as communications director, and campaign press secretary Laurie Au will be his deputy.
If they prove as professional and effective in running the administration as they were in running the campaign, the governor and his constituency are probably in good shape.
But a campaign is mostly about figuring out what voters want to hear and telling it to them, while running an administration is often more about persuading the public, legislators and key interest groups to accept needed changes they don’t necessarily want to make.
The big test is whether Team Abercrombie can make the leap from one to the other.