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Editorial | On Politics

Progressives take the helm of Hawaii’s ship

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Hawaii has never had a governor like Neil Abercrombie.

Democrats, yes — the state has seen four Democrats before Abercrombie take the oath of office. Starting with John A. Burns, Hawaii’s governors have all come from one wing of the Democratic party: the Burns wing.

In 40 years the lines have blurred since Burns faced off against his lieutenant governor, Tom Gill, but in the ensuing years, it was always the Burns man who won Washington Place.

When the decidedly liberal Mazie Hirono represented the Democrats in the 2002 general election against Linda Lingle, the former lieutenant governor lost.

Now Abercrombie has bested both former Mayor Mufi Hannemann, the candidate of the establishment wing of the party, and then Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona.

The liberals are in charge of Washington Place. There is no more clear signal than naming Sen. Dwight Takamine (D, Hilo-Honokaa) as director of the Department of Labor. Takamine, a quiet and studious politician, is more than just a friend of labor, he is the son of Yoshito Takamine, the legendary Big Island politician and ILWU employee. Dwight was elected to the Big Island’s 1st District when Yoshito retired. The pair have held the seat since before statehood and you can easily say that the junior Takamine was born into both politics and labor.

Perhaps the Hawaii governor who moved furthest from the Burns model of consensus government was John Waihee, who was governor from 1986 to 1994. Waihee was an activist and a planner, who was lucky enough to serve most of his two terms with a booming economy fueled by foreign investment.

Abercrombie won’t inherit that sort of economic luck, but he has picked up a lot of Waihee stalwarts who assisted in Abercrombie’s campaign and are now defining the new administration by helping to pick the new Cabinet.

The team includes John Radcliffe, lobbyist and former labor leader, who served briefly in the Waihee administration; Lloyd Nekoba, a longtime Waihee aide; and also former state Rep. Kate Stanley, who served in the Waihee administration. Charles Toguchi, the former superintendent of education and state senator, is keeping a lower profile now, but he also is in the Abercrombie kitchen Cabinet, along with former Maui Rep. Tony Takitani.

During the campaign Abercrombie spoke of the virtues of "civic courage and a public conscience." Now it will be his job to translate that philosophy into an action plan for a state mired in unemployment, many poor schools and a stagnant economy.

So far Abercrombie is keeping his own low, carefully controlled public profile, but tomorrow will step on stage as a new and unique leader.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. He can be reached at


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