Hawaii’s seventh elected governor, Neil Abercrombie, knows he has a tough job. He ran for it, calling the post the cornerstone of a life in politics.
While he goes to work knowing he heads up a state with a projected two-year budget deficit of nearly $800 million, Abercrombie says he is ready with answers.
In an interview Friday with Star-Advertiser political columnist Richard Borreca, Abercrombie talked about his plans and explained some of his early decisions since being inaugurated Dec. 6.
The 72-year-old career politician, a Democrat, has served as a state representative, state senator, City Council member and U.S. representative.
Abercrombie said that he is already in discussions with legislative leaders about a new agenda — and will be laying out his plans in his State of the State speech on Monday.
Richard Borreca: You have apparently already been in discussion with the Legislature regarding a civil unions bill. What have you decided to do and what does the bill have to contain to win your support?
Gov. Neil Abercrombie: I will cooperate and coordinate with the Legislature. I can put in a bill myself (but) I don’t see any reason for me to duplicate. I am not going to reinvent the wheel.
I am looking at in terms of implementing legislation because I believe these are constitutional rights to begin with. …
(Abercrombie compared it with the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965.)
Constitutionally, everyone is entitled to vote, but you had to put a bill up to specify the procedures. I see civil unions the same way: These are constitutional rights, not dependent on the good will of the Legislature. What the Legislature has to do, then, is write an implementing order.
Q: Are you going to readjust your timetable for completing submission of the budget to the Legislature, and don’t you risk having the budget drawn up by the Legislature if you can’t put together a complete package soon?
A: Everybody knows we are doing this together. I am not risking the Legislature writing the budget because that is what the Legislature is going to do. All I am trying to do for their consideration is present the best judgment I can make on the numbers and possible policy implications of those numbers.
I am clearly in the position of being the messenger as far as the Legislature is concerned; I don’t dictate to the Legislature. That approach is well understood by all legislators. The real logistical situation that has to be resolved is the leadership question in the House.
This is a collaborative endeavor in which I am essentially the messenger to the Legislature. I will be talking to legislators in both houses to move things along as expeditiously as possible, including decisions on what we are going to do to put a budget together.
The difficulty is not (in) putting a budget together — during the campaign I said this is not a budget issue; it is a value issue.
By the 24th (of January), the State of the State, I am going to do my level best to have a pretty comprehensive, in-depth presentation of what I think … of what I am going to recommend for us to come to grips with and implement the values embodied in the budget and proposals associated with the budget.
Q: Why did you increase the state financing of state worker medical insurance?
A: I felt that was something I needed to do. It was a good-faith thing. There is a differentiation between county workers and state workers: one is 50/50 and the other 60/40, and I really believed it.
I said once you start down that road of differentiating workers in terms of benefits, then it is very difficult not to get a situation of it becomes a war of each against all.
I thought the 60/40 thing was the equitable thing to do for a fresh start; it doesn’t mean it is going to stay at that, obviously.
Q: After the new fiscal year?
A: Yes, then it is brand new, everything is on the table, it is not a standard. It is equitable. It was my attempt to try and be consistent with what I thought was equity.
What I said during my campaign when it came up: It doesn’t matter if I tell you 60/40 or 50/50 or I tell you 100 to nothing.
I said I’ll give you 100 percent; what does it matter if you can’t do it? One hundred percent of nothing is nothing; if you can’t do it, it doesn’t matter what the number is. You can beat me with a stick, you can yell at me, but it doesn’t change anything. What we have to do is come to grips with the exploding cost of health care. The phenomenon of the exponentially exploding rise in the cost of health care is an event that is overtaking everything, if the costs rise past the capacity of the employer to deal with it individually.
Q: Does that beg the question of giving the same to each union?
A: It depends on categories of work, but within categories I would like to make it as consistent as possible. … If you are saying eye care is going to be part of a package, I don’t think you can say you will have eye care for six unions, but not the seventh.
Q: Can you be specific about plans to balance the budget?
A: I can be specific. I will be specific on the 24th. I can’t shed a lot of light on it now, not because I am being tricky, but different things are coming in all the time.
Q: Will you eliminate any existing state programs?
A: It is more likely they will be transformed rather than eliminated. You can’t just waltz into the room and say because of efficiency in government we just won’t bother with this.
It is easy to see where just cutting programs isn’t more efficient; actually it is dysfunctional and interferes with or impedes the provision of services.
It may be that we will be adding programs; that is were the reprioritization comes in.
I don’t know that the Legislature, let alone the public, will agree with all this. That’s what a legislative session is for.
I think it is my duty, my obligation, to not just kiss this off to the Legislature and simply come in, hack, hack, hack and good luck.
It is not a matter of the boat sinking — it is a question of whether it is going to huli (turn, reverse or change). If it is sinking, you just keep bailing, but we are at the point of whether the boat is going to huli. That has to stop. When that stops, then you start looking where are we going. If we can stop that, then people will recognize that is what the sacrifices are for; then you can start moving forward.
I will have a very detailed and I hope powerfully compelling argument with regard to plans for work projects to put people to work.
People working is a far better solution.
Q: You stirred up quite a controversy with your comments regarding birthers and your plans to release more information regarding President Barack Obama’s birth certificate. How is that coming?
A: I got a letter from someone the other day who was genuinely concerned about it; it is not all just political agenda. They were talking on Olelo last night about this; it has a political implication for 2012 that we simply cannot have.
(Abercrombie said there is a recording of the birth in the State Archives and he wants to use that.)
It was actually written I am told, this is what our investigation is showing, it actually exists in the archives, written down …
…What I can do, and all I have ever said, is that I am going to see to it as governor that I can verify to anyone who is honest about it that this is the case.
If there is a political agenda then there is nothing I can do about that, nor can the president.