He’s 72 and Hawaii voters have grown up listening to his tirades and bombast, but when Neil Abercrombie ran for governor he said he had "learned to listen."
A longtime friend and campaign supporter, the University of Hawaii’s Amy Agbayani, said back in 2009:
"He’s learned to listen. Before, he may not have, but he has had to learn to listen. Otherwise he wouldn’t be so effective."
In an early campaign interview, Abercrombie confided that he realized his harangues "can be construed as lecturing, putting yourself in a position where you are telling them what they need to do. That’s the wrong way to go about it."
Voters agreed, yes, there was a new Abercrombie who "learned how to listen," and he became Hawaii’s governor.
So last week, Abercrombie was confronted by state Rep. Barbara Marumoto (R, Kalani Valley-Diamond Head) during a hearing on his budget plan and the accompanying tax increases.
Marumoto, like every other lawmaker, had been pounded with calls, e-mails and letters from worried constituents, who see the Abercrombie plan taxing their pensions as a threat.
Abercrombie wants to raise $232 million a year in new taxes and fees to help balance a budget deficit estimated at $700 million.
"About $157 million is coming out of our senior citizens, that’s a big hit," Marumoto said, adding that the pension tax would kick in on individuals with an adjusted gross income of $37,500.
"When you start taxing pensions at such a low level it is almost cruel," she said.
Abercrombie cut her off, saying, "If you want to characterize it as cruel, the least you can do is actually represent what it is that we are talking about. … If you want to start an argument about what constitutes cruelty, then I think you ought to at least be accurate about what we are talking about in terms of numbers."
The governor went on to call Marumoto’s comments "egregious" (meaning extraordinarily bad) adding that she should know "we are not talking about someone whose sole income total is $37,500."
"If $37,500 is the pension income, you know perfectly well that person is getting Social Security income as well as perhaps other income," Abercrombie said.
Lowell Kalapa, Hawaii Tax Foundation president, who attended the hearing, said he thought Abercrombie misunderstands his own bill.
"He thought the proposal was only looking at pension income as the threshold, when it is all income," Kalapa said, explaining that the Abercrombie tax bill kicks in when a single taxpayer has an adjusted gross income tax of $37,500.
Marumoto said she thinks Abercrombie’s misunderstanding "was an honest mistake."
"I guess I hit a nerve," she said.
This apparent error comes after a finger-wagging Abercrombie last week incorrectly told a retired police officer that the Abercrombie plan to take away retired public workers’ state-funded Medicare Part B reimbursements would not apply to him. In reality, as the administration version of the bill was written, it would apply to all retirees.
It may be time for the governor to rediscover the "new Abercrombie."
Besides the political downside of appearing to dominate the floor and cutting off other speakers, the beauty of actually listening is the chance that you might learn something.