Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s first 100 days in office show the remarkable productivity that comes from having the Legislature and the governor reading from the same playbook.
Those first days also show the perils of having the playbook in the hands of one party with little public inspection, question or review.
Abercrombie powered through his election campaign with the simple premise of promising what was needed to meet public expectations. Since then, the veteran Democrat has repeatedly argued that because the state’s economic scenario has changed, his pledges and promises are also variable.
At the same time, Abercrombie has been constant in some critical areas. His support for civil unions was unswerving and played a large part in moving the Legislature to quickly approve a newly introduced civil union bill that he would speedily sign into law.
Perhaps more contentious was Abercrombie’s moveable position regarding an appointed school board. During the campaign, Abercrombie was alternatively for and against the proposed amendment to the state Constitution. Last July, Abercrombie told editors of this paper that he opposed the amendment. Then in September, Abercrombie’s campaign said the candidate would not take a stand on the issue. Then during a debate on PBS, Abercrombie said he opposed the amendment.
The opposition he said, was because it might take too long to appoint the new board if it became mired in legislative gamesmanship. He ultimately announced that he voted for the amendment, but not without some doubt. As it turned out, the Legislature passed the appointed-board procedure he favored and the governor is on his way to having a school board of his design.
Unlike former Gov. Linda Lingle, Abercrombie holds weekly breakfasts with legislative leaders to address the weekly issues. He is also touching base with local community groups and others of influence.
While he has met the news media on several occasions, he has yet to have an actual, open-ended news conference where he can answer questions such as:
Why did he ask for Dr. Neal Palafox’s resignation as state health director? What will he do if the Legislature presents him with a general excise tax increase? How does he appoint judges and school board members, what questions does he ask, what qualities does he want and who was not selected?
I have yet to meet a Hawaii governor who pined for a news conference. Abercrombie, however, is the first governor to regularly cut short his meetings with the press, refuse to take questions and limit the number of questions asked.
Abercrombie’s staff regularly worries about Abercrombie going off-message and ad-libbing the script, but if a certain amount of disorder is part of the Abercrombie administration, it is better to recognize it now than succumb to chaos later on.
Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.