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Editorial | On Politics

Governor’s aides brought youth, vigor, no experience

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In politics, transformations and metamorphoses will carry you only so far. Eventually you either stand and deliver or leave.

For the three top leaders in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s administration, a quick exit appears to have been their only option, but for the 73-year-old top Democrat, the situation doesn’t look much better.

Amy Asselbaye, chief of staff, and her deputy, Andrew Aoki, were a large part of the new story of Abercrombie as a state leader. Youthful, thoughtful and dedicated to a progressive, reform-minded state government, Aoki and Asselbaye fit nicely into the Abercrombie campaign legend of earnest young people working with the steady, nuanced and experienced Abercrombie greybeards. Shortly after their departure, Josh Levinson, communications director also announced he was leaving.

All three had been important parts of Abercrombie’s election campaign.

At a time early on in the campaign, when Abercrombie appeared to be surrounded only by the Geritol Generation, Aoki and Asselbaye leveled the mix. As the former director of the public interest group Kanu Hawaii, Aoki had a built-in network of young local people interested in helping government.

Asselbaye really had worked only for Abercrombie in her professional life. First in Washington and then in Honolulu, she was the one who made the Abercrombie congressional train run on time.

When they got to the state Capitol, however, it became apparent that neither had the network of contacts demanded for their new jobs.

Abercrombie insiders say that instead of being pushed, the pair came to the conclusion that they were from outside of state government and had never developed the reflexes, network or lifelong relationships needed to deal with the Legislature or problems in the community.

Political sources say that Asselbaye and Aoki told Abercrombie they would leave in December, giving the governor time to organize replacements. But, according to a source, Abercrombie immediately said he would put Bruce Coppa, state comptroller, in charge. The pair then decided to leave immediately and Levinson decided to follow them out the door.

Others in the Abercrombie network are saying that it was widely recognized that something needed to change in the Abercrombie administration. There have been a string of gubernatorial missteps and self-inflected wounds, including mishandling the pension and general excise tax at the Legislature, and attacking both AARP and the Pro Bowl. Then there was the ill-timed and never-explained attempt to clear boards and commissions of appointees left over from the Lingle administration.

Finally, lawmakers are still fuming over the decision to not make public a series of state of emergency declaration to scrap important portions of state environmental laws, in order to fix roads, remove nene geese and clear unexploded munitions.

If we had elected Asselbaye and Aoki, then they could be held accountable for not having a local network or for not doing enough to communicate. But the state voted for Abercrombie, and it is Abercrombie who is responsible to make the executive branch run on time and in the right direction.

The continued criticism of the Abercrombie administration is that after 20 years in Congress and nearly as long in state and county politics, Abercrombie is a legislator without the understanding of how to run or manage anything.

To paraphrase Shakespeare: Men at some time are masters of their fates; the fault, dear Governor, is not in our staffs, but in ourselves.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at


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