Editorial | On Politics Abercrombie’s challenge is making nice with unions By Richard Borreca Jan. 22, 2013 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. The governor shall, at the beginning of each session, and may, at other times, give to the Legislature information concerning the affairs of the State and recommend such measures as the governor shall deem expedient." From that mention in the Hawaii Constitution comes the annual State of the State speech delivered by Hawaii governors. Today’s speech by Gov. Neil Abercrombie will be one important sign of how well the veteran Democratic politician is handling his challenges. As Abercrombie steps up before the assembled state House and Senate members, he has to start to complete the vision first offered in 2011. Abercrombie’s first State of the State address was a broad, brave and all-encompassing speech. Hawaii’s new governor was decisive in recommending an "unflinching" attack on the state’s deficit. Two years ago, Abercrombie unveiled his version of the canoe metaphor favored by all our island state governors. Abercrombie hurried us all on board with this admonition: "The challenge before us is not to balance a budget. Our challenge is to ensure that our values and priorities are reflected in the decisions we make and actions we take. The time for debate — debate which merely goes through the motions or rhetoric for the sake of a safe harbor political agenda — has expired. Everyone must be prepared to contribute." The fault with Abercrombie’s first speech was not in his assessment of Hawaii’s problems; the flaw was his belief that his recommended solutions were not subject to adjustment. Tying his administration to a pension tax was an unpopular idea, but then deriding his critics, including name-calling attacks on the AARP, ensured that Abercrombie would not get the Hawaii statesman of the year award. It also meant he wouldn’t get what he wanted. Last year, Abercrombie’s speech moved away from the pension tax and instead looked to the problems negotiating with the public school teachers union. "I have again requested that the Hawaii State Teachers Association provide us with a proposal as soon as possible," Abercrombie said in 2012. Now, although Abercrombie and the teachers are engaged in negotiations, there are no indications that they will be successful. The speech Abercrombie is to give this morning will have to address not just the state’s financial picture, but the mounting problem of paying for whatever new agreements emerge. There is a lot of political danger there. So far, Abercrombie and the public unions, except for the university professors, have not been a real team. The Abercrombie campaign may want the HSTA and the Hawaii Government Employees Association with him for further campaigns, but the cost will be high. If Abercrombie cannot use the speech to negotiate with the unions, he can make mention of the fiscal balancing act that will result in union agreements. It is assumed that the state’s largest union, the HGEA, will ask for more than just the restoration of its 5 percent pay cuts — but the HGEA will have the added bargaining power of just waiting for binding arbitration to come down with a big pay raise. Finally, Abercrombie’s speech has to start to bind together his administration, to give reason to its past decisions and then to put it toward a rationale for another term. ——— Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous Story Letters to the Editor Next Story 'A solid financial footing'