Time for the governor to show if he’s got game

The next few months will tell whether the Abercrombie administration is going to give us a new day in Hawai‘i or a lot of same old-same old.

Even Gov. Neil Abercrombie admits his administration is off to a slow start, telling an O’ahu Democratic Party group that he and the 2011 Legislature didn’t live up to the high expectations many voters had when Democrats regained control of the executive branch as well as the Legislature.

It’s partly the governor’s own fault. He called for shared sacrifice, but the specifics didn’t seem spread very evenly. His waffling on a general excise tax increase angered both constituents and some lawmakers. He got off message with distractions he created on Barack Obama’s birth certificate and his ill-advised move to shroud judicial appointments in secrecy.

Abercrombie was surprisingly inarticulate in explaining himself to the public; he’s often sounded less like a Ph.D. and more like the kid who came of age in New York during the Yankees heyday of Yogi Berra and Casey Stengel.

But that said, a choppy beginning is difficult to avoid with Hawai‘i’s political calendar, and Abercrombie can still have a good first year if he gets focused and back on point in the remaining months of 2011.

The first four months of the year are the Legislature’s time, and it’s difficult for any administration — much less a brand new bunch — to get a lot done when lawmakers demand department heads at their hearings on a daily basis and the administration doesn’t know the budget number it has to work with.

As the governor was reported to have told his Cabinet, “They run the state for four months and we run the state for eight months.”

So now its Abercrombie’s time. To save his year, he needs to set a clear agenda for his team, avoid new distractions and show visible progress in reshaping the state government as he promised and advancing his initiatives on creating jobs, reducing homelessness, adding workforce housing and encouraging energy and food independence.

He must rediscover his voice from the campaign that brought people together behind him and make sure the sacrifices he asks truly represent fair sharing.

Then he must pull it all together into a compelling program to take to the 2012 Legislature — and sell it with the come-to-Jesus message he gave the O‘ahu Democrats.

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18 Comments on “Time for the governor to show if he’s got game”

  1. Richard Gozinya Says:

    In addition to the Fox Paws ( sorry,I don’t write French) enumerated above, we have the Unfunded Feral Citizen Relocation Plan (“UFCRP” pronounced “Oof, crap!”)which pretty much tells me all I need to know about the Gov’s priorities.

    I get sense that Hawaii folk are looking for vision backed up with hard-nosed practicality and a majorly portion of large balls, all exercised on behalf of the average taxpayer – the plain ‘ole guy/gal who has been forgotten so far in favor of special interests.

    So far it’s all talk, studies and a lack of transparency. Very Washington DC in nature.

  2. Kolea Says:

    Well said, Dave.

    I think Abercrombie has some of the ingredients within him to be a remarkable governor. But only if those traits come to the fore. If his stubborn, reefuse to listen traits dominate, we are in for a rocky four years.

    I also agree with you that the timeline for an incoming administration makes it very difficult– more so during an economic crisis– for a new governor to “hit the ground running.” Neil was sworn in in December and had to assemble his team at the same time as doing his own “audit” of threadbare, woefully understaffed state offices and lobby legislators to win support for his legislative agenda.

    And he did it with about HALF the paid positions Linda Lingle did during her first erm.

    So he stumbled and fumbled. A helluva lot.

    Can he “pull it together over the next few months? It depends upon a lt of things, including a willingness to be more collegial, more cooperative with others. From my perspective, he is listening to a very small group of insiders. His bright and attractive frontline staff are being treated more as “employees” and less as full team members. Maybe that’s why he likes ’em young–so he doesn’t have to listen to them.

    But the responsibility for turning this around also falls upon the Legislature. For the first time in eight years, the Democrats control the Governor’s Office, the Senate and the House. Neither the House nor the Senate leadership showed much vision this last session. (Nor, for that matter, did the House dissidents, eager to fight to gain power, but unable to convince the public they have anything different to offer.)

    Hawaii’s voters have every right to hold the Democrats responsible if they are unable to come up with meaningful ways of softening the blows we are suffering under this economy, while also pushing for a better society. Crossing their fingers and waiting for the economy to “turn around,” Deus Machina, is NOT leadership.

  3. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Kolea says: “Hawaii’s voters have every right to hold the Democrats responsible if they are unable to come up with meaningful ways of softening the blows we are suffering under this economy…”

    Hehehe….since they’ve been the only show in town for ,like, 50 years,I’d say that was an understatement.

  4. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Between the middle of December and earlier this morning, I contacted the Governor’s office either by phone or in person over 40 times on issues as diverse as filling vacant mostly-volunteer positions on more than 100 state boards, commissions, councils & authorities to homelessness issues to high technology sector economic development to climate change to solid waste management to land use designation changes to UH Department of Athletics to the Governor’s positions on particular bills to the future of the 132-acre Aloha Stadium site.

    I also sent over a dozen e-mails requesting that someone call me to talk about a particular issue.

    In all cases, I provided my contact information and asked that someone call me back to set up a f-2-f appointmnet.

    During this entire time, I did speak with two people who had some authority to articulate the Administration’s position(s) as well as with several secretaries, receptionists & other clerical workers.

    One of the two persons told me to call a particular state department and the other person told me that he couldn’t take the time to talk to me.

    The last message I received was to write a comprehensive document articulating all the issues still alive that concern me and either mail or fax it in to the Gov’s office to be examined by the appropriate staff members dealing with these issues.

    Doing this would be a huge waste of time on my part.
    All I expect to get back would be a “thank you for expressing your concerns” reply without being able to interact directly with people who have an impact on the Governor’s decision-making.

    Here is just one “for instance”: There aren’t enough beds to accommodate the number of homeless men, women & children in both emergency shelters & transitional housing by a factor of 10. There aren’t enough professional staffers in both governmental agencies and private NGOs to provide needed services to train, educate, support & work with the homeless by a factor of 3 to 5 depending upon the service. As for affordable/workforce rentals, more than 50,000 units are needed over the next five years, but the attacks on the mass transit system – if successful – will eliminate as many as a quarter of these units.

    In the meantime, developers here on O`ahu are pushing for four separate market-priced projects which would provide about 25,000 units and maybe as many as 1,000 affordable units open to all. Please note that none of these projects include designated Hawaiian Homelands projects.

    Anyhow, back to the purpose of this post: I am profoundly disappointed in Abercrombie’s insulation & isolation from the public. I wasn’t treated this way by Lingle’s staff even though they knew of Democratic Party connections.

    No – I won’t be contacting Abercrombie’s staff again. I certainly hope that the rest of you have better luck in getting him & his key staffers to listen to your concerns.

  5. Robert Says:

    Capitalist, you should run for office. they you could do something with all your good ideas. i don’t blame the gov for ignoring you. i would too. the system isn’t set up for each person to get face time to share their gripes. that’s what the legislators are for 😉

  6. Kolea Says:

    @Richard,

    Yes, the Democrats have been “the only game in town” for most of the past fifty years. That was somewhat less true while Lingle was Governor.

    You are not saying it here, but some people observe the Democrat’s perpetual political dominance and denounce Hawaii’s voters as “stupid.” I look at it and recognize that Hawaii’s voters think the Republicans are even worse.

    Whichever interpretation is more correct (MINE!), the reality is we Democrats have a responsibility to “rise to the occasion.” When Neil was first elected, one of my fellow Democrats lamented to me: “we finally elect a solid liberal Governor and there is no money to fund the kinds of services we need.” I was momentarily sympathetic, until I realized, hey, I don’t want a liberal governor in power only when we have lotsa money. I also want a liberal governor in power when we are forced to make painful choices.

    Frankly, there has been a serious failure of “The Liberal Imagination” under this new governor. But the failure is broader than just Neil and his people. The legislature is also lacking a clear vision.

    (I guess that just leaves me!)

    But again– and not to descend into cheap, partisanism, the Republicans are NOT offering a better vision. I will admit I was pleasantly surprised when the House Minority Caucus announced their ideas early in the session for dealing with the budget crisis and they accepted the idea of borrowing from the Hurricane Relief Fund. It was more reasonable than their usual rhetoric.

    But the local Republicans are swept along by the excitement of Tea Party fever. It is more subsued here, partly because few local people respond to it. But given the absence of other voices at the national GOP level, where are they to find the language and concepts for expressing the Republican alternative?

    Dylan and Jonah seem determined to consolidate the strong Christian right alliance they built last election, but to supplement it was a slightly broader alliance. But how? If Lingel or Djou run for Congress, any vote for them will be an additional vote for Republican control of Congrgess, so they are SUCK with the inanity of the national Republicans, even if they TRY to put some distance between them and the more extreme expressions of the insanity.

    Lingle’s best hope is that Neil is unable to find his footing. The tarnish she currently bears will start looking relatively minor if Neil continues to fail to gain traction.

  7. Kolea Says:

    Of my many typos, the one I really want to correct is towards the end of the immediately preceding one. I meant to write, “they are STUCK….”

    I try to avoid using the term “SUCK” while talking about the opposition.

    My apologies.

  8. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Kolea says:

    “I look at it and recognize that Hawaii’s voters think the Republicans are even worse.”

    Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner and man oh man is that ever a sad state of affairs.

  9. Jim Loomis Says:

    I can tell you from a lot of first-hand experience that it all seems so-o-o-o easy when you’re on the outside looking in. Even for the seemingly simple issues there are people, inside and outside the administration, espousing different and often conflicting solutions. The harsh reality is that every decision may make some people happy, but is guaranteed to piss off others.

    And, Capital-ist … for God’s sake! You bombard Neil’s staff with forty phone calls and a dozen emails … and still have the stones to feel you’re being mistreated?? Back off, get real and focus. Your post was almost 500 words!

  10. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Robert:

    As someone who has worked as a lobbyist or policy advocate since 1983, I fully understand how to differentiate between working with the legislative and administrative branches of gaovernment. I’ve also worked as an intern and staffer for individual legislators at all three levels of government.

    Every issue I approached the Governor’s staff about are ones that the Governor’s Office either initiates or may oppose through a veto or has a strong hand in making particular decisions about what the various state departments will do.

    FYI – Not once did I request for a meeting with the Governor himself but with his key staffperson(s) who handle a particular subject/issue. That’s part of their job description – working with lobbyists and policy advocates.

    For example, here’s a relatively minor issue: ALL nominees for state boards, commissions, authorities, councils are nominated by the Governor and sent to the Senate for its approval – first by a subject matter committee and then by the full Senate if sent forward for a vote.

    He has a designated staff person in his office who deals with establishing standards based upon existing statutes as well as specifics set by the current administration, seeking qualified candidates, interviewing them, etc.

    I could not get any information from this staffer about specific openings, let alone qualifications.

    I deal with legislators at all three levels of government throughout the entire year – testifying, meeting f-2-f with legislators, doing research, working with staff, dealing with the media, raising funds or finding non-governmental funds, etc., etc.

    In fact, I am an active member of a national advocacy group working out of Washington, DC, on climate change and renewable energy at the national, regional, and now international levels.

    I commute to work electronically although I am expected to come to (real) meetings at least once a year. So far, I’ve managed to avoid them since I first joined the staff, but one of these days, I’ll have to go to meet with my colleagues.

    From 2000 through 2010, I’ve had more than 150 bills passed and had a dozen or so really bad ones vetoed or killed. That’s not a bad record by anyone’s standards.

    This year, zippo de nada – including the re-establishment of the Climate Change Task Force which Lingle never funded after her veto was over-ridden in 2009. Losing that two times in two very different political environments did not sit well with my DC colleagues, but they are not torked off at me.

    The legislation which was put into the “Barrel Tax” legislation was one of the April 29 victims.

    Meanwhile, I was trying to get the Abercrombie Administration to support our efforts to set up an alternative version of the Task Force working with DBEDT/Hawai`i Tourism Authority/Office of Planning, the Departments of Transportation, Agriculture, Health, and Land & Natural Resources, private sector foundations & NGOs, and the local Democratic Party.

    The cost to set up and run the Task Force for two years would run maybe as much as $200,000 if everything had to be paid for – hotel rooms, meals, inter-island transportation, car rentals, clerical help, printing, etc. – as opposed to in-kind services.

    However, without Abercrombie’s support for this, the Task Force would never come into being. That’s why I had asked for a meeting with not just the key Abercrombie staff memvbers who would be providing the necessary support but also with the department heads or designees.

    If regular readers here have had different types of experiences with the current Governor’s staff, please share them with us. I may be an Old Fut, but I do pride myself on learning new th

  11. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    Whoops!! th= things.

  12. Richard Gozinya Says:

    Hey Jim~

    I agree the work can be hard but the pay is great.

  13. David Says:

    More of the “same old same old”. Abercrombie is a well-established member of Hawaii’s good old boy network. He’s not about to change anything!

    And neither is the Legislature.

    If you want change in Hawaii, vote NO INCUMBENTS.

  14. Teddy Freddy Says:

    Me thinks David, Kolea and even Capitolist each has good points to make. I have heard from many others, even the so-called connected, that the Abercrombie administration is over its head. Over its head in terms of understanding how to deal with the House and Senate, and that the staff cannot keep up and many wait forever and in vain for return calls and email responses. Yes, they are understaffed but one wonders who amongst them are calling the shots. The back and forth on the GE Tax was a major blunder. The pension tax, another major blunder. Anyone familiar with the personalities in the Senate and House would have said that “it is just not going to happen”. They would have known that Say had the power and juice to force it on a reluctant House, but the Senate is full of free and independent spirits and no one is going to force them to raise taxes on senior citizens. There is a long list, but hey I support the Governor and don’t want to rub it in any more than is needed to make the point.

  15. charles Says:

    Jeez, the guy gets elected six months ago and he’s approaching his Waterloo moment?

    Why don’t we give the administration, say, another six months to prove themselves before we say it’s a disaster?

    Besides, it’s 2014 that’s the test, not 2012.

  16. zzzzzing Says:

    “Richard Gozinya Says:

    May 24, 2011 at 9:44 am
    Kolea says: “Hawaii’s voters have every right to hold the Democrats responsible if they are unable to come up with meaningful ways of softening the blows we are suffering under this economy…”

    Hehehe….since they’ve been the only show in town for ,like, 50 years,I’d say that was an understatement.”

    QFT.

    Abercrombie has only shown to me what I have seen in him for years – Liberal, cow-towing, ‘do as I say not as I do’ persona. The voters asked for him, and by golly, they got him. Karma, imho.

  17. Capitol -ist/WassupDoc Says:

    What does QFT mean. I couldn’t find anyone with those initials who posted here.

  18. Kolea Says:

    Charles,

    I think Neil has the next six months to turn things around. As I laid out my thinking, I might be unhappy with his stumbles and fumbles during the first legislative session, but I can understand and (almost) excuse him due to the time, staff and budgetary pressures.

    But he has got make progress on turning this around before the Lege reconvenes in 2012 or relations which are currently strained will end up snapped. Former supporters– and I mean STRONG supporters– who are currently saying “WTF?,” will have settled upon an interpretation likely to put them into opposition. And this is unnecessary, in my opinion.

    In reviewing the problems he has had, both with the legislators and with the public, there is a strong danger will fall prey to a two-dimensional strategy and think how he can defeat those who are causing him trouble. Witness his STUUUPID statement that he “is going to roll over” the AARP in order to pass his pension tax plan.

    Who does he think he is, Rommel?

    First off, Neil has demonstrated a number of times he does not understand his own pension tax proposal. The dustup with Barbara Marumoto showed that. And I was personally present a few weeks later when he repeated the same mistake in talking about his pension tax. It would NOT simply tax pensions from incomes OVER $37,500. It would subject the ENTIRE pension to income tax if adjusted gross income exc3eeds $37,500 by one dollar.

    Hey, if I understood Neil’s pension tax like Neil does, I would probably support it also. But Neil is WRONG! Yet instead of being open to discussion and compromise on this, co-opting the folks with concerns and isolating the most hardline of his opponents, he starts talking in terms of tank warfare!

    Separate from the merits of the specific pension tax proposal, on which reasonable people might disagree, is what this episode reveals about his CRUDE understanding of politics!

    (OK, NOW I’m gonna get in trouble. This is why I use a “nom de guerre”).

    Frankly, what is needed is an “intervention” by Democrats who care enough about him, personally and/or politically, to confront him and FORCE him to have a discussion with others in the Democratic family.

    He has the potential to be one of our greatest Governors. I truly believe that. But not if he is left to his own devices and does not “rise to the occasion.”

    In 2012, Hawaii voters will be elected a new US Senator, a new congresscritter and all legislative seats will be up for grabs. Voters sympathy for “things Democratic” will be colored by a few factors, including what is happening at the national level, but also the performance (and image) of the Democratic Governor and Legislature. Lingle’s personal political prospects will be affected quite a bit by how good (or bad) Neil looks compared to voter’s memories of “the Lingle Years.”

    There is a lot more at stake here than Neil’s personal”comfort zone.”


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