In a press conference Monday ostensibly about a recent trip to Asia but really about his difficult first 10 months in office, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie acknowledged that the actions of his administration have not been wildly popular.

But he also said he believed his New Day plans to fix the state’s myriad problems will prevail in the long run, and that he will be judged on that rather than a “snapshot” in time.

It was Abercrombie’s first face-to-face meeting with the Honolulu press pool since four top staff members suddenly resigned in early October, and the first since a new poll showed his popularity the lowest of all U.S. governors.

Striking a sober and serious tone — words he used several times at the press conference, which was held in the state Capitol’s executive chambers — Abercrombie likened a governor’s first term to a football game.

“I play all four quarters,” he said. “I am in the first quarter. There was a lot of broken glass on the field when we came in. We are picking it up as fast as we can and turning things around.”

No To Pension Tax, Yes to Sugar Tax

Abercrombie’s demeanor was subdued. He rarely flashed his wide grin, and never raised his voice. He looked tired, perhaps still suffering jetlag from nearly two weeks of travel.

During the first part of the press conference — the part about the trip to China, Japan and Okinawa — Mike McCartney, the CEO and executive director of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, stood closely at his side. McCartney sometimes interrupted the governor to explain highlights of the trip or to point to favorable press clippings.

There was little, if anything, new from the Asia trip. Relationships are especially important to Asian countries, the governor observed. He offered to personally get involved in expediting the sluggish Chinese visa process.

Abercrombie did say he would resume efforts in the 2012 Hawaii Legislature to tax sugary drinks, and reiterated his view that obesity is a serious problem. But he won’t push a tax on pensions, as he did last session, even though the state’s unfunded liabilities remain a big problem.

He also said he hoped to met with President Barack Obama during the APEC summit next month but added that the president may be too busy.

Perhaps the governor’s most important “news,” however, was that he had a new team in place after a rough start. New chief of staff Bruce Coppa and new communications director Jim Boersema were on hand, as was senior aide Kate Stanley — all new hires.

“Everybody in office or not in office would like to have the things they do and the decisions they make be popular with everybody,” he said. “But, the challenges we face here in Hawaii are such that some decisions had to be made that are not necessarily going to (receive) the most popular response.”

The governor pointed out that public opinion polls across the country reflected a general concern and anxiety with many leaders, including the president and the U.S. Congress.

“It is also up to us to deliver,” he said. “People understand that tough decisions have to be made, and people will conclude whether those decisions were made in their best interests. … I’ve been in public life for a long, long time. I am confident that that transition we made is on a solid commitment to a New Day.”

Gov Respects Resignations

Abercrombie described the departure of four top staff members, including his longtime chief of staff, as something that had been part of discussions “under way.” He did not elaborate, but he said the four were not pushed to leave.

The governor expressed “respect” for their decisions to resign and said that he had “deep affection” and even “genuine love” for his former staff.

Reporters asked, did the governor make any mistakes or say anything that was to blame for his low approval?

Abercrombie said any blame ultimately lies with him, and said he could have perhaps explained his positions better. He promised to work better at communication. But, as he said repeatedly, “I play four quarters.”

The governor’s press conference lasted nearly one hour and 15 minutes — perhaps the longest, and certainly the most serious and sober, of his administration.

“I’ve got to get him to give shorter answers,” Boersema joked with reporters afterwards.

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.

About the Author