Candidates for public office say a lot of things.

While comparing what politicians say can be an interesting exercise in and of itself, comparing what they actually do can shed even more light. The choices they make in their own lives are indicative of what they really believe, rather than what they say they believe.

Earlier this week, Civil Beat reached out to the three main governor candidates and pitched a story about sustainability. We asked Neil Abercrombie, Mufi Hannemann and James “Duke” Aiona to share with us details of their personal lives to see how they stacked up against their own policy platforms. In short, do they practice what they preach?

Here’s the body of the e-mail we sent to the three candidates:

We know sustainability is an important part of [candidate]’s platform. In addition to covering the policies, we’d like to share with our readers how he applies the principles in his daily life. We’re asking the same questions of all three governor candidates. We’re also asking each candidate to allow us to come to their principal residence to be shown how energy and water efficiency is built into their daily lives. In addition, given the emphasis on the importance of food sustainability, we are asking each candidate to keep a food diary for a week, showing exactly what they ate and where it came from. We believe this information will be valuable for the people of Hawaii in making their decision on who to vote for this fall.

Here are our initial questions:

  1. What car(s) does [candidate] drive? Year, Make, Model.

  2. Please give us copies of [candidate]’s electric bill from the past three months. When we visit his house, we’d like (to see) any special efforts he’s made to reduce energy consumption or to produce energy, such as solar hot water, solar power, energy efficient appliances or energy efficient lighting. Does he use a clothes dryer or a clothes line? If he has installed any solar panels or energy efficient appliances at his home, please explain what they are, when they were installed and how much energy they save.

  3. Does [candidate] grow any of his own food? If so, what does he grow? How big is his garden?

  4. Please give us copies of [candidate]’s water bill from the past three months. Does he use any water efficient toilets or shower heads? Does he have a sprinkler system? How much lawn does have? Does he use any drip irrigation?

  5. Does [candidate] recycle? Does he compost? Does he own reusable grocery bags? Does he buy bottled water or does he use a water filter?

  6. Where does [candidate] buy his groceries? Is he a member of any Community Supported Agriculture enterprise? Does he frequent farmer’s markets?

Thank you for your consideration of this request. I’d like to sit down with you to work out the particulars of how to proceed. Please let me know how to move forward.


We told the candidates’ representatives that we would not divulge irrelevant personal details, such as whether the toilet seat was left up or there are clothes lying around. The goal of this proposal was not to embarrass the candidates, but to show Hawaii’s citizens how their would-be governors apply principles of sustainability in their own lives.

The campaign of former Congressman Abercrombie was the first to give us a response: On Thursday, spokeswoman Laurie Au told us thanks, but no thanks.

Asked why, Au said Abercrombie stands behind his campaign’s official policy on energy, then spoke to us off the record before agreeing to provide a written statement. We reiterated the purpose for our request, telling her in another e-mail that we are “trying to find out if the candidates actually do what they say all of us should do.”

She later provided answers to some of our questions in a written statement. But we were told we couldn’t visit Abercrombie’s home or verify his claims for ourselves. We’ll have to take her word for it.

She supplied the following statement via e-mail Thursday evening:

Neil Abercrombie drives a 1993 Toyota Tercel. He has a very low electricity bill because of his solar water heater, three solar fans, no central air, a clothes line in their garage. Neil and his wife go to farmer’s markets regularly and were original members of the Kokua Market co-op. They compost all their food waste. His small yard requires no watering since they live in Manoa. At home he recycles everything that is recyclable and he uses reusable grocery bags regularly.

Like many people in Hawaii, Neil is trying his best to live a sustainable lifestyle. But to be clear, Neil has never and will never tell the people of Hawaii what they “should do.” That has never been his style.

In fact, it is this kind of commanding approach that has turned off too many people in Hawaii from being better stewards of our environment. Telling people how they should live is a style that Neil believes does more to harm the cause than advance it. Furthermore it is a style that is inconsistent with Hawaii’s values and diverse cultures.

No doubt, much of Hawaii’s future is dependent on changes in individual behavior whether it’s living more healthy, being a good parent, participating as a citizen, or living an environmentally friendly lifestyle. But rather than trying to embarrass, coerce or berate people, Neil believes the more effective approach is to encourage, support, and assist people in changing their personal behaviors. Everyone’s habits, culture, upbringing, and socio-economic status present specific challenges and advantages to living a sustainable lifestyle. Neil would like to make clear that he does not judge anyone, including his opponents, for what they are able to do in their own personal lives.

Neil is the only candidate so far to provide a comprehensive plan to move Hawaii toward clean energy. That plan has elements that will encourage and support changes in individual households. It also aims to make government a role model for the rest of the community. Throughout his policy platforms, Neil is calling on government to lead by example, and of course, he too will continue striving for the same in his personal life.

(After this piece was published, Au joined the Civil Beat conversation and added this comment as clarification of the statement above.)

We have posted follow-up stories including responses from Brooke Wilson of the Hannemann campaign and Travis Taylor of the Aiona campaign.

DISCUSSION What do you think of Neil Abercrombie‘s decision not to show his personal sustainability choices for Civil Beat’s story? Join the conversation below.

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