Compared with his predecessor, Neil Abercrombie has had far fewer public availabilities.
At most his public schedule lists only a handful of weekly appearances. He’s not a regular like Linda Lingle was on Rick Hamada’s radio talk show.
He’s busy with the budget and legislative session, billion-dollar deficit and all that.
So, when he does make the rounds, it’s worth checking on what he has to say.
Here’s what Gov. Abercrombie had to say last night, first on pubic radio and then at a community forum in Moiliili.
Late for Live Radio
The governor apologized to host Beth-Ann Kozlovich for running a few minutes behind schedule before joining Hawaii Pubic Radio’s “Town Square.”
The reason? Mainly the latest Council on Revenue forecast, which starkly projected a drop in revenue and an increase in the budget deficit.
“To keep the canoe from sinking we’ll have to do a lot of bailing,” he said.
Abercrombie repeated the revised deficit of around $1 billion, the second time emphasizing the “B.” He said the figure doesn’t take into account state government’s unfunded liabilities or medical costs
“This is serious business — it’s going to take structural change,” he said, adding that the council’s numbers only confirmed his sense “of what we have to face up to.”
What kind of structural changes? The governor said the state would inevitably have to look at tax policy. The solution, however, should not include what Wisconsin has done in terms of doing away with collective bargaining rights for unions.
“That’s not going to do away with our problems,” he said, repeating a favorite phrase: “Our diversity defines us, not divides us. We have to try to do things the pono way, the right way, to reach out as brothers and sisters.”
On the Budget
He said he recognizes some of his suggestions — like on pensions income, for example — are not popular and even painful, but he argued that “people are arguing about the temperature of the water when a tsunami is on the way.”
What about complaints that he is actually increasing government spending? He says the state will actually save money.
Example: If Hawaii had had agricultural inspectors, they might have been able to catch the insect that is devastating coffee crops on the Big Island.
What about raising the general excise tax? He says that, even if it were raised 2 percent today, it would only fill “the puka” and get the state to the “starting line.” It will not address the long-term structural problems like unfunded liabilities.
Abercrombie said a GET increase would also work against job creation, and said his administration would soon unveil a “New Day” works project across the state.
What’s a governor’s role? “To be a catalyst,” he said.
‘Honeymoon Is Over’
Other highlights from the Hawaii Public Radio interview:
• Now that he’s been governor “90-plus days now, the honeymoon is over … the San Pellegrino has gone flat,” he joked.
• He is not computer literate.
• He’s having department heads meet frequently with each other, and he and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz always ask them what they can do for the departments. Answer: give them more staff and 21st Century computers to do their job more effectively. “I will appoint a chief information officer very soon,” he says.
• He is confident that Democrats have a deep bench to choose from to replace Sen. Daniel Akaka, and he’s not the least bit worried about a Lingle candidacy because she doesn’t have a strong record to run on.
• He is a “little distressed” over some reporting and editorials criticizing his response to the Hawaiian Electric Co. strike. “I was involved all along, encouraging people to talk, and made soem suggestion to both management and labor to effectively reach out to one another, and that had I not been involved (talks) might not have taken place. I did no grandstanding, running around getting my picture taken.”
• Most provocative quote: “If we don’t share the sacrifice, especially as island people, we are all doomed.”
• Possible Fact Check: “I have been inovled in every single rail project since I was a graduate student at UH, so I have always supported a transit system no matter which one, and I am supporting this one.”
At the Willows
The HPR appearance was with a moderator broadcasting across the state. The Moiliili Matters community talk was among friends and supporters.
Abercrombie observed how he had been coming to neighborhood meetings since Manoa, Makiki and Moiliili used to meet as one — the three M’s — until H-1 was built and geographically divided Moiliili.
The questions were mild and community-focused.
Would he support the state redeveloping the area? That’s a community and City & County of Honolulu issue, he replied.
How about making the Varsity Circle-Puck’s Alley into a real college town? He’s wanted that to happen since he started college at the University of Hawaii in September 1959.
• With the new Council of Revenue numbers, “every single figure I gave to the Legislature in my budget a few weeks ago is wrong — not wrong but irrelevant, no longer applicable.”
• He’s trying to put adequate staff in place to make sure burial remains uncovered during rail construction will be properly dealt with as required by law.
• His goal is to “eliminate homelessness entirely” in the state. “It’s going to take awhile, but I’m going to see to it that it happens,” he said. “You can count on it.”
• He wants to resolve ceded-land revenue issues “before this term ends.”
• The Akaka bill is unlikely to “move forward.”
• He opposes tolls for state highways but is looking into creating a highway patrol.
• Provocative quote: “Is there anyone really that upset if you pay 5 to 10 cents more on a can of Coca-Cola cola to help me pay for health care for kids?”
• Possible Fact Check: He can’t pass up a bowl of ice cream, especially Ben & Jerry’s .
Fired up by the appearance, and perhaps aware of all the media that showed up to watch, Abercrombie often sounded like he was in campaign mode — voice rising and shouting things like “We are going to bring prisoners back and they are going to grow food for themselves!” and “I’m a public employee! You pay my salary! And you are going to get value received from this governor!”
The audience frequently applauded, and the governor stayed longer than expected.
After both the radio interview and the community talk ended, Abercrombie said he was eager for return visits.
So are we.
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