You can almost see the blood pressure levels of Neil Abercrombie‘s aides rising whenever he goes off message at a press conference.

The topic at the state Capitol’s executive chambers Thursday was an important one: the announcement of a new coordinator for early childhood development.

But once the governor let loose that he thinks it is not the best use of state resources to have the Hawaii Tourism Authority pay the National Football League $4 million to host the Pro Bowl, that became the lead news.

‘We Need to Get Our Values and Priorities Straight’

It doesn’t help the governor’s case that he has a way of putting things in colorful language.

“You can’t do things like give $4 million bucks to a $9 billion football industry and not give any money to children. That’s the kind of decision we’ve got to make. Right now you’ve got this spectacle of these multimillionaires and billionaires out there arguing about how they are going to divide it up. And then they come and ask us to bribe them for $4 million to have a scrimmage in paradise. We need to get our values and priorities straight.”

(NFL spokesman Greg Aiello emailed to Civil Beat: “We do not plan to comment.”)

(UPDATED 6/09/11 3:10 p.m. In a statement released Thursday afternoon, HTA President and CEO Mike McCartney said, “The Hawaii Tourism Authority is in contract with the National Football League to host the Pro Bowl All-Star Football Game in 2012. At this time, we are unable to speculate on any future Pro Bowl games in Hawaii beyond 2012.”)

The governor’s outburst prompted reporters to press him on the $70 million or so used by the HTA in hotel taxes to market the state. The governor noted that the Legislature this year capped how much the HTA gets.

At first Abercrombie seemed ready to back off on the topic of the Pro Bowl money. But, his obvious passion and commitment to early childhood development seemed to embolden him.

“This is a values question,” he said, adding, “Four million is a lot of money.”

He said he understood that the NFL may also want another $250,000 now for “game day incidentals,” though he did not elaborate.

“What do all those multi-billionaires do with all that money anyway?” he wondered. “How many sandwiches can you eat? It’s egregious self-indulgence.”

Reporter asked him why he was singling out the Pro Bowl. “It’s an easy target,” he replied, “because it’s so stupid.”

Appearing to sense the press conference had gone in an undesirable direction, Abercrombie said he did not “blame” the HTA for its decision to support the Pro Bowl.

“The decision may have made sense at the time, but when it comes down to crunch time, we have a big ohana and we have to decide what is important,” he said. “And to me the littlest kids are the most important. … We cannot get back a lost day for a child.”

What about the $30 million or so the Pro Bowl is said to bring to the state in terms of a return on investment? About 24,000 visitors come to Honolulu for the game.

“Oh, please,” the governor retorted. “You know, we’ll get more out of civil unions in a weekend than we’ll get out of those guys.”

Last comment: “If they want to come play here, fine.”

The early childhood supporters he invited to the press conference applauded the governor’s comments. And the media had two stories now, one hotter than the other but not necessarily more important.


The governor may want to kick the Pro Bowl. But the mayor told Civil Beat he’s all for it. Which side are you on? Vote on Facebook.

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