Less than a year after taking office, Gov. Neil Abercrombie is cleaning house.

His office issued a press release just before 1 p.m. Thursday announcing that his top two deputies had resigned “in order to spend more time with their families and young children.”

Abercrombie’s team had come under criticism for a number of reasons, including their vetting of top appointees, their ability to work with the Legislature and the governor’s shift from being a listener on the campaign trail to someone who was unpredictable in his statements in office.

Abercrombie’s Chief of Staff, Amy Asselbaye, has worked with him for nearly her entire professional life, starting in Washington, D.C. She moved here to run his governor’s campaign and didn’t have the ties in the state that connected the governor’s office to constituent groups. His Deputy Chief of Staff, Andrew Aoki, was a newcomer to politics. He joined the campaign in March 2009 as deputy campaign manager from Kanu Hawaii, where he was director of the nonprofit.

Abercrombie immediately named Bruce Coppa, currently the State’s Comptroller, as the chief of staff. Coppa was chief operations officer of Communications Pacific and executive director of Pacific Resource Partnership, an organization representing contractors and the carpenters union. Unlike Asselbaye, he’s well connected in the local community, especially with labor, which has been disenchanted with Abercrombie’s approach to cost-cutting. The teachers union has complaint before the labor board about his decision to impose a contract with a 5 percent pay cut on July 1 and the state’s largest union, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, has openly criticized the governor.

It had been widely believed that Abercrombie would be able to work closely with labor, given his historic support for labor causes. But that hasn’t been the case.

The change isn’t completely unexpected. It’s been a troubled first year for the administration. Several of his cabinet-level appointments have resigned in recent months. The administration has also struggled to keep a tight grip on Abercrombie’s media availabilities and public appearances.

Last month, veteran Hawaii Democrat and former legislator Kate Stanley joined Abercrombie’s office as senior adviser. Her appointment gave the office an experienced hand, not only to work with the Legislature but also with outside groups. She was also expected to bring a more seasoned political perspective to the office.

Stanley is a former state House representative, majority floor leader and Judiciary chair and was a Hawaii delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 2008.

Abercrombie became governor after serving for 20 years in Congress. He had no experience in executive office, and neither did Asselbaye or Aoki. It’s been a difficult transition. The governor recently has come under fire for invoking emergency powers on three occasions without telling the public. When his decisions were revealed, the office admitted it should have told the public earlier. He has been criticized for letting the power of his office go to his head, refusing to reveal the names of judicial nominees, for example. Abercrombie fired the head of the Office of Information Practices after she issued an opinion that he was required to release the names.

The governor’s office sent out the following statement announcing the resignations:


Honolulu – Governor Neil Abercrombie announced today that his Chief of Staff, Amy Asselbaye, and Deputy Chief of Staff, Andrew Aoki, have resigned. Bruce Coppa, currently the State’s Comptroller, has been named the Chief of Staff. Their resignations will be effective by the end of the month and a transition of leadership is underway.

Asselbaye and Aoki informed Governor Abercrombie earlier this week of their decision to resign in order to spend more time with their families and young children. Asselbaye has three children; Aoki has two young children.

Coppa, the director of the state Department of Accounting and General Services, was head of Coppa Consulting, Inc. before joining the Abercrombie Administration in December 2010. Prior to that, Mr. Coppa served as Chief Operating Officer of Communications Pacific and executive director of Pacific Resource Partnership. Coppa has over 25 years of professional experience in operations and management in Hawaii’s construction industry. Coppa received his Master’s degree in Business Administration Global Management and Bachelor’s degree in Business Management from the University of Phoenix.

Governor Abercrombie will begin the search for Coppa’s replacement.

Asselbaye has worked for Governor Abercrombie for 18 years, first as a legislative assistant for then-Congressman Abercrombie and was eventually promoted as his Congressional Office’s Chief of Staff. Aoki has worked with Governor Abercrombie for 2 ½ years, first in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign as the deputy campaign manager before joining the Abercrombie Administration.

“Amy and Andrew and their families have sacrificed for years on behalf of the people of Hawaii and I respect their desires to want to reconnect with their families,” Governor Abercrombie said. “The two of them have helped me make the transition from the campaign to governing. I’m sure the transition to continued leadership in the Governor’s Office will be a smooth one.”