The first prominent employee to resign from Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s administration — Interim Health Director Neal Palafox — left before he had even been confirmed.

That was in January 2011, less than two months after Abercrombie was sworn in. It was never fully explained why he left.

The latest prominent departure from the the administration came just two weeks ago, when Department of Hawaiian Home Lands Director Alapaki Nahale-a said he would step down in mid-May.

Nahale-a’s primary reason for leaving: family.

That brings to 12 the notable resignations of Abercrombie cabinet and staff, including four who left in a 24-hour flurry last October, among them his chief of staff and deputy chief of staff.

The departures do not include officials hired under the previous administration but who decided they didn’t want to stick around under the new governor — like former Civil Defense Vice Director Ed Teixeira.

Abercrombie sat down with Civil Beat this week for a wide-ranging interview. The remarkable turnover in his administration has been the talk of political circles.

Asked about 12 resignations in just 15 months, the governor said, “That’s to be expected, particularly with some of the people that have sacrificed themselves. If you look, several of them all have small children.”

The governor continued: “Maybe it’s a measure of the cynicism of our day when somebody actually says that. ‘I was willing to devote a year or two, but after that … ‘ You know, when people start saying, ‘When are you going to be my daddy again?’ Or somebody, in Alapaki’s case, for example, most recently, where he’s literally been commuting for a year or so. That wears you down.”

Public Life, Public Service

During Abercrombie’s 20 years in Congress, he retained many key staff members for long stretches. He brought some of this staff with him when he was elected governor, including chief of staff Amy Asselbaye.

But a governorship is very different than being one of 435 House representatives some 5,000 miles away. Abercrombie fell under a much harsher spotlight even before he was sworn in, and some working for him were unnerved by the new scrutiny.

The governor told Civil Beat he wasn’t bothered by the turnovers.

“What bothers me is that people don’t take into account the sacrifices that are made in order to do this job,” he said. “Me, I’ve done it all my life. That has been my life. I’ve worked a double shift for — I don’t know — decades now. But not everybody can be expected to do that.”

The governor also made a distinction between running for office and performing public service.

“The people who have gone on to other things in their lives didn’t run for office. They were appointed to do a job in departments,” he said. “I volunteered in the sense of committing myself to a public life. Whether people committed themselves to a — not a public life, but to public service — and when they felt that they had pushed that past the limits that were tolerable for their private lives, then they’ve gone to something else.”

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