Abercrombie anxious for campaign to begin


POSTED: Tuesday, April 14, 2009

With the impatience of someone who at 70 has finally decided what he wants to do in life, Neil Abercrombie sits in his Kakaako campaign office anxious to get on with what he considers the most important campaign of his political life.

U.S. Rep. Abercrombie is leaving a 20-year career in Washington politics at the time when his Democratic Party controls Congress and when he is close enough to President Barack Obama to have been in the tight crowd along with Oprah Winfrey to celebrate the inauguration upstairs at the White House.

The battle is for governor of Hawaii, a goal more than 18 months away but one Abercrombie is already fighting.

“;There is no sense fooling around. If anyone else wants to run for governor, say so. Let's get going and do it. This is not about options or finessing it,”; said Abercrombie, who was the first to declare in a Democratic primary that could also attract Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.

For Abercrombie, who came to Hawaii in 1959 as a graduate student and first ran for office in 1970, the governor's race is to be his last quest.

“;I have a renewed sense of energy and joy. This is my 50th anniversary of coming to Hawaii. It is as if this incredible gift has been given to me.

“;Everything I have learned about Hawaii makes me who I am today, and I want to bring a culmination in this run and I feel joyous about it.

“;I will be able to say I gave every bit of energy and all of my sense of aloha to this campaign, and I will be content,”; Abercrombie said last week in an interview with the Star-Bulletin.

Abercrombie went from being a left-wing campus orator and graduate student to serving in the state House and Senate and the Honolulu City Council before winning an office in Congress.

“;He has name recognition and a well-tested political operation,”; said Neal Milner, University of Hawaii political scientist and ombudsman. “;He is formidable.”;

Hannemann would be Abercrombie's strongest rival, said Milner, because the Honolulu mayor also brings a skillful campaign style and the ability to raise campaign cash to the race.

“;With Abercrombie,”; Milner said, “;you have someone who is already tested. It is not like you are suddenly going to find out something about him.”;

Abercrombie said all those years in Congress, the Legislature and City Hall have both shaped and changed him. The garrulous Democrat said he has learned, for instance, when to stop talking and listen.

“;I understand that it can be construed as lecturing other people, putting yourself in a position where you are telling them what they need to do. That is the wrong way to go about it,”; he said. “;People vote with you and for you for their own reasons, not yours. You are not the source of your own power, and taking that into account in yourself is something you have to do every day.”;

So far Abercrombie has found some valuable friends, picking up old-time Democratic Party war horses like Charles Toguchi, the former state schools superintendent and legislator, and Ed Hasegawa, who worked on the Hawaii Obama campaign. Also, Abercrombie enlisted Andrew Aoki, 40, an attorney and co-founder of 3Point, a public-interest consulting firm, and Kanu Hawaii, a group that promotes the culture of aloha.

In contrast to Abercrombie's extensive elective track record, Aoki is new to politics.

“;I understand the paradox ... but it may be that Neil's time has come. There is an alignment between his principles and the action that this time needs,”; Aoki said.

“;He is a learner and he is open. His mind is filled with tons of experience, but he is willing to listen to those who feel they are out of the loop.”;

This week, Abercrombie is wrapping up a two-week Easter recess trip back to Hawaii. He had campaign meetings on Kauai and in Kalihi and Hawaii Kai last week which supporters said each drew crowds of more than 100. He also plans a fundraising event while in the islands.

Abercrombie said he will continue to work in Washington and commute to his home state when he can. If he resigned, it would trigger a special election because House members cannot be appointed, like senators, and Abercrombie said he did not want the state to go through the expense of holding a special election.


Abercrombie on the issues

As he starts his run for governor, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie is detailing some of his campaign issues.

Housing: Establish a public-private partnership to build and maintain new affordable housing. Demolish Aloha Stadium to allow development of the property and require private developers build a new stadium. “;You build us a new stadium so we can really compete in Division I.”;

Environment: Move Hawaii toward energy independence using domestically produced fuel and toward growing its own food. “;These are self-defense measures, and you have to be completely devoted to them.”;

Hawaii Superferry: The service both to the military and local residents was valuable, he says, but the process of approving the environmental impact statement was mishandled. “;This was a judgment disaster and a policy disaster.”;

Military: Urge the military to leave Makua Valley. “;The one time they were able to do some training, they managed to set it on fire.”;