By HUNTER BISHOP
Tribune-Herald Staff Writer
Gov. Neil Abercrombie was in Hilo Sunday on part of a three-day Neighbor Island tour to announce he’s running for reelection in 2014.
Abercrombie spoke to more than 100 people under tents in the parking lot of the former Miko Meats on Kekuanaoa Street, now Hawaii TechWorks, a recently established new business incubator.
Emcee Dwight Takamine, former long-time state representative from Hamakua who was appointed by the governor to head the state Department of Labor, said the governor wanted to thank his supporters from his 2010 campaign “personally,” and to make a “special announcement.”
Abercrombie emphasized the importance of the Neighbor Islands to winning statewide campaigns in Hawaii and said he started his 2010 campaign for governor with announcements on the Neighbor Islands as well. He also used the occasion to allow a pitch for the campaign of his former lieutenant governor, Brian Shatz, for the U.S. Senate.
The low-key event was attended by swarms of local politicos, government appointees, and former and current elected officials. Takamine said Abercrombie supporters were only notified of the event, which included lunch, in the past few days.
Abercrombie singled out five Hilo High students, members of the school’s 25-member robotics team, which won the 2013 Pan-Pacific VEX Regionals in Honolulu recently against teams from China, Taiwan, the mainland and Hawaii, qualifying the team for the World VEX Championship. “We have some of the best and brightest kids in the world,” Abercrombie said.
“We don’t get much recognition,” said junior Robotics Team member Matt Pearring. “This was nice.”
Abercrombie visited Maui yesterday and is going to Kauai tomorrow to make similar announcements of his candidacy for re-election. Stressing the importance of the Neighbor Islands in statewide campaigns, Abercrombie said, “We’re essentially a rural state. There is a highly concentrated urban core on Oahu, and a vast diverse urban population in the rest of the state.”
Abercrombie introduced Chuck Freedman, who chaired Shatz’s campaign for Lt. Gov. in 2010. Freedman pitched for Shatz to keep the Senate seat vacated by the late Sen. Dan Inouye, to which Shatz was appointed by Abercrcombie following Inouye’s death in December. Last week Shatz picked up an opponent, Hawaii Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. Hanabusa was Inouye’s death-bed pick to succeed him in the Senate, but Abercrombie selected his own lieutenant governor instead.
Abercrombie has no announced opposition in his own campaign for re-election, but the November 2014 election is still nearly 18 months away.
Abercrombie touted the Big Island appointments to his cabinet, including Takamine and Ag Department Chairman Russell Kokubun. He also noted that he picked Maui’s Shan Tsutsui to replace Shatz as lieutenant governor. “I said from the very beginning that my administration was not going to be Oahu-centric.”
When he took office, Abercrombie’s financial team told him the finances of the state were in “complete chaos … . We didn’t know if we could pay the bills at the end of the month.” The state was more than $200 million in debt, Abercrombie said. Now it’s $300 million in the black.
“I’m running again because of your faith and trust, and friends, we turned this state around. We are on a sound financial base. We have a relationship with the Legislature. We’re working now to accomplish things. Kulani (correctional facility) is going to reopen and lead the way. We’re going to have an aviation program at UH-Hilo,” Abercrombie said.
Asked how he could help Hilo with leaseholders who have failed to maintain state-owned properties on Banyan Drive, Abercrombie said it’s a “tricky question.”
“The difficulties have to do with previous leases and decisions in other administrations,” he said. “We’re having to come to grips with that.
“I’m not into laying blame,” Abercrombie said. “We have to know, what’s the goal, and figure out how to get there. We will need legislative help,” he said, which would have to come from the Legislature next year.
The governor also noted the failure to get “all the CIP money we wanted from the legislature” this year, mentioning specifically funds for building the UH-Hilo school of pharmacy. “You don’t necessarily get all you want, but you work to get all you need,” he said.
“When I campaigned for governor, I promised you energy and action. Today I have more energy today than I had when I started in politics 40 years ago,” said the 74-year-old governor. “There is a new confidence across the state.”
Email Hunter Bishop at firstname.lastname@example.org.