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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 5 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 36
Marriage equality cost me reelection, Hawaii governor claims&

Or was he just a bad governor?
Section One
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Marriage equality cost me reelection, Hawaii governor claims&

Or was he just a bad governor?

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In a Labor Day press conference, outgoing Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie claimed that he had lost his bid for re-election because of his outspoken support for same-sex marriage.

Abercrombie, a 40-year veteran of Hawaii politics went down to crushing defeat in the August 8 Democratic primary, losing to State Senator David Ige by 35 points. Abercrombie's loss was even more stunning because he outspent Ige by a ten-to-one margin.

According to Abercrombie, Hawaii's 'open primary' law allowed Republicans to cross over and vote in the Democratic primary, and they - Abercrombie said - were intent on revenge for the state's new marriage law.

'Republicans crossed over en masse to vote in the Democratic primary, and then the religious factor came in,' Abercrombie said. 'Doctrinally, I was outside the circle and paid for it...

'I had more money than my opponent ... raised more money, spent more money ... but it didn't do me any good,' Abercrombie added.

He had no regrets, he said, but he knew it was the marriage issue that cost him his job.

'There's no way I could live with myself if I thought I was diminishing another human being's ability to reach their full capacity,' Abercrombie said.



There may be something to Abercrombie's claims. By all accounts, opponents of equality testifying at the Hawaii legislative hearings were particularly ugly and abusive.

But Ige also voted for marriage equality as a state senator, and many political observers say the governor's wounds were actually self-inflicted.

'This is a very small place and people have very long memories,' said Floyd Takeuchi, a writer and former political journalist. Abercrombie's campaign 'seriously misjudged the depth of the old guard's ability to organize' against him, Takeuchi added.

The 'old guard,' in this case, are friends of the late Senator Daniel Inouye, an icon in Hawaii politics since before it became a state, and his protégé Colleen Hanabusa. It was Inouye's dying wish that Hanabusa be appointed to fill out his term in the U.S. Senate, but Abercrombie appointed his own ally, then-Lieutenant Governor Brain Schatz.

Because Inouye, Hanabusa, and Ige are all Hawaiians of Japanese descent, and Abercrombie and Schatz are white, the governor's appointment of Schatz seemed to put too much power in the hands of white politicians in a state where less than one quarter of the people are white.

Abercrombie then poured salt on the wound by suggesting in a New York Times interview that Inouye's inner circle had forged his deathbed plea to appoint Hanabusa. The governor subsequently was forced to offer a public apology to Inouye's widow.

That was not Abercrombie's only gaffe. Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin, who worked in Hawaii for independent groups, said Abercrombie ran, 'quite frankly, one of the worst campaigns imaginable for an incumbent in trouble.'

Abercrombie antagonized the tourism industry - the state's biggest source of income - by saying that it was 'stupid' to pay for the privilege of hosting the NFL Pro Bowl, a game that generated more than $30 million in visitor spending and state tax revenue.

He also alienated the state teachers' union by imposing a contract on the teachers during labor negotiations. As a result, the union became an early backer of Ige, and led other unions into the Ige camp. Hawaii, by the way, has the third-highest union density in the country, with more than 22% or workers unionized.

Exit interviews by The Associated Press showed that voters did not cite marriage as their reason for voting Abercrombie out. Instead they complained about the way Abercrombie handled contract negotiations with teachers and his proposal to tax pensioners.

Ige's campaign spokesperson Lynn Kenton told AP that 'every candidate has the freedom to comment on their campaign, regardless of the outcome, and if that's what Gov. Abercrombie feels was his weaknesses, that would be for him to determine.'

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