Abercrombie vows to cut Kaua’i’s unemployment by half

KALAPAKI — Gov. Neil Abercrombie announced on Friday that he plans to decrease Kaua‘i’s unemployment rate by releasing millions of dollars in funding for capital improvement projects approved by the state Legislature for the island.

“We’re vetting $9 million for improvements at the airport, $6 million for improvements at the library at Kapa‘a elementary and $11 million for a new gym at Kaua‘i High School,” Abercrombie said at the 13th Annual Governor’s Luncheon, held at the Kaua‘i Marriott Resort in Kalapaki.

State Rep. Jimmy Tokioka, D-15th District, said those projects are just some of the highlights mentioned by Abercrombie — the funding approved by the Legislature is in the house of hundreds of millions of dollars, including highway and school projects.

The CIP funding apparently inspired Abercrombie to set an ambitious goal of slashing Kaua‘i’s 8.5 unemployment rate by half within 18 months.

“My goal on Kaua‘i next year is that everybody is working,” Abercrombie said. “If they’re not working on Kaua‘i, it’s because they don’t want to work. I don’t want the excuse there isn’t work available.”

Tokioka said, “For me personally, that was the best news I’ve had in a long time, that the governor had this at the top of his list … Sen. Kouchi, myself and Rep. Kawakami, a graduate of Kaua‘i High School, were happy to put it in the budget.”

For five years Tokioka has been lobbying for replacements of all of the gyms on the island, which he said are each about 80 years old, but former Gov. Linda Lingle never released the funds. The budget item calls for a three-year appropriation.

State Rep. Derek Kawakami, D-14th District, said, “I think the governor hit the nail on the head in the importance of energy independence and food security, and that ag need to partner with KCC.”

Abercrombie said if agriculture is not equitable, then it is just gardening.

“I couldn’t have been happier to be sitting in the crowd, as part of the legislative crowd, we put (the CIP) in the budget and we hoped the governor would release the funds,” Kawakami said. “I think he did a great job. I’m glad he came to Kaua‘i and is visiting the neighbor islands.” 

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said the governor “seemed really bold and he’s taking responsibility. He really did step forward and probably alienated a lot of people, but he identified a lot of things that if we put off, we’ll have problems in the future.” 

Yukimura called Abercrombie’s idea of placing a 5-cent tax on soda “a brilliant idea” because it meets a fiscal need while promoting health.

“I thought (his presentation) was very informative, hopeful and affirmative,” she said. “I think he laid out some very clear and bold visions, like cutting the unemployment rate by half by next year by looking for public projects. It will be a wise investment for the future.” 

When asked what he thought of the governor’s message, Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce President Randy Francisco said, “The message is one thing. It’s the results that matter, and that’s how I kind of am about these things.”

The event was sponsored by Hawai‘i Medical Assurance Association and hosted by the Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce.

• Vanessa Van Voorhis, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 251) or by emailing vvanvoorhis@thegardenisland.com.

Chad Blair – Honolulu Civil Beat

KALAPAKI — During the last few months, Gov. Neil Abercrombiehasn’t made too many public appearances. Busy with his firstlegislative session as governor, he had his hands full.

But, now that session has ended, Abercrombie is getting out ofthe Capitol more.

This week alone he spoke at a panel on Medicaid that wasstreamed across the state, talked about controlling growth onO‘ahu’s North Shore, dedicated an elementary school in Ewa, led apress conference on sand replenishment in Waikiki and gave remarksat a media event at Aloha Tower Marketplace.

Friday’s edition of The Honolulu Star-Advertiser featured twophotos of the governor, one from the Waikiki appearance and theother showing him playing trumpet at the school.

After a tough legislative session, Abercrombie is demonstratingthat he is a governor who connects with the people and spoutspopular views. It’s pure retail politics.

Traveling in style

The governor travels light when he flies to the NeighborIslands. Just two security personnel accompany him Friday morning;not a handler in sight.

On a Hawaiian Airlines flight from Honolulu to Lihu‘e, Kaua‘i,the governor was the last passenger to board and among the first todeplane, thanks to his first class seat.

Abercrombie and his escorts then took off in a black ChevroletSUV parked right outside the airport.

At a Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce luncheon at the Kaua‘i MarriottResort Beach Club in Lihu‘e, Abercrombie worked the ballroom intypical style.

Wearing a white aloha shirt with prints of blue koi, he movedeasily through the crowd, shaking hands and posing for photos. Manykneeled so their faces would be closer to his.

“Sure, I remember you,” he said to someone. “Hey, how are youdoing?” he said to another. “Did you see the photo of me in theStar-Advertiser today? The Local section. Take a look at it,” hesaid to another.

The chamber audience included Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr.,Councilmembers JoAnn Yukimura, Tim Bynum and KipuKai Kualii; andstate Reps. Jimmy Tokioka and Derek Kawakami.

Abercrombie’s remarks were familiar patter as well, designed toingratiate himself with whatever audience.

“It’s no secret, and I’ve said this before, but Kaua‘i is THEmost beautiful island,” he said, eliciting huge applause.

The familiar self-deprecating joke, this one about his age, washeard as well: “I’m a walking monument to historicpreservation.”

He used a line he has used many times before, too: “Farming thatisn’t entrepreneurial isn’t farming — it’s gardening.”

And, there was the usual hyperbolic statement: “We are going tocut unemployment in half in this state, I hope in the next 18months.”

(Invoking FDR and the WPA, the governor said he would accomplishhis goal through capital improvement projects at schools, airportsand other facilities.)

There wasn’t much news out of the chamber talk, but Abercrombiedid say he was close to hiring a chief information officer who hesaid would be the best in the country.

He said as well that he would return to the Legislature withmany of the same tax proposals that didn’t make it out of the 2011session.

Abercrombie closed with the same canoe metaphor we’ve heard manytimes before — about how we are all in the same canoe and need topaddle hard, together.

During the question-and-answer period afterwards, however, thegovernor did say something more fresh.

He said it was “inaccurate” to say that the Hawai‘i GovernmentEmployees Association has received nine extra vacation days intheir new contracts. He said it was “paid leave” that would be usedto give supervisors and employees more “flexibility” in workschedules.

He also sounded off again against the AARP, which led the chargein killing Abercrombie’s plan to tax pension income.

“They made $300 million last year selling insurance,” he said,underscoring his conviction that AARP cares less about seniors thanit does about self-survival.

And, he called it “a civic crime” that sodas are not taxed inHawai‘i.

When it was all over, the governor received a heartfelt standingovation — a heck of a lot better than he got at the Legislaturethis year.

Back on the road

And then the governor was off — to where, I don’t know. Hewasn’t publicly scheduled for anything until Friday evening, whenhe was expected to deliver the keynote at Kaua‘i CommunityCollege’s commencement.

But the governor is not done with his road trip yet.

On Saturday Abercrombie is to deliver remarks at the AmericanPsychiatric Association Assembly at the Hilton HawaiianVillage.

On Sunday he’s hosting a “Community Conversation with theGovernor” at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center in Kahului to befollowed by a keynote speech at the University of Hawai‘i-MauiCollege commencement.

On Monday there are four appearances: the Hawai‘i CropImprovement Association at the Honolulu Country Club, Hawai‘i LawEnforcement Memorial Groundbreaking on the Capitol Grounds, the UHPhilosophy Conference at the East-West Center’s Imin Center and anROTC Commissioning Ceremony at UH Manoa’s Kennedy Center.

The governor is also continuing his pattern of releasing weeklyaddresses — another way to get across his view of how he’sdoing.

On Friday, for example, in his second message of the week,Abercrombie talked about “partnerships.”

Excerpt: “Whether it concerns health care, or education, or ourenvironment, we are not deterred by a shortage of resources. Inpartnership with the many critically-important organizations andindividuals in our community, we are going to transform governmentinto something that will make everyone in this great stateproud.”

∫ Honolulu Civil Beat is an online news source serving Hawai‘i.Read more at www.CivilBeat.com.

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