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Abercrombie Mends Fences on Maui

“Cabinet in Your Community”--a civil and informative dialogue with the state’s top brass.

April 18, 2013
Susan Halas - Contributing Writer ( , The Maui Weekly

Gov. Neil Abercrombie and a cast of executive-level supporting players came to Maui on Wednesday, April 10, for a session billed as "Cabinet in Your Community." The gathering was held in the Ike Lea Auditorium on the University of Hawai'i Maui College campus--the first event in the college's newly opened science complex.

Officially, the meeting was described as an opportunity for members of the Maui community to meet members of the governor's cabinet and share information in an informal give-and-take session. Unofficially, it appeared to be a fence-mending expedition designed to put a friendlier face on an administration that has frequently seemed overly focused on O'ahu deaf to concerns expressed by Maui residents.

Sitting on one side of the stage were the governor, Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui and Maui resident Leslie Wilkins, who chairs the Hawai'i State Commission on the Status of Women. She served as informal host and moderator for the session.

Article Photos

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui and a cast of executive-level supporting players came to Maui on Wednesday, April 10, for a public meeting billed as “Cabinet in Your Community.”

Ranged on the other side of the platform were a row of state directors: Kalbert Young, Budget & Finance Department; Loretta Fuddy, Health; Glenn Okimoto, Transportation; William Aila Jr., Land and Natural Resources; Jobie Masagatani, Hawaiian Home Lands; and Russell Kokubun, Agriculture. Abercrombie took pains point out the Maui connections of both Young and Tsutsui to enthusiastic applause.

Bruce Coppa, the governor's chief of staff, was in the audience, as were a number of others from his O'ahu and Maui staff. The entire front row was reserved for top-level personnel of various state departments and representatives of appointed members of state advisory groups. The audience was also liberally peppered with staffers from various departments whose bosses were on stage.

Also present were State Sens. Roz Baker, Gil Keith-Agaran and J. Kalani English. Staff representing both of Hawai'i's U.S. Senators were on hand, as were members of the county administration. A substantial number of students also attended.

There was also a generous contingent of security. Members of the public pulling into the parking lot were met by a uniformed officer holding a door list on a clipboard--certainly a new feature for an event billed as a public meeting. There were additional armed and uniformed personnel at the front door. Burly body guards stood at all four corners of the auditorium. Of the total crowd, perhaps fewer than half could have been actually considered members of the general public.

As the room with 120 seats was filled to capacity, the audience spilled over into an adjacent classroom where the proceedings from the main room were shown on large-screen television monitors.

About half of the two-hour event was taken up with introductions and general statements by each of the directors regarding the duties and responsibilities of their departments. The other half was given over to six smaller breakout sessions--each headed by a different department--where citizens could directly question and interact with top-level officials from Honolulu.

Announced for the second half--but not delivered--were summaries of what had transpired in each group and a discussion of what the governor had earlier termed "hot topics" of the day, including, in his words, "GMO labeling, Banner Health, proposed development of lands at Pulehunui and the future of wind and solar energy."

According to Chief of Staff Coppa, the reason that the announced portion of the agenda did not take place was that the multiple discussions in the breakout groups were going so well that it seemed advisable to let them run longer.

And indeed, the sessions did have a more personal, candid and friendlier tone than most state-hosted events. At the end of the evening, even some of the administration's harshest critics acknowledged that they felt it had been beneficial to see the top brass face to face, and that the substance of the dialogs had been civil and informative.

Though the directors and their staff members were forthcoming, the governor himself was more elusive. He did not attend or participate in any of the smaller groups, but retired behind glass in a separate room to eat sandwiches and mingle within a small circle of visitors who came and went from the room.

More accessible was Lt. Gov. Tsutsui, who worked the crowd and served as an articulate advocate for the administration he had only recently joined. Tsutsui characterized Abercrombie as a person of "passion and commitment," who, in the face of serious financial crises, has done a "terrific job of righting the ship." Asked for an opportunity to meet the governor, Tsutsui arranged for the Maui Weekly to speak with him briefly.

Up close and personal, the governor was gracious. Asked about his role in the Public Land Development Corporation (or PLDC, a piece of controversial legislation granting extensive waivers and new sweeping powers to the state with little public participation or oversight), Abercrombie first disavowed it as a creation of the Legislature; then gave a rambling media-themed discourse that began with Johannes Guttenberg and the invention of movable type. He concluded the topic with a sarcastic comment that mocked any participation by his administration in the controversial law by saying: "Let's pass something that will cause us endless grief."

The Maui Weekly did appreciate the governor's generous offer to share his tuna sandwich. Not accustomed to such-high level dining, the Maui Weekly saved the Subway bag with the word "GOVERNOR" emblazoned in magic marker.

In his concluding remarks, Gov. Abercrombie stressed that he wanted comment and feedback from those present. As he spoke, students passed out cards with the state seal on one side and a place to write comments or questions on the other. He assured the audience that each and every card would get a personal response.

A list of the governor's staff and cabinet can be found at However, the state Website provides only name and title--no photos, no links and no contact information--nor was there any way to get in touch with the distinguished guests distributed at the meeting.



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