Joining Abercrombie’s Molokai Jaunt
Wednesday - October 20, 2010
I had never been to Molokai, so when Laurie Au, Neil Abercrombie’s young press secretary, suggested I accompany the Democratic gubernatorial candidate when he attended Molokai’s Festival of Aloha parade, I said sure.
Then, two days before the event, she told me: “It looks like it isn’t going to happen.”
“Why not?” I asked. “Because canoe clubs from all over the world are gathering for the Kaiwi Channel race that weekend. All the flights are booked.”
So much for the military precision and planning of a $3 million-plus political campaign.
But by Saturday morning they’d found a plane: a 10-passenger Piper Chieftain owned and operated by George’s Aviation located at the end of Lagoon Drive. Abercrombie’s entourage included running mate Brian Schatz, five aides and campaign officials, and me. It was a squeeze.
“People ask me why I’m going to Molokai, a small island with few votes, so late in the campaign,” said Abercrombie over the sound of the Piper’s engine. “This campaign started on the Neighbor Islands, and we’ve gone back to them repeatedly. Our strategy was to hold even on Oahu with (Democratic primary opponent) Mufi Hannemann and beat him on the Neighbor Islands.”
It proved a good strategy, but an underestimate: Abercrombie carried the Big Island, Maui and Oahu. He lost Kauai to Hannemann by only 19 votes.
“I’ve been coming over here for more than 30 years,” Abercrombie said. “I know these people. We haven’t always agreed on everything, but you don’t have to so long as you trust each other.”
Longtime supporter Bev Pauole-Moore greeted Abercrombie at the airport with hugs and lei, and ushered his party into a SUV and a van.
“It’s important that Neil made this trip,” said Pauole-Moore. “There’ll be thousands at the parade.” (It was important for the Republican ticket as well. Duke Aiona and Lynn Finnegan also made the trip.)
The ride from the airport to Kaunakakai displayed an island in the midst of drought. The red dirt that nurtured acres and acres of pineapple for more than half a century was much in evidence, some of it at eye level in the week-end’s strong winds.
Abercrombie and Schatz began working the Festival of Aloha crowd at an intersection near the parade’s inception. Wearing a white straw hat with a yellow band, Abercrombie shook every hand offered him and grabbed those that weren’t. To a woman who asked if she could have a picture taken with him, Abercrombie responded with a hug, a laugh and “Sure. Let’s hear it for the short guys.”
Atall, handsome Hawaiian yelled at Abercrombie from across the street, “Hey! Uncle, you remember me?” The candidate walked over to talk with him. Others greeted him as “Governor Abercrombie.” One of the parade’s marshals handed Abercrombie a microphone. “Alooha. It’s good to be here. Remember, when Abercrombie wins, everybody works. Everybody scores.”
Everybody seemed to know Abercrombie’s name. Many wanted pictures. Abercrombie was good with children along the parade route. He joked with them, shook their hands.
At the end of the parade route, food booths fed Island families. Abercrombie walked among the picnic tables, shaking hands. He stopped to talk with Rosie Davis of the Molokai Community Health Center. “The community health center can offer jobs,” said Abercrombie, “but it can also be a beacon for Molokai’s young people of things they can aspire to: becoming doctors, nurses, scientists.
“They need the confidence that they can do it. Molokai has a 15 percent unemployment rate and the state’s highest teen pregnancy rate. We have to sever the knot and stop the inertia.”
Abercrombie returned to the downtown area to visit businesses and do more “retail politics,” then to the Acoba family home, where a Filipino lunch awaited. Post-adobo, Abercrombie spoke to the guests: “We are islands. Tomorrow 123 teams of canoe paddlers will paddle for four to six hours to reach Oahu. We are connected by water, not separated. If Brian Schatz and I are elected, ours will not be an Oahu-centric government. You won’t have to come to us, we’ll come to you.”
Then Abercrombie flashed his humor. “I’ll do my best to deal with your problems. If I can’t solve them, Brian will do his best. If Brian can’t solve them, blame Brian.” After the laughter subsided, Abercrombie took questions on the future of agriculture on Molokai and on civil unions.
Then Abercrombie and his people flew home. The winds had risen, and the flight was bumpy. The candidate dozed, and after a workday like that, who could blame him?
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