Wanting More Time With Family

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - October 26, 2011
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All right. Everybody else in the scribbling trade has taken their shot at this one. My turn.

Why did chief of staff Amy Asselbaye, deputy chief of staff Andrew Aoki, communications director Josh Levinson and deputy communications director Laurie Au decide to depart Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s administration less than a year into his first term?

I don’t know, but not knowing hasn’t stopped any number of other folks from hazarding a guess or two. I’ll offer no less than five.

Guess No. 1. They did, in fact, leave “for family reasons.” I know. I know. Silly, naïve me. But Asselbaye, a Mainland transplant, is the mother of three children under 12. Her husband is from Chad. They have neither tutu wahine nor tutu kane to pick the kids up from school or take them to their games when the governor requires Mom to work late. Aoki has two kids under 10, probably has support, but that doesn’t mean he or his spouse likes to hear that he won’t make a kid’s birthday party because he’s in a meeting.

Levinson, so far as I know, didn’t cite “family reasons” to explain his departure. But with children ages 2 and 6, he could have. Only Au, single and childless, could not cry “Family!”

Guess No. 2. They are a band of brothers and sisters who lent their considerable talents, youth, idealism and energy for the better part of the past two years (in Asselbaye’s case, the past 18 years) to the service of an elderly politician who insisted he wanted to be governor. After all that sweat, all those tears, all that joy in victory, if two decide to leave, could two others be far behind?

Guess No. 3. They were too idealistic. Mario Cuomo’s famous adage applies here: “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.” Abercrombie’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign and his “New Day for Hawaii” rang with poetry. It thudded on specifics. Present honest, balanced budgets? That meant for the Abercrombie administration taxing everything from soda pop to seniors’ retirement benefits. It meant telling public union members that they had to swallow pay cuts and higher contributions to their medical coverage. It meant telling some businesses that their tax exemptions would be no more.

All that truth telling requires a sure hand firmly, frequently, but delicately applied to those in the legislative branch. In the Capitol building, fifth floor victories are won on the second, third and fourth floors. Appealing to idealism, asking people to do what is right, isn’t enough. The process calls for legislative legerdemain, and neither a former congressman who’d become governor nor his young aides demonstrated enough of that.

Guess No. 4. In the wake of the administration’s first legislative session, lawmakers complained, businesses complained. Seniors, the votingest voters of them all, screamed. Union members, the backbone of our democracy, bellowed.

“I could understand the Republican Lingle &^$)@ us over, but Abercrombie’s one of us. Let me talk to the governor,” shouted an aggrieved Democrat, but he couldn’t get an appointment. Or if he did, the governor said, “I’m not your friend; I’m your governor.”

And, as he departed those big fifth floor doors, the injured party grumbled, “It’s those kids he’s got around him. Get some adults up here.” Or something like that. Abercrombie began bringing in adults. Youths must be served, but youths can be scapegoated as well.

Guess No. 5. They grew disillusioned. I’m told Abercrombie didn’t want his four key aides to leave. But those who grow enthralled with political candidates hate to discover their heroes’ flaws. They kick and scream their way into recognition. When they invest as much as Asselbaye, Aoki, Levinson and Au did in Abercrombie, they hate to see him cave to the forces of old so much so, that they clean out their desks and head for the door.

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