Citing reasons like “they want to spend time with their families,” among other reasons, Neil Abercrombie’s top 2 staff members have stepped down. This move comes just 10-months into his administration, an administration that the Governor himself recognizes has fallen way short of expectations.
Amy Asselbaye, the chief of staff, has been a loyal aide to Abercrombie for 18 years and was his chief of staff when he was a congressman before serving as operations director for his campaign for governor last year. Andrew Aoki, the deputy, was a director of the public-policy group Kanu Hawaii before serving as Abercrombie’s deputy campaign manager.
Both individuals have stepped down according to reports, stating that they wanted to spend more time with their families. How true is this? Even an elementary school child could see right through that.
Bruce Coppa, director of the state Department of Accounting and General Services, has been named the new chief of staff. No announcement was made on the deputy chief position, but I am sure one will come shortly.
“Amy and Andrew and their families have sacrificed for years on behalf of the people of Hawaii and I respect their desires to want to reconnect with their families,” Abercrombie said in a statement. “The two of them have helped me make the transition from the campaign to governing. I’m sure the transition to continued leadership in the governor’s office will be a smooth one.”
An Abercrombie spokeswoman said Asselbaye and Aoki declined to talk to the media.
So what are the real reasons that this surprising sequence of events have taken place just 10 months into an administration that promised so much and has delivered almost nothing?
Several sources – who chose to speak privately, said there was tension between Asselbaye and Aoki and the older allies who were part of the governor’s transition team after his election victory. Some of the older allies complained they could not get easy access to the governor, and were frustrated after the Abercrombie administration struggled to advance an agenda during its first legislative session and stumbled through a series of public-relations and public-policy-related embarrassments.
Sources close to the Abercrombie administration believe the problem has mostly been in communications and in execution, not with the underlying public policy. The governor, for example, offered a philosophical rationale for a pension tax and a soda tax, but he and his staff did not do the necessary outreach with interest groups and lawmakers that might have brought others along. The administration appeared unprepared to offer timely or adequate explanations for why the governor asked for the resignations of former Gov. Linda Lingle’s appointees to key boards and commissions or quietly issued an emergency proclamation to help remove unexploded ordnance.
And these issues are just the tip of the iceberg. It seems that Gov. Abercrombie has a way of pushing his “impulses” on us, while not having a proper plan in place to make the selected impulse a reality. This leads to everyone looking bad, as witnessed by the last 10-months of lackluster performance by Gov. Abercrombie and his staff.
One of the biggest questions Abercrombie faced when he first announced that he would run for governor was whether he could make the transition from congressman to chief executive. Most thought he could, as demonstrated in his runaway victory. However, many are already second guessing themselves, and Abercrombie’s term is not even a year old.
Did Hawaii make a serious mistake? I guess time will tell.