“There must be transparency in government so people know that their economic interests are being represented, not just the interests of a powerful few.” -- Neil Abercrombie, “A New Day in Hawaii”
by Andrew Walden
While campaigning, catch phrases like “transparency and accountability” rolled off Neil Abercrombie’s tongue at every stop. But now in office, Abercrombie’s administration has quickly become secretive.
Abercrombie—who was once up to his eyeballs in the Broken Trust gang—is at this moment considering the first of what will likely be three Hawaii Supreme Court nominations. He has received a list of five nominees from the Judicial Selection Commission, but unlike the Lingle administration, Abercrombie is refusing to make the list public and invite public comment on the nominees’ qualifications. As a result, the public will be unable to determine how his eventual choice was shaped and nobody will be able to research the various candidates.
His excuse? Administration spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz deadpanned: “The governor believes getting the names out is detrimental to attracting prospective judicial applicants. His approach in making judicial appointments is to ensure the confidentiality of these applicants."
The public is aware of the nominations only because a January 22 Star-Advertiser article announced the list had been passed to Abercrombie “this week.” This contrasts sharply with the Lingle administration practice of posting the names of all judicial nominees online and inviting public comment.
When Abercrombie December 23rd signed a Memorandum of Understanding, agreeing to spend $126M an extra on public workers’ health insurance, there was no public announcement. The news mysteriously appeared January 4 in the little-read Civil Beat website and in paragraph 12 of a Star-Advertiser On Politics column about other states’ budget troubles. Hawai’i Free Press then found an announcement on the UHPA website, published it online and the news suddenly shifted to the front page. To this day there has been no Abercrombie administration news release detailing this agreement.
The selection process for Abercrombie’s cabinet was a caricature. According to Civil Beat November 23:
Neil Abercrombie's transition team is holding interviews with job applicants in a union hall in Kalihi.
Candidates for Cabinet-level positions are interviewed by a panel whose members have included Bill Kaneko and (gaming industry lobbyist) John Radcliffe.
Asked to comment, Abercrombie spokesman Jim McCoy said, "I am not going to confirm for you any information where we are holding personnel issues."
Every time Governor Lingle had the opportunity to fill a Legislative vacancy, her administration released the names of the nominees from which she would choose. Not Abercrombie. The public only knows the names of those vying for the SD1 seat vacated by Dwight Takamine and SD2 seat vacated by Russell Kokubun because the Hawaii County Democratic Party released their nominees to the Hawaii Tribune Herald.
The public only can learn the names of those nominated by Waianae Democrats to replace Rep Maile Shimabukuro because Volcanic Ash columnist David Shapiro got them directly from the Abercrombie administration.
There has been no information released about the nominees presented to the Abercrombie administration from which he picked Shimabukuro to replace Sen. Hanabusa.
But the biggest violation of Abercrombie’s transparency pledge is hidden in plain sight. By choosing not to produce an administration budget until mid-March, Abercrombie is denying the public the opportunity to openly discuss the competing budget priorities. Obviously what is happening is that the administration and the Legislature are meeting privately to hash these out. In March the public will be presented with a fait accompli. In essence the secrecy of the Democrat Legislative caucus rooms has now been extended to the fifth floor. The Star-Advertiser January 9 complains:
He says his revisions to next biennium's budget proposal crafted by the outgoing Lingle administration won't be ready until March. The later-than-usual time frame is already causing concern among legislators — and it should, as well, for the public. An already complicated budget operation stands to grow more confused, so stronger vigilance must be paid to an open, timely public hearing process….
Legislators must be provided access to the process to avoid being subjected to a March surprise — they adjourn at the end of April. The same transparency must apply to the general public, many of whom will surely be directly affected by shifting budget priorities….
“There must be transparency in government so people know that their economic interests are being represented, not just the interests of a powerful few”. But it looks like Abercrombie and the rest of “the powerful few” are already settling up amongst themselves and handing the bill to the people.