Abercrombie files papers, calls for furlough action
• Photo gallery: Abercrombie files papers
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie yesterday urged Gov. Linda Lingle to call an "all-hands conference" to solve teacher furloughs and said the stalemate is an example of why he is running for governor.
"The Legislature is talking about everything from fireworks to flagpoles, but not about furloughs," Abercrombie said after filing nomination papers at the state Office of Elections in Pearl City.
"What needs to be done, today, is for everyone to stop defending themselves, to stop pointing fingers, to stop making accusations, and to start focusing on what is required of us to meet our responsibilities as adults, and meet our obligations politically."
Lingle said her senior policy adviser and chief labor negotiator will meet today with the state Board of Education for an update on the furlough situation. The governor said she has not given up, but said any resolution would have to reflect the financial reality the state is facing, with a $1.2 billion budget deficit through June 2011.
The governor, the school board and the Hawaii State Teachers Association have traded offers but have been unable to agree on how to reduce furloughs. Most teachers are taking 34 furlough days over two school years to help contain labor costs, leaving students with the smallest amount of classroom instruction time in the nation.
"We simply don't have the money that they want us to give them. It's just that simple," Lingle, speaking to reporters at the state Capitol, said of teachers. "So unless Congressman Abercrombie brought home a big sack of money from Washington, you know, it is what it is."
Abercrombie, who resigned from Congress on Sunday to concentrate on his campaign in the Democratic primary for governor, has for months called for a resolution on furloughs.
But he has not outlined a specific solution, instead urging all parties to negotiate.
"What people want is for priorities to be set," he said. "Of course there's budget issues. But the public doesn't want to hear about the Legislature's problems. It doesn't want to hear about the governor's problems. It doesn't want to hear about everybody else's difficulties in trying to solve the issue.
"They want priorities set. For me, the priority is the children. It's the instruction. So once you have that as your premise, everything follows from that."
If teacher furloughs are not reduced before the start of the next school year, the issue will likely be prominent in the governor's race.
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, in an interview with The Advertiser last week, described furloughs as a national embarrassment and faulted the governor.
"I think she has put us in this position of being an embarrassment," he said.
Hannemann, who has not officially announced his campaign in the Democratic primary for governor, but is actively raising money, also has not prescribed a specific solution to furloughs.
Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, a Republican candidate for governor, has stood with the governor behind an offer to use $50 million from the state's rainy-day fund to reduce furloughs in exchange for teachers giving up many of their planning days.
Abercrombie's return home to campaign full time could change the dynamics of a race that started early by Hawai'i standards but has yet to take shape.
Aiona, at the state GOP's Lincoln Day dinner on Friday night, chided Abercrombie for resigning early and forcing the state to pay for a special election in May to fill out the remainder of his term in Congress. He said there is a special election because Abercrombie "thinks he is special."
Aiona, citing the tax and fee increases under Hannemann as mayor, lumped Hannemann in with a "never-ending string of career politicians."
In the coming weeks, Abercrombie will likely be more aggressive at drawing Hannemann out, trying to show primary voters their differences.
Abercrombie and Hannemann will likely stress issues such as job creation, education and the environment as campaign themes. But an overriding theme for both may be experience — Abercrombie as a legislator during his time in the state House and Senate, the City Council, and his two decades in Congress; Hannemann as a chief executive, as mayor.
"I think it will come down to the fact of who has the right kind of experience," Hannemann said.
"You're not one of 435 elected officials," he said of the difference between being a congressman and a mayor. "The buck stops at your desk."
Abercrombie said that unlike Hannemann, he is not pretending he is not a candidate.
"The mayor is status-quo politics. The mayor is politics as usual. The mayor is the mayor. He's who he is," he said. "I'm not interested in that kind of politics. I don't think the people of the state are interested in that kind of politics."