The Guv Hits The Campaign Trail

Four days after state house members voted to legalize same-sex marriage, hours after the senate did the same, and less than 24 hours before he would sign the bill into law, Gov. Neil Abercrombie attended a gubernatorial campaign event in Aiea.

Opponents of same-sex marriage held large “Let the people decide” banners at the entrance to the Newtown Community Center. Supporters of the guv responded with smaller “Re-elect Gov. Abercrombie” signs.

Both packed the center’s parking lots. Those who wished to ask the governor questions were given 3×5 cards on which to write them; none would be entertained from the floor.

Anticipating a confrontation between Abercrombie and opponents of same-sex marriage, all three network news organizations sent camera crews. A few scribblers showed as well. This one found himself seated beside a woman reading a Korean-language Bible and in front of a man wearing a New Hope T-shirt.

By the time Abercrombie arrived, surrounded by a half-dozen large men from the Capitol security detail, the hall offered standing room only. Among those standing were other out-sized gentlemen, strategically located and wearing rainbow lei.

Fellow weight-lifter Tommy Kono introduced the governor. Abercrombie acknowledged the Olympic medalist as “the strongest man, pound for pound, alive.”

In his initial remarks, Abercrombie emphasized that “this is a campaign meeting, not a public forum.” He insisted that throughout the special session he had “maintained a dialogue with people of differing opinions” on same-sex marriage.

“The debate was never about for and against,” said Abercrombie. “It was about how to protect the religious rights of those who don’t want their First Amendment rights compromised. I think this bill does that.”

A smattering of boos expressed disagreement.

Abercrombie quickly changed the subject to his re-election, to the $250 million deficit the state faced when he assumed office and the projected $800 million surplus it will enjoy at the end of 2013, to his administration’s refinancing of the state’s debt, its rebuilding of highways and airports, its upgrading of state schools, and to the low Honolulu unemployment rate achieved through the state’s investments in infrastructure.

Introductory remarks concluded, mistress of ceremonies Anne Lopez read the first question from a small pile of cards: “With the dire problems facing the state like homelessness, traffic, poorly-performing schools, why did you have a special session on same-sex marriage?”

“Easy,” said Abercrombie. “So that the same-sex marriage debate wouldn’t consume the regular session where those problems deserved focus and attention. We need to dial down the political temperature of the same-sex debate.”

Soaring political temperatures remained on the minds of many in the crowd, however. The atmosphere of the evening could best be described as uncomfortable, if painfully polite. Cries of “Let the people decide!” punctuated the evening, and at least twice Abercrombie felt compelled to remind hecklers that he would not argue about same-sex marriage or early childhood education.

Instead, he plowed on through questions about the need for more assisted living facilities for Pearl City’s growing senior population, providing technology for Hawaii’s school children, the steps the state has taken to pay down its unfunded liability, and the failures of the state tax department’s Internet technology.

Seventy-five minutes into the evening, Lopez announced, “That’s all the time we have tonight.” Boos broke out, and the large men gathered around the governor and moved him toward an exit and into the cool November night.