Abercrombie will be the first Democratic governor in eight years, succeeding GOP Gov. Linda Lingle in President Barack Obama’s birth state. Abercrombie, a former 10-term congressman who represented urban Honolulu, defeated Republican Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona.
Abercrombie’s victory, in a state that has long been dominated by Democrats, gave that party’s faithful something to hoot about on a Election Day in which dozens of Democratic congressional and gubernatorial candidates across the country went down to defeat.
Abercrombie’s win also makes former state Democratic Party Chairman Brian Schatz the new lieutenant governor. In Hawaii, candidates for the state’s top two posts run on a ticket. They are to be sworn in on Dec. 6.
At 72, Abercrombie will is one of the last remaining major Hawaii politicians who was an adult when statehood was achieved in 1959. He by far will be the oldest to enter the governor’s office since then, and would carry with him four decades of political experience.
During the campaign, Abercrombie promised a fresh approach from Lingle, who he contended had adopted a confrontational approach to state employee unions and had unnecessarily allowed cost-saving furloughs to be adopted during the 2009-2010 school year.
In addition to restoring the state’s economy, the ex-congressman proposed to create an independent authority that would more quickly implement clean energy policies and to fold some current state offices into a new Department of Early Childhood.
Abercrombie also contended he would have a better shot at winning federal dollars for Hawaii from the Obama administration, and said he’d protect agricultural lands from development.
Both he and Aiona eschewed tax hikes, but they differed widely on social issues. Abercrombie backed abortion rights and said he would sign a same-sex civil unions bill similar to legislation Lingle vetoed earlier this year. Aiona opposed abortion rights and civil unions, and said he’d propose a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Abercrombie also promised to quickly approve Honolulu’s proposed $5.5 billion rail project in concept. Aiona had said he’d wait until an ongoing financial review ordered by Lingle is completed before making a final decision.
It is not clear what Lingle will do with the project in her remaining month in office, though she said in August it may be more appropriate for the next governor to decide its fate “since they will really have to live with the result of it.”
Abercrombie’s victory will remove almost all measures of influence for Republicans in the state Capitol, since Democrats are expected to continue enjoying strong majorities in both the state House and Senate.