Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D)
Hawaii 1st District
The landmarks for visitors to Honolulu are the Hickam Air Force Base, the Arizona monument in Pearl Harbor, the downtown area, with its wondrously Victorian Iolani Palace, and, of course, Waikiki, with its 40-story hotels rising within a few feet of each other. This part of Hawaii is tightly packed with people living between the 3,000-foot Koolau Range and the beaches and harbor, where tropical bungalows and garden apartments house Hawaiians of all incomes. Hawaii’s largest shopping centers and its state university are located here. Neighborhoods where the rich overlook the ocean are wedged next to poor enclaves where residents are crammed onto clogged streets. Hawaii’s topography jams cars onto just a few freeways and avenues, where traffic slows during rush hour and the aloha spirit is sorely tested. High taxes and high land and utility costs have limited growth. And although tourism remains brisk, the recession hit here early, resulting in declining hotel occupancy. Homelessness grew, and Aloha Airlines went bankrupt, ending its passenger service in March 2008. The military remains an important presence on Oahu. Hickam is home to eight C-17 Air Force cargo carriers that can transport 20-ton armored Stryker vehicles.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
All of these areas are in the 1st Congressional District of Hawaii. It is an area of well-established neighborhoods, and with little land left to develop, it is growing less rapidly than the rest of the state. Politically, the neighborhoods around Honolulu’s downtown and the university campus are middle and lower income and usually Democratic. To the west, around the harbor, are many military families in modest neighborhoods who may vote for Democrats but can be attracted to Republicans. To the east, past Waikiki, around Diamond Head, and out to the Kahala and Koko Head beach areas, is higher-income territory that often votes Republican. Asians are 59% of the population in Honolulu. Favorite-son Barack Obama, who was photographed bodysurfing at Sandy Beach prior to the Democratic National Convention in August, reigned supreme here in 2008, when he got 70% of the vote in Honolulu County.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D)
Elected: 1990, 10th full term.
Born: June 26, 1938, Buffalo, NY .
Education: Union Col., B.A. 1959, U. of HI, M.A.1964, Ph.D. 1974.
Religion: no religious affiliation.
Family: Married (Nancie Caraway).
Elected office: HI House of Reps., 1974–78; HI Senate, 1978–86; U.S. House of Reps., 1986–87; Honolulu City Cncl., 1988–90.
Professional Career: College prof., 1959–63; Probation officer, Marin Cnty., CA, 1964–67; Sociologist, 1967–74; Asst. prof., HI Loa Col., 1979–80; Consultant, 1983–87, 1989–90; Asst., HI Superintendent of Educ., 1987–88.
The congressman from the 1st District is Democrat Neil Abercrombie. With his graying beard and sometime ponytail, he has been affectionately referred to as the aging hippie of Capitol Hill. But he is also known as the “Gym God” for his ability to bench-press 260 pounds in the House gym, where he is frequently found. (He spearheaded an $8 million renovation for the members-only facility.) He is also known for an aggressive and bombastic debating style that is often tempered by enthusiasm and good humor. After college in upstate New York, Abercrombie taught school, moved to Hawaii, earned a Ph.D. in American studies, and at various times worked as a waiter, custodian, and probation officer. In those years, Abercrombie, now in his 70s, got to know Obama’s parents and knew their son as “Little Barry.” He was elected to the Hawaii Legislature in 1974 and served 12 years. He first came to Congress in 1986, when he won a special election, and served only three months. He lost the primary for the full term to Democrat Mufi Hanneman (now mayor of Honolulu), who then lost to Republican Pat Saiki. When Saiki ran for the U.S. Senate in 1990, Abercrombie won a three-way primary for her House seat and won the general election easily.
|Neil Abercrombie (D)||154,208||(77%)||($2,010,449)|
|Steve Tataii (R)||38,115||(19%)|
|Li Zhao (Lib)||7,594||(4%)|
|Neil Abercrombie (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (69%), 2004 (63%), 2002 (73%), 2000 (69%), 1998 (62%), 1996 (50%), 1994 (54%), 1992 (73%), 1990 (60%), 1986 (30%)
Abercrombie is one of the distinctive figures in the House. His voting record is mostly liberal, though a bit less so on economic issues. He serves on the Armed Services Committee and sees no contradiction between his protests of the Iraq war and his votes for military spending for Hawaii and elsewhere. “I see my work on Armed Services as a fulfillment of my principles and the motivating force of my life,” Abercrombie says. “It’s not about pro-war or anti-war, but how do you keep the peace.” When Republicans controlled Congress, he and Ohio liberal Dennis Kucinich were the lead sponsors of a resolution calling for a date-certain withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Abercrombie was a vocal opponent of the Bush administration’s “surge” proposal for adding more combat troops. “This is the craziest, dumbest plan I’ve ever seen or heard of in my life,” he told Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace during a 2007 hearing. He said he worried that “endless deployments” jeopardized troop readiness, and that Democratic leaders allowed Iraq to “fall off the table.” In October 2007, the House passed the bill he sponsored with Democratic Rep. John Tanner of Tennessee requiring the Bush administration to report every 90 days on its plans to withdraw troops from Iraq; the bill died in the Senate.
Once Democrats took the majority in 2007, Abercrombie chaired the Air and Land Forces Subcommittee. He has worked to assure adequate funding for Micronesia and the Marshall Islands 2,500 miles to the southwest in the Pacific, and he pressed the Army to explain the dumping of 8,000 tons of chemical munitions off Oahu after World War II. In 2007, he backed an $867 million cut in technology-based Future Combat Systems, the Army’s main modernization program, after continual delays in testing the new systems. In his usual colorful way, Abercrombie described his frustration with the Army: “The problem with FCS is, they’re waiting for Dumbledore or someone to come in and say, ‘Harry, this is the magic incantation. Say this and, believe me, the Dark Lord will be vanquished’—the Dark Lord of schedule and testing and delays. They’re looking for Harry Potter!” In the 2008 defense bill, Abercrombie added 15 C-17 transports and 20 F-22 fighters that the Pentagon did not request. The watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste listed him in 2008 as the fourth-highest House recipient of local earmarks, mostly for military projects.
Abercrombie is protective of Hawaii interests but is not always predictable. He voted for a Republican energy bill in 2005 because it included a study for turning sugarcane into ethanol, quite understandably since Hawaii is a major sugar producer. But he angered environmentalists when he joined Republicans on legislation allowing offshore natural-gas drilling, with the receipts shared by states that open their coasts to leasing. In August 2008, he sharply criticized Democratic leaders as “way behind the curve in terms of what people want” for failing to address high gasoline prices. He sponsored another bill to allow businesses to write off the travel costs of spouses on business trips—Hawaii has lots of hotels. But despite Hawaii’s strategic location in global trade, he voted against normal trade relations with China and opposed giving the president broad powers to negotiate trade deals. Abercrombie has consistently backed Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka’s bill to recognize Native Hawaiians as an indigenous people with a right to self-determination.
The 1st District is usually solidly Democratic, but in 1994 Abercrombie had serious competition from Orson Swindle, a Marine Corps pilot, a Vietnam-era prisoner of war, and a national leader of Ross Perot’s United We Stand America. Swindle charged that Abercrombie was too dovish, but Abercrombie outraised him, and won 54%-43%. Swindle ran again in 1996, labeled Abercrombie a far-left hippie, and called for big spending cuts. Abercrombie narrowly outspent him, and won 50%-46%. Since then, he has been re-elected by overwhelming margins. Abercrombie announced in March 2009 he will run for governor in 2010, when Republican Gov. Linda Lingle is term-limited.