Editor’s Note: An open letter to Governor Neil Abercrombie

January, 2011

To the Office of the Governor
State Capitol
Honolulu, Hawaii

Dear Gov. Abercrombie:

I must admit that I had my vote reserved for someone else when we chatted in August at the Dole Ballrooms. You may not remember our brief encounter before I moderated a debate between you and Mufi Hannemann – after all, it was in the middle of the election campaign whirlwind.

As we talked, we saw your handlers push a riser behind the podium so you would have a hidden boost of five inches. Those handlers’ job is to burnish your image and they know height is an important part of people’s impression of leadership.

But you were just annoyed at their efforts and when you took the stage, you quietly pushed the riser aside and stood in your place, opposite your much taller opponent. From my position between the two candidates, I was probably the only person who could see what you did, so I know it was not for show.

I remind you of that incident not to flatter you but because, to me, it was indicative of the overall approach of your campaign. I’m not naïve. I know politics is nasty and you are no angel, but, overall, you conducted yourself with integrity even when your opponent did not.

So I make this request: Please bring that integrity to the way Hawaii’s government treats its businesses, especially its small businesses. I have no doubt that you and your team have the best of intentions, but those intentions have to be delivered by middle managers and tens of thousands of government employees. And those people have been doing their jobs in certain ways for a long, long time.

You have promised to improve the bureaucratic processes that have led some to call Hawaii “business hell.” One crucial aspect of that is a culture of fear. Whenever Hawaii Businessdoes a story that includes an element of government criticism, no company leaders or business owners will speak on the record for fear of retaliation by government employees. “I can’t talk to you,” they tell my writers or me. “Next time I bid for a contract or need a permit, they’ll get back at me.”

I have no doubt this happens, because so many people in so many different fields share this same fear of retaliation. I’m sure that most government employees do their job in a fair and effective way, but it seems that a significant minority operate as if business is the enemy, or, at best, an annoyance.

Like any good organization, government should try to resolve complaints – not secretly retaliate against the few willing to voice those complaints. If we cannot have an open and civil conversation about the problems of government, how can we possibly fix them?

Governor, I know you are a busy man and you have a lot on your plate. But if you can let your good intentions trickle down to all levels of the government, it will make Hawaii a better place to do business. And that will help bring the prosperity that we all want for everyone in Hawaii.

Thank you and good luck.

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