Neil Abercrombie

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Neil Abercrombie
7th Governor of Hawaii
In office
December 6, 2010 – December 1, 2014
LieutenantBrian Schatz
Shan Tsutsui
Preceded byLinda Lingle
Succeeded byDavid Ige
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's 1st district
In office
January 3, 1991 – February 28, 2010
Preceded byPat Saiki
Succeeded byCharles Djou
In office
September 20, 1986 – January 3, 1987
Preceded byCecil Heftel
Succeeded byPat Saiki
Member of the Honolulu City Council
In office
Member of the Hawaii Senate
In office
Member of the
Hawaii House of Representatives
In office
Personal details
Born (1938-06-26) June 26, 1938 (age 85)
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
(m. 1981)
EducationUnion College (AB)
University of Hawaii, Manoa (MA, PhD)

Neil Abercrombie (born June 26, 1938) is an American politician who served as the seventh governor of Hawaii from 2010 to 2014.[1] He is a member of the Democratic Party.

Born in Buffalo, New York, Abercrombie is a graduate of Union College and the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. He began his political career in 1975, winning a seat in the Hawai'i House of Representatives. He served in the Hawai'i House until 1979, when he was elected to the Hawai'i State Senate. Upon the resignation of Cecil Heftel, who resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives to run for governor, Abercrombie was elected to his vacant seat in a special election in 1986, but lost the Democratic primary for a full term on the same day. Abercrombie served the remainder of Heftel's term until January 1987. He served on the Honolulu City Council from 1988 to 1990 before returning to Congress in 1991. Abercrombie served nine consecutive terms in the House from 1993 to 2010, representing Hawai'i's 1st congressional district, consisting of urban Honolulu.

With incumbent Governor Linda Lingle prevented from running for reelection due to term limits, Abercrombie declared his candidacy for governor in March 2009. In September 2010 he won the five-candidate Democratic primary with 59% of the vote. Abercrombie went on to face Republican nominee, Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona, in the general election. On November 2, 2010, Abercrombie and running mate Brian Schatz defeated Aiona with 57% of the vote. Abercrombie was sworn into office on December 6, 2010. In 2014, he was defeated in the Democratic primary by state senator David Ige, who went on to win the general election.

Early life and education[edit]

Abercrombie was born on June 26, 1938, in Buffalo, New York, the son of Vera June (née Grader) and George Donald Abercrombie. His ancestry includes English, Irish and German. His paternal great-grandfather James Abercrombie left Ireland for Canada; his son then immigrated to the United States.[2] After graduating from Williamsville High School (now Williamsville South High School), Abercrombie pursued studies in sociology at Union College in Schenectady, New York, where he earned his bachelor's degree in 1959. He arrived in Honolulu in September 1959 to study at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, where he earned a master's degree in sociology and later a doctorate in American Studies.[3] At the university he befriended and attended classes with President Barack Obama's parents, Ann Dunham and Barack Obama, Sr.[4]

To support himself as a graduate student, Abercrombie worked as a waiter at Chuck's Steak House in Waikīkī, a locker desk clerk at the Central YMCA,a custodian at Mother Rice Preschool, a construction apprentice program director, an elementary school teacher, and a college lecturer.[5]

Political career[edit]

Abercrombie first participated in a political campaign in 1970, seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate. Unsuccessful, Abercrombie ran for the Hawai'i State House of Representatives, where he served from 1975 to 1979. A distinguishing symbol of his early campaigns was a yellow Checker Taxi with his name and face painted on the side, the use of which was motivated by lack of money for traditional campaigning methods. The taxi became a symbol of both his standing as an outsider from the mainland and his unconventional style.[6] In 1979, Abercrombie was elected to the Hawai'i State Senate, where he served from 1980 to 1986. After U.S. Representative Cecil Heftel resigned in July 1986 to run for governor of Hawai'i, Abercrombie was elected to the House in a September 1986 special election to complete Heftel's unexpired term. On the same day, he lost the Democratic primary for a full two-year term to Mufi Hannemann, who lost to Republican Pat Saiki in the general election.[7]

Abercrombie then set his sights on a seat of the Honolulu City Council. He won the race and served from 1988 to 1990.

U.S. Congress[edit]

At the end of his council tenure in 1990, Abercrombie once again ran for Congress and won. He was reelected ten times. In the 2008 election, he won with 70.6% of the vote.

Abercrombie was a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and compiled a generally liberal voting record. He supported and voted for the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act.[8] On October 10, 2002, he was among the 133 members of the House who voted against authorizing the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[9] He cosponsored H.R. 1312 (Assault Weapons Ban and Law Enforcement Protection Act of 2005) on July 28, 2005.[10] He took issue with the Vatican over not listing torture as a sin.[11]

According to Project Vote Smart, Abercrombie holds the following issue positions: he is pro-choice, has voted against a ban on partial birth abortion, and has voted with the interests of NARAL and Planned Parenthood 100% of the time between 2000 and 2006. He has voted for bills designed to make it easier for Americans to vote, such as the motor voter bill. He has advocated strongly for civil liberties; his voting record is supported by both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and American Library Association. He was one of the 67 representatives to vote against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 1996 and has also voted against a constitutional amendment proposed in 2006 to limit marriage to being between one man and one woman.[12] He was one of only nine representatives not to cast a vote for or against the USA PATRIOT Act in 2001.[13] In 2005 he voted against the extension of the act, calling it "a blank check to trample civil liberties."[14] In 2007 he signed on as a co-sponsor of H.R. 676, which would have established a national health insurance program.[15] He resigned from Congress on February 28, 2010, to concentrate on his campaign for governor.[16]

Abercrombie served as chairman of the Armed Forces Subcommittee on Air and Land Forces and a senior member of the Natural Resources Committee. He co-authored landmark legislation creating public-private partnerships between the military and private developers to build, maintain and manage housing for military families.

2010 Gubernatorial Campaign[edit]

Abercrombie celebrating his 2010 victory
Neil Abercrombie and his running mate Brian Schatz with their spouses on the day of the election

On March 9, 2009, Abercrombie announced his candidacy for governor of Hawai'i.[17] On December 11, 2009, he announced that he would resign from Congress to concentrate on his gubernatorial bid. He was succeeded in Congress by Republican Charles Djou, the first Republican elected to Congress from Hawai'i since Pat Saiki.

During his campaign, Abercrombie released his "A New Day in Hawai'i Plan,"[18] offering a roadmap based on Hawai'i's values and priorities. The plan was the result of conversations with thousands of people and many hours of research. Abercrombie met with business people, entrepreneurs, economists, principals, teachers, parents, academics, public employees, farmers, nonprofit leaders, health professionals, students, seniors, conservationists, cultural practitioners, construction workers, and citizens of all backgrounds. He also held dozens of issue forums and meetings on every island to hear from residents about their concerns and hopes for Hawai'i.[19]

Abercrombie defeated his challenger, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, in the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary election on September 18, 2010, 59.3% to 37.7%.[20][21][22]

On November 2, 2010, Abercrombie defeated Republican nominee Duke Aiona, 57.8% to 40.8%, to become Hawai'i's 7th governor.[23][24] In his November 3 victory speech, he credited many people for his success, including the founder of the Department of Religion at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Dr. Mitsuo Aoki.

Governor of Hawaii[edit]

Neil Abercrombie sworn in as Governor of Hawaii by Hawaii Supreme Court Justice James Duffy

Abercrombie was sworn in as governor of Hawai'i on December 6, 2010, the first gubernatorial victor of the 2010 election cycle to be sworn into office.

Abercrombie was 72 when he was sworn in as governor, and was the oldest current United States governor for a little less than a month. On January 3, 2011, he lost that title to Jerry Brown of California, who is two months older than Abercrombie.

When Abercrombie took office, he vowed to end the investigations into President Obama's birth certificate. A spokesperson for Abercrombie said he would ask the office of the Attorney General what it could do.[25] State Attorney General David M. Louie informed Abercrombie that state privacy laws prevent the release of "an individual's birth documentation without the person's consent" to persons who do not have "a tangible interest" in the document.[26]

According to polls, in October 2011, Abercrombie was the least popular governor in the country, with a 30% approval rating.[27]

In February 2011, Abercrombie signed into law a bill legalizing civil unions. His predecessor, Linda Lingle, had vetoed the legislation.[28] In 2013, he called the Hawai'i Legislature into a special session to consider a bill legalizing same-sex marriage, which he signed into law on November 13.

Upon the death of longtime Senator Daniel Inouye, Abercrombie had to appoint his replacement. The State Democratic Party gave him a list of three finalists and he chose Lieutenant Governor Brian Schatz, despite Inouye's stated wish that he select Colleen Hanabusa. Schatz is now Hawai'i's senior U.S. Senator.

Obama appointed Abercrombie to the Council of Governors, and he served from 2012 to 2014. The council consists of 10 governors the president appoints to focus on national security, homeland defense, and synchronization and integration of state and federal military activities in the United States and matters of mutual interest pertaining to the National Guard.[29]

In November 2013, Abercrombie was named to Obama's Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, a group of governors, mayors and other leaders who were to develop recommendations on how the federal government could better support local preparedness and resilience-building efforts.[30] Hawai'i also signed on to the Majuro Declaration as a U.S. Climate Leader in September of that year, making the state the first sub-national government to sign.[31]

After an intense special session, Abercrombie signed into law a bill that legalized marriage for same-sex couples in Hawai'i. The new law took effect on December 2, 2013. Hawaii was the 15th state to legalize same-sex marriage.[32][33][34][35]

In the August 9, 2014, Democratic gubernatorial primary, Abercrombie was defeated by state senator David Ige, taking 31% of the vote to Ige's 67%, making him the first incumbent governor to lose a primary in Hawai'i's history. The margin of defeat was the largest of any incumbent governor in U.S. history[36][37][38] (though not the smallest share of the vote). Abercrombie had the support of President Barack Obama and had outspent Ige $4.9 million to $447,000 during the primary campaign. His confrontational style of governing, his proposal to raise taxes in the aftermath of the Great Recession, restructuring labor union pensions, and his selection of Brian Schatz over Colleen Hanabusa to fill the Senate seat vacated by Daniel Inouye's death, which was considered disrespectful of Inouye's wishes, were regarded as factors in Abercrombie's loss.[1] Nonetheless, Schatz, who was also endorsed by Obama, defeated Hanabusa in the 2014 Democratic Senate primary and went on to win the general election.

Personal life[edit]

In 1981, Abercrombie married Nancie Caraway,[39] a political scientist and feminist writer at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa's Globalization Research Center.

Abercrombie is an avid powerlifter and has a stated goal of lifting 200 pounds more than his age on each birthday.[40] On his 72nd birthday, he bench-pressed 272 pounds.[41][42]

In 2006, Abercrombie was named "Scot of the Year" by the Caledonian Society of Hawai'i.[43]

Abercrombie lives in the Mānoa Valley area of Honolulu.[44]


  1. ^ Kerr, Keoki (April 29, 2013). "Abercrombie launches re-election campaign as GOP opponents mull running against him". Hawaii News Now. Retrieved May 2, 2014.
  2. ^ "Ancestries of Members of the United States House of Representatives: Neil A. Abercrombie". RootsWeb. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  3. ^ Abercrombie for Governor. "About Neil Abercrombie". Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  4. ^ Ripley, Amanda (April 9, 2008). "The Story of Barack Obama's Mother". Time. p. 2. ISSN 0040-781X. Archived from the original on April 14, 2008. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  5. ^ "Governor's Biography". Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  6. ^ "Politician's big yellow taxi replaced by a leased SUV". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. August 11, 2011. Retrieved August 13, 2011.[permanent dead link] (Subscription required)
  7. ^ Rudin, Ken (September 27, 2006). "Democrats Poised to Make Gubernatorial Gains". NPR. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  8. ^ Roll call vote 145, via
  9. ^ Roll call vote 455, via
  10. ^ H.R. 1312
  11. ^ Camire, Dennis (March 17, 2008). "Abercrombie seeks Vatican's view on torture". Honolulu Advertiser. Archived from the original on May 21, 2012. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  12. ^ Roll call vote 378, via
  13. ^ Roll call vote 398, via
  14. ^ "Hawai'i congressmen divided over Patriot Act". Honolulu Advertiser. Associated Press. December 14, 2005. Archived from the original on November 11, 2011. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  15. ^ H.R. 676
  16. ^ DePledge, Derrick (March 2, 2010). "Abercrombie files papers, calls for furlough action". Honolulu Advertiser. Archived from the original on November 11, 2011. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  17. ^ Mari, Roger (March 9, 2009). "Neil Abercrombie formally announces run for Hawaii governor's seat". Archived from the original on May 21, 2012. Retrieved August 23, 2010.
  18. ^ "A New Day in Hawaii Plan | Neil Abercrombie". Archived from the original on November 22, 2013. Retrieved May 22, 2022.
  19. ^ Abercrombie, Neil. "A New Day in Hawaii Plan". State of Hawaii. Archived from the original on December 22, 2013. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  20. ^ DePledge, Derrick (September 18, 2010). "Blowout: Abercrombie to face Aiona after trouncing Hannemann". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Archived from the original on December 13, 2010. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  21. ^ State of Hawaii Office of Elections (September 29, 2010). "PRIMARY ELECTION 2010 – State of Hawaii – Statewide: FINAL SUMMARY REPORT" (PDF). Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  22. ^ Toeplitz, Shira (September 19, 2010). "Abercrombie triumphs in Hawaii". Retrieved October 13, 2010.
  23. ^ State of Hawaii Office of Elections (November 16, 2010). "GENERAL ELECTION – State of Hawaii – Statewide: FINAL SUMMARY REPORT" (PDF). Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  24. ^ DePledge, Derrick (November 4, 2010). "Abercrombie wins all but 1 district". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Archived from the original on November 11, 2011. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  25. ^ Shikina, Rob (December 25, 2010). "Requests increase for Obama birth proof". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Archived from the original on October 12, 2011. Retrieved March 5, 2011.
  26. ^ "Governor halts Obama-birth effort". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Associated Press. January 22, 2011. Archived from the original on February 25, 2011. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  27. ^ "Abercrombie's job approval rating at lowest level for U.S. governors". StarAdvertiser. October 21, 2011. Archived from the original on May 2, 2012. Retrieved October 27, 2011.
  28. ^ Reyes, B.J. (February 24, 2011). "'Today is an amazing day'". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Vol. 130, no. 24. p. A1. Archived from the original on January 23, 2012. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  29. ^ "Nation's Governors Welcome New Council of Governors Appointments" (Press release). National Governors Association (NGA). March 9, 2011.
  30. ^ "FACT SHEET: Executive Order on Climate Preparedness". (Press release). November 1, 2013. Retrieved November 27, 2013 – via National Archives.
  31. ^ "Hawaii first sub-national government to sign Majuro Declaration". KITV. September 30, 2013. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  32. ^ Lincoln, Mileka (October 28, 2013). "Hawaii lawmakers begin gay marriage special session". Hawaii News Now. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  33. ^ Lincoln, Mileka (September 9, 2013). "Abercrombie calls for special session on same-sex marriage". Hawaii News Now. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  34. ^ Garcia, Oscar (November 12, 2013). "Gov. signs bill legalizing gay marriage in Hawaii". Associated Press. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  35. ^ "Gov. Abercrombie Signs Historic Marriage Equity Legislation into Law" (Press release). Office of the Governor, State of Hawaii. November 13, 2013. Archived from the original on November 22, 2013. Retrieved November 27, 2013.
  36. ^ Sullivan, Sean. "Hawaii governor falls to Democratic primary challenger". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 10, 2014.
  37. ^ Lovett, Ian (August 10, 2014). "Hawaiian Governor Loses Primary by Wide Margin; Senate Race Is Undecided". The New York Times. Retrieved August 11, 2014.
  38. ^ "Larry J. Sabato's Crystal Ball » A Failure to Launch? Kansas' Republican Gubernatorial Contest and the History of Incumbent Governor Primary Performance". August 9, 2018. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  39. ^ "NANCIE E. CARAWAY MARRIED TO NEIL ABERCROMBIE". New York Times. July 19, 1981. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  40. ^ Eisele, Albert (July 5, 2005). "Menendez: Turn the tables on journos". The Hill. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  41. ^ Crisitunity (September 17, 2010). "SSP Daily Digest: 9/17". Swing State Project. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  42. ^ "Abercrombie takes oath to become Hawaii's 7th governor". Honolulu Star-Advertiser. December 6, 2010. Archived from the original on October 15, 2012. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  43. ^ Caledonian Society of Hawaii (March 12, 2009). "Scots of the Year". Archived from the original on April 25, 2012. Retrieved February 24, 2011.
  44. ^ Hawaii Magazine (July 27, 2017). "Inside the creative Manoa home of former Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie". Retrieved April 12, 2018.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by
Cecil Heftel
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Pat Saiki
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Hawaii's 1st congressional district

Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by Democratic nominee for Governor of Hawaii
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Governor of Hawaii
Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former Governor Order of precedence of the United States Succeeded byas Former Governor