As any gambler will tell you, a welcher is not welcome in the game for long, and that can be said of Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Teachers did not realize that by throwing their support to Abercrombie they had thrown in their ante to play in his backroom game of "Hawaii Holdup."
Teachers and all the public workers who keep this state operational found that they had gambled when they endorsed his candidacy. Shortly thereafter, they discovered that their cards were marked when it came to negotiating new contracts.
Abercrombie had made a point to convince Hawaii's public workers that he would support their unions and deal them a fair contract. He lied.
In the case of the teachers, he crashed the union's state convention two years ago and asked to address those assembled. After he was allowed to take the podium, he stood there silently for a long minute or two, and mustered some tears. He then plaintively recounted how his mother, who was a teacher, would not have been fired for being pregnant with him if there had been a union to back her up. He would not forget that, he assured his audience, and he would back Hawaii's public worker unions.
He repeated the same performance to another union crowd two weeks later. And yes, he cried then, too.
So when he got his players to the table, he changed the game. The people who showed up were played like chumps.
The Hawaii Government Employees Association, which represents most of the state's white-collar employees who are not teachers, was the first to show its hand. And despite losing much of what HGEA came to the table with, the union settled, assured by Abercrombie that he would match any other public worker contract that was settled for better benefits and pay. Most favored nation status, it was called.
However, United Public Workers got a better deal after threatening to strike.
When HGEA found that UPW get a better deal, Abercrombie weaseled out of his promise by maintaining that UPW's contractual details did not apply to HGEA.
The dictionary definition has a welcher as "someone who swindles you by not repaying a debt or wager."
He welched. And, of course, he lied.
In the meantime, Hawaii State Teachers Association sallied up to Abercrombie's table. Who played for the union? Teachers. Know many teachers who are gamblers? Wouldn't that be somewhat like sending preachers to a high-stakes poker game? Teachers do not like to take risks. Teachers believed Abercrombie's good buddy Ben Cayetano when he ran for governor as pro-education. What happened after he was elected? The first teachers strike ever in Hawaii. Teachers believed the same claptrap served up by Linda Lingle when she ran for governor. The result after she was elected? Furloughs. Yet, teachers did not think they were gambling when they threw their collective weight behind these candidates. And the teachers in attendance at Abercrombie's game retained the naivete he counted on when they chose to believe that he was playing straight with them.
When he could not deal as he liked, Abercrombie asked the Legislature to cheat for him. When the legislators declined, he simply imposed what he wanted through a "last, best and final offer." Pay cuts of 5 percent. Considerably less money paid by the state for teachers' medical. The teachers discovered they should have counted the governor's aces. Abercrombie agreed to a contract, then welched on it.
His latest ace in the hole? That would be his offer to submit to federal mediation. Was his offer disingenuous, a publicity stunt? The dealer knew that mediation was nonbinding, so what did he have to lose? This was not a gamble; rather, it was a bluff. The union's membership has been told that every time the union returned to the table, the governor offered less. This despite his ballyhooing that he had turned the budget deficit left him by Lingle to a $300 million surplus. Apparently, none of that is due the teachers. Too bad. House wins.
One thing likely not open to chance? Teachers coming aboard Abercrombie's next campaign should he decide to run for another term.
* Alan Isbell is a 4th-grade teacher at Wailuku Elementary School and its head faculty representative with the Hawaii State Teachers Association.