Research

Neil Abercrombie Papers

About Neil Abercrombie (1938-)

Neil Abercrombie was born in 1938 in Buffalo, NY, to Vera June Grader and George Donald Abercrombie, President of Abercrombie, Logan and Derose, food brokers. Abercrombie earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Union College in Schenectady, NY (1959); a master’s degree in sociology from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (1964); and a PhD in American Studies from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa (1974).

From 1967 to 1969, he traveled around the world, participating in anti-war and other demonstrations before returning to Hawaiʻi and running for U.S. Senate in 1970. With his long hair, outspoken personality, and flamboyant campaign tactics and literature (one campaign poster depicted him as “Super Senator,” a costumed superhero fighting the “Bishop Monster,” the “Big 5 Home Eater,” and the “Fat Cats”) he was viewed by many as the ultimate outsider. He finished third in the Democratic primary.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Abercrombie served in the Hawaiʻi State House of Representatives (1974-1978), the State Senate (1978-1986), and on the Honolulu City Council (1988-1991), representing the Mānoa-Makiki area. During this period he also became known for his “Neilmobile,” a Checker cab emblazoned with his name and image that he drove around his district in. He married scholar and professor Nancie Caraway in 1981.

In September 1986, Hawaiʻi held a special election to fill the remainder of the term of U.S. Representative Cecil Heftel, who had resigned from Congress to run for governor. The primary election for the next two-year U.S. House term was held the same day. In the contentious race, Abercrombie won the special election, but lost the primary to Mufi Hannemann, who was subsequently defeated by Republican Pat Saiki. 

In 1990, Abercrombie was elected to the U.S. House representing the First Congressional District (urban Honolulu). He was reelected 9 times. While serving in the House, Abercrombie was known for liberal stances on issues such as gun control, abortion, social welfare programs, and the environment. In 2002, he was one of a minority of House members to vote against the resolution authorizing President Bush to use military force against Iraq, and he continued to be a vocal critic of the Bush administrationʻs handling of the Iraq war. As a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Abercrombie introduced legislation that established the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale Marine Sanctuary. As a member of the House Committee on Armed Forces and chair or ranking member of the Subcommittees on Air and Land Forces; Military Installations and Facilities; Military Personnel; the Merchant Marine; and Tactical Air and Land Forces, he helped secure significant federal funding for military construction projects in Hawaiʻi, and advocated for improved equipment, housing, and benefits for military personnel and their families. 

Abercrombie resigned from the House in 2010 to run for governor. He defeated primary challenger Mufi Hannemann and served one term as governor before being defeated by David Ige in 2014. Though he has left public office, Abercrombie continues to be involved in politics, most recently co-chairing Ikaika Anderson’s 2022 lieutenant governor campaign.


About the Neil Abercrombie Papers

The Neil Abercrombie Papers, which were created and maintained by Abercrombie’s Honolulu and Washington, DC, offices, were delivered to the UH Mānoa Library between 2010 and 2015. 

The collection has been arranged into the following series, which generally correspond to the public offices Abercrombie held throughout his career: State House, State Senate, Honolulu City Council, Congress, Governor, Personal, Audiovisual, and Memorabilia. 

Most of the collection falls under the Congress series, and documents the 20 years that Abercrombie represented Hawaiʻi in the U.S. House of Representatives. The contents of the collection document issues of importance to Hawaiʻi, particularly as they relate to natural resources and the armed services, House committees that Abercrombie served on for 20 years. Subjects that are well documented in the collection include the Iraq war, the military and military construction in Hawaiʻi, maritime issues, plutonium shipping, 2003 amendments to the Compacts of Free Association, and federal recognition for Native Hawaiians.

Please see the finding aid for more information. A folder-level inventory of the collection is available upon request. In accordance with the donor agreement, constituent casework is restricted. Approximately 150 GB of born-digital materials are also restricted until they can be arranged and described.

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