The state appeared threatened, the people panicked, and citizens and the media looked to Hawaii’s governor for assurance that things would be alright.

The assurance came, with the governor saying that the state was doing “everything possible” to protect the public and that the state would “respond quickly to any potential impacts.”

Cynics warned that the governor, who was in a tough re-election battle, might use the crisis to his political advantage.

As it turned out, Hurricanes Iselle and Julio would not cause nearly as much damage as had been warned in August 2014, though the Puna district on the Big Island got walloped nonetheless. And the governor, Neil Abercrombie, ended up losing the primary by the largest margin of any sitting governor in U.S. history. 

Gov. David Ige held a press conference that was broadcast live on all three Hawaii television stations to announce a review of what led to the false missile alert.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

The man that beat him, Gov. David Ige, does not find himself in quite the same situation as his predecessor.

The primary this year is seven months away, not mere days, and the crisis was manmade, not caused by Mother Nature.

And public opinion polls showed that Abercrombie was well on his way to a landslide defeat before the storms moved in. His leadership in handling the storm seems not to have been a factor in his loss.

But many questions are being raised as to whether Ige’s political nene is cooked. A story in Monday’s New York Times said that a “black eye” looms for both Ige and Hawaii, and there were plenty of local critics quoted.

“I deeply apologize for this false alert that created stress, anxiety and fear of a crisis in our residents and guests.” — Gov. David Ige

Colin Moore, a University of Hawaii political scientist, said that the false alert and the response to it was “one of the worst things that could happen to an incumbent governor who has already been criticized for his lack of leadership.”

Ige’s challenger in the 2018 Democratic primary, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, suggested the delay may be perceived as a matter of incompetence.

“The governor and his administration did not handle this correctly,” she said.

Glenna Wong, the communications director for the Ige campaign, fired back: “It is unfortunate that she is using (the) event to draw attention to herself while offering no solution.”

But the knives are out, perhaps none sharper than from Abercrombie himself, who described the state’s perceived sluggishness in responding to the incident as “a monumental example of failure of leadership — incredible. It’s beyond incompetent. It is stunning. It should have been rescinded instantly.”

Saying Our ‘I Love Yous’

No question that the alert should have been pulled immediately. But I am not sure that Ige is to blame for that. He took responsibility and responded appropriately. Changes have been implemented.

Ige has also made clear his regret over the incident, saying on Saturday following meetings and debriefings with leaders at the Department of Defense and Hawaii Emergency Management:

Today is a day most of us will never forget. A terrifying day when our worst nightmares appeared to become a reality. A day where we frantically grabbed what we could, tried to figure out how and where to shelter and protect ourselves and our ohana, said our “I love yous,” and prayed for peace.

Those are some fine words, not quite Peggy Noonan, yet fitting and sincere. But Ige has to be aware of the optics of all this, and his administration has been working in overdrive since Saturday morning.

A Monday night press conference broadcast live on all three local TV stations and Facebook Live showed the governor and his team trying to control the narrative. That’s when he apologized once more, issued an executive order to start a review process of the incident and named a “top brass official,” his press team said, to lead it.

Hawaii Civil Defense Vern Miyagi Governor David Ige speak to reporters during press conference held at the Diamond Head Emergency Operating Center.

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi and Gov. David Ige speak to reporters during a press conference at the Diamond Head Emergency Operating Center on Saturday.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Asked several times about the criticism from Hanabusa and others and whether his campaign was in trouble, Ige dodged all three times, explaining that he was focused on public safety and fixing the emergency system.

But his campaign is in clear damage-control mode, sending out an email this weekend to supporters: “Governor Ige immediately investigated the cause and addressed the public to express his apologies and reiterate an assuring message.”

The governor showed his remorse in that email, too, saying, “I deeply apologize for this false alert that created stress, anxiety and fear of a crisis in our residents and guests.”

The email concluded by, regrettably, including a link for those wishing to donate to Ige’s campaign.

Let’s Talk To North Korea

Will Ige’s response be enough? Will voters remember in August that parents stuffed their kids into storm drains along streets and cowered under mattresses in bathtubs?

Keep in mind that there were also a lot of people who did not overreact to the false alert. Many did not have smart phones or ones properly enabled. There was also no siren (or at least none that were widely heard). Some of us figured out that there had been a mistake before the all-clear signal came.

A lot can happen between now and August, when the primary is held.

A joint state House and Senate hearing on the false alert has already been scheduled for Friday at the Capitol. Lawmakers will be sure to call for heads to roll.

House Speaker Scott Saiki has said there will be “consequences” while Senate Majority Leader J. Kalani English said he is “outraged” and is calling for legislative oversight.

One wonders just how long Hawaii Emergency Management Agency Administrator Vern Miyagi will keep his job. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, meanwhile, reported Monday that the unionized state employee at the center of Saturday’s false alert has received “dozens of death threats by fax, telephone, social media.”

Colleen Hanabusa, who formally launched her campaign for governor of Hawaii last week, is highly critical of Gov. Ige’s response to the false missile alarm.

Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Ige has made attempts to direct our attention where it should be: On Donald Trump and North Korea. The reason we set up an alert system is because of the heightened tensions, fueled by Kim Jong Un’s remarkably improved missile technology but also by the U.S. president’s bellicosity.

“We must also do what we can to demand peace and a de-escalation with North Korea, so that warnings and sirens can become a thing of the past,” said Ige.

He reiterated the point at Sunday’s press conference, saying he hoped there would come a time when sirens and warnings “become a thing of the past.”

The points about dialogue and de-escalation were made as well by Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who demanded immediate talks between the U.S. and North Korea.

And yet, the drums of war keep beating, enabled by the media. The Sunday New York Times had this story, with a headline that says it all: “Military Quietly Prepares For A Last Resort: War With North Korea.”

Hawaii can prepare all it wants, but unless we start a dialogue — as North and South Korea are now attempting — a nuclear catastrophe may be unavoidable.

Ige, by the way, was among the Hawaii residents who received the missile alert on his cell phone.

The first thing he did was wake up his wife, Dawn. Then he started making calls — many did not go through — and following, as he put it, “protocol” that took him to the emergency control center at Diamond Head Crater.

About the Author