Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from David Ige, one of three Democratic candidates for governor. The others are Neil Abercrombie and Van Tanabe. Three Republicans, one Libertarian, one Independent and four nonpartisan candidates are also running.
Name: David Ige
Profession: Since 2003, I have worked as a Project/Program Manager for Robert A. Ige Associates, Inc. I provide executive, managerial, technical, and program development support for public and private sector clients. Previously, I served as Vice-President of Engineering at NetEnterprise, Inc. and Project Manager/Senior Principal Engineer at Pihana Pacific, LLC.
Education: I graduated from Pearl City High School and earned degrees at UH Manoa – a B.S. in electrical engineering and an MBA in Decision Sciences. In addition to three decades as a legislative leader, I have 34 years of experience as an electrical engineer and project manager.
Community organizations: I have led a total of nine other House and Senate committees, including Higher Education, Education and Technology, Health, Hawaiian Affairs, Economic Development, Commerce, and Consumer Protection and Information Technology. I’m also a member of the National Conference of State Legislators, the Newtown Estate Community Association, and the Pearl City Community Association.
1. Why are you running for governor?
I’ve heard from many individuals who are unhappy with government and feel that they don’t have a voice.They want a governor who listens to them — not special interest groups — and makes decisions that will positively affect their lives today and into the future.
I have a track record of achieving results by bringing people together to reach solutions collaboratively and in a respectful, transparent manner. I know what it’s like to work as a team, and how that spirit of mutual understanding is needed to restore public trust and confidence in our government. My approach to leadership for the past three decades has been guided by three principles: be open and honest, respect others and listen to their views, and do the right thing the right way.
2. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers?
Last year Hawaii became the first state in the country to enact a plan for handling unfunded liabilities for the State Employer Union Health Benefits Trust Fund.
3. Where do you stand on labeling of genetically engineered food and pesticide regulation? Are these public safety issues, or are the dangers exaggerated?
I support the right to know what is in our food, but labeling should be addressed at the federal, not the state level, so that Hawaii’s farmers, retailers and consumers are not subject to additional costs. I will urge our congressional members to support federal legislation in this area. There are no valid scientific studies that show any difference between genetically modified and naturally grown food.
State enforcement is needed to properly enforce regulations on pesticide use.
4. Local officials and advocates have worked to address homelessness for years, yet the crisis is growing. What proposals do you have for this complicated issue?
Multiple causes of homelessness require multiple solutions. We need to increase the supply of low-cost rental housing for families at risk by increasing funds to the Rental Housing Trust Fund – which the Legislature did this session, support the Housing First initiative to provide emergency housing, and maintain support for our State homeless shelters and veterans outreach program.
5. Hawaii’s cost of living is the highest in the country by many indicators. What can really be done to make things like housing, food and transportation less expensive?
We must build homes that Hawaii’s working families can afford — not luxury condominiums for out-of-state speculators. With average new home prices approaching $700,000, there needs to be leadership to increase the supply of housing at all price points while protecting Hawaii’s natural beauty. The construction of the Honolulu rail system provides the opportunity for Transit Oriented Development incorporating housing along its 21-mile route.
We should reduce the cost of food by increasing local food production. Currently, we import $3 billion in food. Yet over the past four years we’ve lost more than 2,100 acres of prime agricultural land without a plan for replacing it with other productive, irrigated agricultural lands. We need to update our land use plans so we can identify and preserve prime agriculture lands, identify lands that should be reserved for future needs, and identify and protect lands for open space.
I’ll be proactive in inviting more technology corporations and venture capitalists to do business here in Hawaii, to provide high-paying jobs for local residents. I’ve worked in private business for the past 34 years as an electrical engineer and I know what it takes to help businesses succeed and encourage responsible development that provides jobs for our working families.
I will provide direction to the many state departments that report to the governor, something that’s been lacking in our current administration. Hawaii may lose nearly $800 million in lapsing federal Highway Trust Fund money earmarked because of the failure of this administration to spend the funds in a timely manner. These projects should be repairing our highways and bridges, as well as creating jobs for our local construction industry.
I’ve opposed every tax increase requested by our governor – he’s tried to tax pensions, soda, and plastic bags and increase the Tourist Accommodation Tax (TAT) by 2 percent. Our government needs to operate within its means and could run much more efficiently, but we have failed to modernize technology used by state agencies in processing taxes, permits and applications. We’ve fallen short in implementing 21st Century infrastructure.
6. Are you satisfied with the way Hawaii’s public school system is run? How can it be run better?
Improving public education is one of my top priorities. I believe that we must empower schools to enable those closest to the students to make decisions on curriculum, programs, and spending. Our “top-down” bureaucracy should be reorganized so that the system supports our schools, rather than the other way around. To move from a compliance-driven bureaucracy, as governor I will increase funds and opportunities to support school-initiated, innovative approaches to education.
The Board of Education, which is appointed by the governor, has failed to provide leadership that encourages “out-of-the box” creative thinking by school administrators. I will appoint individuals to the Board of Education who have a stake in the system’s success, including those with children in public schools.
7. Would you support using liquefied natural gas as part of the state’s energy sources? And what thoughts do you have on improving the electric distribution system (the grid) so more renewables can be in the mix?
Hawaii should develop an electric utility platform that allows it to generate electricity from a portfolio of fuels. The state is still assessing large-scale use of LNG, particularly because of its attractiveness as a clean and cheaper fossil fuel as compared to oil. I believe it is premature to make a decision on long-term use and importation of LNG at this time until we can determine its impact long- and short-range. In the meantime, we should continue to support energy efficiency/conservation, PV/solar, wind and other renewable technologies to achieve clean energy goals.
I will push for more investment in renewable energy and take action to increase the amount of rooftop solar that ratepayers can install. Rooftop PV is currently one of the best renewable energy sources in Hawaii. I’ll push for grid technology that allows for increasing amounts of distributed generation and power sharing between consumers.
8. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Yet many citizens are unable to afford the costs that state and local government agencies impose. Would you support eliminating search and redaction charges and making records free to the public except for basic copying costs?
Yes. We need to limit charges to basic copying costs. I pioneered the use of technology in state government to help transparency: the paperless Legislature that increases information access and eases the burden of submitting testimony; and creation of the Capitol Public Access Room that provides assistance to individuals participating in the legislative process.
9. There is a desire to grow the economy through new development yet also a need to protect our limited environmental resources. How would you balance these competing interests?
Our state has not done enough to protect Hawaii’s fragile natural and cultural resources for future generations. We can have both responsible economic growth and a healthy environment by comprehensively planning for competing land use needs.
I’ll continue to protect Hawaii from invasive species and irresponsible development. My goal is to find a balance between creating new housing and job opportunities while preserving our environment.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
Decisions our state makes over the next four years could alter Hawaii forever. It seems we’re approving projects with almost reckless abandon — a high-rise here, a luxury condo there, prime farm land paved over —- as if our actions won’t have consequences. But unplanned growth has profound consequences for the future. I want to be the generation that protects Hawaii. It’s the right thing to do and it just makes sense.