Much campaign rhetoric has been flowing over whether Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Ige signed a controversial pledge not to raise taxes more than a decade ago.

Ige at first came close to denying it, telling Hawaii News Now:

“I do not have explicit memory of signing it (the pledge). I have to admit that.”

We now know that he did sign Grover Norquist’s politically famous pledge. Ige has since acknowledged the action and and Civil Beat obtained a copy of his signed pledge from Norquist’s organization, Americans for Tax Reform. The signature is dated Jan. 24, 2003 and witnessed by someone with awful penmanship.

David Ige ATR tax pledge form

Courtesy: Americans for Tax Reform

We also know he broke it.  In the 11 years since taking the pledge, he’s voted to raise taxes numerous times.  In 2011, he voted to raise the fees for rental cars, vehicle registration fees, and vehicle weight taxes, among others.

Ige’s campaign later tried to fend off any insinuation that he once aligned himself with anti-tax Republicans by declaring it a non-issue.

“This is an attempt by some Republicans to divert attention from the financial mess left by the Aiona-Lingle Administration,” the campaign said in a statement to Civil Beat. “The final two years of their Administration was the first time in state history we ended with deficits despite their imposition of Furlough Fridays, withholding of taxpayers’ refunds, and stoppage of Medicaid payments to our health providers. I may have signed the pledge more than a decade ago but my Republican opponent Duke Aiona never signed it and Linda Lingle signed and broke the pledge within months.”

He’s right, of course. Democrats and Republicans have taken the pledge, and politicians from both sides have broken it when they found that adherence to the anti-tax dogma of Norquist interfered with the job of governance.  This should illuminate the limitations of dogmatic beliefs more than it does the lack of character of public servants.

But we had a more important question: Why would Ige take the pledge in the first place?

It wasn’t a campaign issue; he ran unopposed.  Plus, he didn’t sign until after he took office.  It wasn’t demanded by his party; he is, after all, a Democrat, and a legislator for 18 years prior.  To our knowledge, nobody was demanding his signature in the first place.

His campaign has been asked to explain why he signed, explicitly, in three emails, and has not responded.

We can look at the historical context.  In 2002, Republicans nationwide took both houses of Congress.  Linda Lingle became the first Republican governor in Hawaii.  Ed Case, the “blue-dog Democrat,” had won both special elections to take office as congressman, beating out establishment names like John Mink, Matt Matsunaga, and Colleen Hanabusa.

Maybe Ige was trying to position himself the way Lingle did, as a centrist willing to buck their own party when necessary to serve the higher good.  It’s the tactic now being used by Charles Djou and Duke Aiona, running as Republicans in a solid blue state.

It turns out he’s in good company in Hawaii when it comes to politicians who have taken the pledge and then changed their minds.

Numerous public officials, including former Gov. Linda Lingle, have taken the same pledge, and broken it.  Two years into her first term as governor, Lingle signed Act 156 against the advice of those in her own party.

The law raised the taxes on sales property worth over $600,000 and distributed the funds to, among other things, land conservation, affordable housing, and, to Republican dismay, the state’s general fund.  Ige voted against the tax increase, along with the Republicans in the state Senate.

Lingle defended it.  In an article in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, she said, “Sometimes you can’t do what’s politically expedient for you that allows you to stand up and say, ‘I did the letter of what I said … Our state was in a crisis for affordable housing. I did what was right for all the people in the state, and I put it above my political career.”

Lingle may have upset her party and the Americans for Tax Reform, but she got a glowing editorial in the Star-Bulletin.

It didn’t seem to hurt her, either, as she won re-election the next year.

About the Author