David Ige was sworn in as Hawaii’s eighth governor on Monday following a patriotic ceremony that culminated in a 19-cannon salute reverberating through the Capitol halls.
Standing on a stage with Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, Ige introduced himself to the hundreds of people seated in the open-air rotunda.
“My name is David Ige,” he said.
“You laugh at that introduction and smile. I think because some of you may find the gesture unnecessary. But I find it quite appropriate. After all an inauguration is really an introduction of a new governor, a new administration, a new beginning.”
He went on to underscore the opportunity that lies ahead.
“Contrary to what some may believe, we do not stand at a turning point just because we have a new governor or a new administration,” he said. “We stand at this point in history, with an opportunity to transform it into a turning point.”
Ige said “passing issues” like gay marriage and GMOs do not define the people of Hawaii.
“Outside money that seeks to divide us on passing issues; hurtful and personal attacks that have nothing to do with the issues themselves; emotional appeals that feed on prejudices and stereotypes… they all have nothing to do with who we are,” he said.
“What has always defined us is our aloha — for each other and for others. That’s truly who we are. That is the ultimate gift from our host culture and one that we give to each other each and every day.”
An engineer by trade, the 57-year-old Pearl City native was joined at the ceremony by his wife, Dawn. They have three children together.
He is the first governor since Ben Cayetano (1994-2002) to be born in Hawaii and only the second of Japanese descent (George Ariyoshi, 1974-1986).
Ige referenced his heritage in his remarks, highlighting the immigrant experience that is “in our DNA.”
“The first generation from Japan, my grandparents, had a saying: Kodomo no tame ni. For the sake of the children.”
In an emotional moment, he thanked his grandparents and mother, who was watching from the hospital, for their sacrifices to give him a better life.
Ige spent the past 28 years in the Legislature where he built a reputation as a reasonable man who solves problems collaboratively. A thinker who’s less concerned about ego than results.
He said doing the people’s business should be honest and transparent, and his administration should be held accountable for all it does.
His leadership style became a frequent point of contrast during the Democratic primary campaign against Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who took political hits for the way in which he accomplished things.
Abercrombie was sharply criticized for calling a special session in 2013 to legalize gay marriage instead of having the Legislature take it up in regular session. And he lost the endorsement of the Hawaii State Teachers Association in no small part over his decision to unilaterally impose a contract forcing the union’s members to take pay cuts like thousands of other public workers did during the state’s economic recovery from the global recession.
In his speech, Ige said education must be held up “to a different light” and the state needs to find new ways to empower schools.
“As someone who came out of our public schools and who graduated from the University of Hawaii, I am a firm believer that a strong public education system unlocks the dreams to our children’s future,” he said.
Ige defeated Abercrombie in the August primary by a more than two-to-one margin, shocking public and political observers who noted his lack of name recognition and meager campaign fund. He went on to beat Republican Duke Aiona, the former lieutenant governor under Linda Lingle, by 12 percentage points in the Nov. 4 general election.
Ige took advantage of his speech to highlight Hawaii’s tumbling participation in elections.
“That is not only alarming; it is terrifying,” he said. “That’s why I believe our job as leaders is so much more.
“As leaders, our job is to engage people so that they will want to participate in this grand experience in self-governance. Our job is to help people take ownership of the process of electing their government. As leaders, our job is to inspire others and not discourage them.”
Ige said he will be asking every member of his administration, from clerk to department head, to keep this in mind as they meet with everyone who comes to their door.
“As I prepare to take over the reins of your government, I ask each of you to join me in the process of governing,” he said. “I ask you to find your voice and use it to not only choose your elected officials but to shape the issues that will shape our lives.”
Abercrombie, 76, has left the office in considerably better financial shape than when he arrived in December 2010.
He began his term with the state facing a $220 million shortfall. The ending balance steadily grew over the next three years, budget reserves were replenished and significant payments were made to reduce the unfunded liabilities for public worker retirement benefits
But while the economy has improved, still driven by tourism, there’s concern that the current rate of government spending is unsustainable. The state has eaten through a record $844 million surplus and financial forecasters have lowered their growth expectations for the coming years.
Ige, who chaired the Senate money committee, is well aware of these issues.
In his speech, he said the state must take a more active role in growing small business and diversifying its economic engine, as well as in supporting larger and more established industries.
“When our economy is truly healthy and everyone rises with the tide of prosperity, then issues such as the lack of affordable housing, homelessness and hunger are greatly diminished,” Ige said.
During his press conference that afternoon, Ige called the budget document “the most important statement of priorities.”
Abercrombie’s administration is expected to leave Ige with a proposed budget for the next two years, which Ige and his yet-to-be named budget chief will likely modify before submitting it to the Legislature later this month.
Ige told reporters that he will be looking to put his administration’s “imprint” on the budget, adding that the state needs to live within its means.
Kalbert Young, the budget director under Abercrombie who is often credited for turning the state around financially, has kept in place a 10 percent restriction on departments’ discretionary spending that was imposed in July due to a less rosy economic picture.
Young will be held over through Dec. 26. He said this will help the next administration by giving them additional time to start a new director and also provide them help to construct the next biennium budget, which is required to be submitted to the Legislature by Dec. 21.
The University of Hawaii Board of Regents on Thursday is set to hire Young as chief financial officer of the UH system. The effective date would be sometime around Jan. 5.
Young is one of many from Abercrombie’s administration who has to find a new job.
So far, Ige has filled just a couple of cabinet positions, tapping Hawaii Tourism Authority President Mike McCartney to serve as his chief of staff and Ford Fuchigami to head the Department of Transportation.
He also named Rachel Wong of the Healthcare Association of Hawaii as director of the state Department of Human Services. She takes over from Pat McManaman, who left the job in November.
Abercrombie has urged Ige to keep William Aila as head of the Department of Land and Natural Resources, but it will be hard for the new governor to retain many people from the previous administration after winning an election based on leading the state in a new direction.
Another challenge in filling cabinet-level positions is money.
“If you view the state government as a $12 billion organization, clearly salaries for budget director or chief attorney or any of those are really not commensurate with the private sector,” Ige told reporters Monday afternoon at his first press conference.
Still, he said many people have applied for those top jobs and are currently being vetted.
Ige said he plans to announce a few more appointments in the next day or so, but expects to be filling those posts through January.
Speaking during the press conference, Ige backed away from statements he made during his campaign to hold weekly press conferences if elected.
“My staff members told me to be careful and certain about the word ‘weekly,'” he said. “We definitely plan to be available and accessible on a regular basis as needed.”
The governor did not make any specific policy statements during his inauguration speech or at the press conference. He said he would reserve that for his State of the State address next month.