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Editor’s note: Chad Blair and Cory Lum are in Washington, D.C., this week, reporting for Civil Beat.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — David Ige says he was caught by surprise when President Barack Obama singled him out early during remarks Saturday at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
But he had a pretty good reaction nonetheless.
The exchange, in case you missed it, went like this:
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I want to welcome the Democratic governors to this meeting and thank them for all the outstanding work that they are doing. I am a little concerned that David Ige, of Hawaii, does not know what to do with this weather. (Laughter.) I don’t even know if he owns a winter coat.
GOVERNOR IGE: I bought one in Colorado. (Laughter.)
“That was definitely something that I didn’t expect,” Ige told Civil Beat Monday. “So it is very inspiring to know that you can come here and have a conversation with the president.”
Hawaii’s governor is in the nation’s capital to attend the annual winter meeting of the National Governors Association and to meet with important administration officials.
Ige called the trip to D.C., which ends Wednesday, “very helpful.”
He continued: “It’s an opportunity to really meet and talk with other governors. I have found that many of the issues that we are dealing with are very similar and common to virtually every other state.”
The issues include efficiency and effectiveness of government, transparency, establishing strategic plans for departments and setting performance benchmarks, and attracting business and developing regulations.
Ige cited another common concern: The federal Affordable Care Act.
“The Health Connector is trying to talk to some of the states to learn how they are dealing with it, how they are adapting to what they are doing and finding ways to move forward,” Ige explained.
The governor’s meetings included several with Cabinet secretaries who represent departments of importance to Hawaii — Agriculture, Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, Labor, and still to come, Transportation.
“I have found that many of the issues that we are dealing with are very similar and common to virtually every other state.” — Gov. David Ige
Ige said the meetings were critical to developing one-on-one relationships with officials who can help his state.
“There are key federal funding streams that I know that the state of Hawaii has underperformed in — that we left federal funds on the table that we haven’t either applied or pursued that I am fully committed to pursuing,” he said.
The governor said he was pleased with the meetings.
“Clearly, every single Cabinet member that I’ve talked with said that they want to work with us, that they understand that the states are where the rubber meets the road,” he said. “It’s where the federal government can deliver services and the state becomes an extension of the federal government in many instances. … It comes done to they are willing to help us as long as we are not trying to change the basic core of the statutes or regulation. Like suddenly saying that certain people should or shouldn’t be eligible for services.”
The trip was only Ige’s third to D.C. (The second came last fall when he went to raise money during his race for governor.)
“I’ve not been one to travel,” he said. “I had small kids.”
Asked about his disputed appointment to head the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Ige remains firm that he nominated the right guy.
“I am fully committed to Carleton Ching,” he said. “I approached him to ask him to serve. He did not approach me. I’m looking for experienced executives, (and) that is one of the most important departments and agencies in state government. I trust that Carleton understands that, if confirmed by the Senate, he will work for the people of Hawaii.”
Does the governor have a vote count of the 25-member Senate?
He smiled as he answered: “No, we’re not counting votes.”
Instead, he seems to think a majority of his former Senate colleagues will come to view Ching the way he does.
“I have every faith and confidence in the fact that he understands that in that position he is responsible for protection of the environment, of the natural resources, of the cultural resources of our state, and he takes that responsibility very seriously,” Ige said. “And I know that he is committed to leaving behind a better Hawaii for all of us. And I have full faith and confidence that the senators will do their due diligence in evaluating his nomination, just like they always do.”
Ige is being aided on his trip by Elizabeth Kim, his special advisor formerly with the U.S. Department of Labor. He said he also met with the secretary of labor, who told him the West Coast harbor strike had been settled.
The personal highlight of the trip for Ige was meeting with Obama not once but twice — the second time at a White House dinner Sunday. It was just the governors and their spouses (Dawn Ige accompanied her husband to D.C.) and a few cabinet members and staff.
“Very, very impressive,” he said. “It allows you the opportunity to talk a lot about different things in a less formal situation.”
The dinner lasted two and a half hours and the main entrée was beef burgundy.
“I’ll make sure I send you my copy of the menu,” the governor said, half-joking. “Very elegant.”