After meeting Donald Trump in person, David Ige says the new president is exactly what one would expect.

“What you see on TV is what you get,” said the Hawaii governor, just back from a trip to Washington. “He is as he presents himself.”

Ige held a press conference Thursday to discuss what he sees going on in the nation’s capital and how it might impact Hawaii.

He also weighed in on key pieces of legislation moving through the Hawaii Legislature.

Ige was in D.C. for the winter meeting of the National Governors Association. He said the nonpartisan event attracted a record 46 governors.

Governor David Ige presser Governor trip DC. 9 march 2017
Gov. David Ige briefed reporters on his recent trip to Washington, where he met President Trump. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

No doubt the chance to meet the new president was a draw. Ige described the meeting with Trump as “very good.”

“He is exactly like he appears, very straightforward and expresses interest in working with governors on behalf of the American people,” Ige said.

The governors shared their concerns with the president about changes to the Affordable Care Act, arguing that the president and the Congress should finds ways “to make improvements and assure those who receive coverage today continue to receive coverage,” Ige said.

The state leaders also warned that reducing or shifting costs from the federal government to the states through block grants for Medicaid was not acceptable, because it would not help states improve community services. Ige said states understand how Medicaid works better than the feds.

Despite all the uncertainty surrounding Trump, Ige said he is not expecting dramatic change overnight.

“I left the Capitol with the feeling that change will be slow to come, that there are lots of pronouncements by different people about significant changes to policy,” he said. “And I do think that the reality of governing, the reality of being able to get the Congress to pass law changes, the reality of repealing regulations will slow any specific impact on Hawaii.”

He also shrugged off concerns that Hawaii might face repercussions for being the first state to file a legal challenge to the administration’s new executive order on travel. 

Ige said the lawsuit from his attorney general, Doug Chin, was necessary.

“From our perspective, we just believe that discrimination based on national origin or religion is just flat-out wrong,” Ige said, especially considering Hawaii’s rich immigrant history. “We do know that there might be other ramifications, but we trust that people will focus on what’s in the best interest of the people of the state of Hawaii as well as the people of America in moving forward.”

Governor David ige press conf media. 9 march 2017
The governor said he remains in support of medical aid in dying legislation that is moving through the Legislature. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ige said he spoke directly with Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly about immigration. While the feds will be reviewing the vetting process for immigrants, he said there would be no deportation of illegal immigrants except for those guilty of committing crimes.

Ige said his Department of Budget and Finance continues to assess all federal funds received by the state.

“My sense is that any change will be incremental and not as drastic as they might sound,” he said, describing significant policy changes as “the devil in the details.”

Ige noted that, while the governors were able to meet with a number of Cabinet officials, several hundred vacancies in key federal positions remain to be filled. He described the challenge of a “vacuum of leadership” for the new administration.

The governor was also asked about local issues, particularly bills making their way through the Legislature. Here’s a brief summary of what Ige had to say:

  • Funding rail remains a matter of “looking at the funding and exploring what funding sources we have,” something he has said before. He would like the city to explore private-sector partnerships to help fund the project, something he suggested would comport with the Trump administration’s approach to improving the national infrastructure. Ige said the city should also look to ways it can help pay for rail.
  • He continues to support medical aid in dying legislation.
  • He shares the concerns of his attorney general over bills calling for presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to appear on the ballot or secure the vote of Hawaii electors. Any change Hawaii makes, Ige said, would have to pass “federal constitutional muster” and be consistent with the election process nationally.
  • Legislation allowing companies like Airbnb to collect tax revenue from visitor accommodations must be crafted in a way that has value to the state. Ige vetoed similar legislation last year, and he continues to have concerns about enforcement and unintended consequences should a new law be enacted.

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