Responding to a low approval rating in a recent Civil Beat poll, Gov. David Ige defended his record Thursday while acknowledging his reputation as a low-key engineer who focuses on behind-the-scenes problem-solving rather than political showmanship.

Unfortunately for Ige, most poll respondents didn’t seem to appreciate his style and 57 percent said they would prefer “someone else” be elected governor next year.

The general perception is that Ige hasn’t gotten much done, but the first-term governor begs to differ.

Governor David Ige gestures during Editorial board meeting at the Civil Beat office.
Gov. David Ige took issue with the perception that his administration hasn’t accomplished much during an editorial board meeting at Civil Beat on Thursday. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

In a visit to the Civil Beat newsroom, Ige cited progress made in reducing homelessness and increasing affordable housing, and noted Hawaii is leading the nation with its commitments to renewable energy and reducing the effects of climate change.

Ige pointed out that the statewide homelessness population dropped this year for the first time in eight years, with the number of homeless families decreasing by 19 percent, according to the annual “Point In Time” count.

And he said the state is on track to meet his goal of producing 10,000 affordable rental units by 2020.

Hawaii has also become the first state to commit to converting to 100 percent renewable energy, as well as the first to promise to fulfill the requirements of the Paris climate change agreement, he said.

“It’s easy to charge ahead, it’s easy to spend money. It’s hard to spend it in the right way and in the right places.” — Gov. David Ige

The governor grew more animated in noting that the state has been front and center challenging President Donald Trump’s immigration ban.

“We consciously decided that we would not tolerate discrimination on the basis of ethnic origin and religion,” Ige said. “We would not stand by and allow that to happen without exercising the Constitution, the powers and the checks and balances that are inherent in our democracy to challenge the authority.”

Still, it’s been Attorney General Doug Chin, not Ige, frequently appearing on CNN to talk about Hawaii’s opposition to Trump.

The governor was reluctant to take credit for the state’s legal stand against the president.

“We came to consensus that we believe that it was important to stand up and be counted,” Ige said. “You could say that it was at my direction, but it was a mutual decision.”

Governor David Ige checks out our whisper room with Chad Blair before podcast Honolulu Civil Beat
Ige visits with Civil Beat politics and opinion editor Chad Blair. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Ige acknowledged he’s not the best speaker or particularly media-savvy. But he defended his thoughtful approach.

“It’s easy to charge ahead, it’s easy to spend money,” he said. “It’s hard to spend it in the right way and in the right places. I’m not willing to spend taxpayer dollars if I don’t believe it will make progress.”

To address the affordable housing crisis, Ige noted the state changed the application process to make it easier for developers who are seeking funding to build low-income rentals, and restructured contracts for homeless service providers to align with national standards.

But such behind-the-scenes changes aren’t always tangible for residents who complain of homeless people on the streets and struggle to afford rising rents.

The governor’s 10,000-rental unit goal is also relatively modest compared to the state’s total housing demand, estimated at more than 64,000 units. Ige said he won’t set a goal that he can’t realistically meet.

Ige’s tendency to collaborate rather than direct came into sharp focus in May when negotiations over how to fund Honolulu’s rail project collapsed at the Legislature. Despite urging from Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Ige said he wouldn’t call a special session until House and Senate lawmakers were ready to talk.

Governor David Ige presser2. 3 may 2017
Ige announced at a May 3 press conference that he wouldn’t immediately call a special session to address rail funding because Senate and House leaders were “too divided.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

On Thursday, Ige said he’s talked to legislative leaders and the mayor to try to help them reach agreement. The governor said he sees value in raising the hotel room tax slightly to help fund rail, but doesn’t have a preference between using the hotel room tax or a general excise tax surcharge for the project.

He rebutted the suggestion that he should take a more active role.

“It’s not something that I can unilaterally issue an executive order and make happen,” he said, adding that legislators haven’t been able to get answers to their questions about the project’s cost and “that’s a problem.”

John Hart, a professor in communication at Hawaii Pacific University, said Ige’s consistent personality conveys credibility.

“I think Ige has this low-key collaborative persona, that’s who he is, and I think to change it at this point would be insincere and counter-productive,” Hart said.

He noted that while the Civil Beat poll showed Ige’s political vulnerability, his popularity could shift depending on who chooses to run against him. The fact that there’s a lot of interest in the lieutenant governor post suggests to Hart that many believe Ige will win a second term.

“There’s no intimation that he will change his management style, and at the end of the day it will be up to the voters to decide whether or not that’s good enough,” Hart said.

About the Author