Hawaii Gov. David Ige was all ready to talk to the media Monday about his fourth State of the State address, which was heavy on affordable housing, homelessness and education.
But reporters had other priorities, primarily the Jan. 13 false ballistic missile warning that freaked out half the state and made Hawaii the butt of jokes around the world.
In fact, the first three questions at the press conference in the governor’s fifth-floor Ceremonial Room on Monday were about the missile alert:
Why didn’t the governor mention the incident in his big speech?
Where did the governor go when he left the legislative hearing examining the false alarm last Friday?
Does the governor think the missile alert “crisis” will detract from his legislative agenda?
Ige patiently answered all three questions, saying:
• he did not think it was appropriate to bring up the missile alert in the speech given that he’s already talked quite a lot about it, that it happened two Saturdays ago (emphasis Ige), that it won’t happen again and that the state is moving forward on improving emergency management plans;
• that he had other meetings planned Friday and does not typically spend his entire day meeting with lawmakers;
• and that no, he believes that his legislative priorities — affordable housing, homelessness and education, ICYMI — are shared by the people of Hawaii.
The governor was then asked about the actual speech, as well as criticism of it by legislators (more on that later). But he soon received five more questions about the missile alert.
For instance, if Ige knew that the alert was false within two minutes’ time, why wasn’t the public informed more quickly?
And here is some news from the press conference: Gov. Ige did not know his Twitter account login information, but he does now and will focus on getting people more expeditiously informed via social media going forward.
The news immediately went viral.
Some lawmakers wondered too why Ige skipped any reference to the missile alert in his State of the State.
House Speaker Scott Saiki said the governor might have at least have included a paragraph. Republican Gene “Drop The Mic” Ward complained that the missile alert is still top of mind for everyone and that maybe the governor did not want to remind people of the terrible job he did (in Ward’s view) in responding to it.
Lawmakers also complained about other things Ige left out of the speech: no mention of cesspools, Airbnb, Oahu’s prison, the impact of federal tax cuts on the state budget, retention and recruitment of teachers, charter school funding and the Thirty Meter Telescope.
“I’d have liked to see more meat in it,” said Senate Vice President Michelle Kidani, who specifically referred to education.
Senate President Ron Kouchi and Majority Leader J. Kalani English said they deduced from Ige’s lack of policy details and proposals that the Legislature should take the lead.
Saiki had a similar reaction, although he added that he was pleased that the governor was, like House leaders, focused on homelessness and affordable housing. He also noted that the administration has submitted its list of bills for 2018 that Saiki said he expected would flesh out more details.
“I am struck by the beautiful and often challenging complexity that makes Hawaii our home.” — Gov. David Ige
House Finance Chair Sylvia Luke said she was disappointed that Ige did not mention problems with the state tax modernization plan.
While Ige did say his administration was working to make the collection system “easier and fairer” and that he believed the work is “on the right track,” Luke and other legislators have been vocal in what they see as lack of substantive progress. She said she wanted to see more progress before giving the admistration $16 million more to work on the modernization.
Luke also unintentionally got laughs from reporters and her colleagues when she said that the House was waiting to see what happens with the change of “administration.” She quickly clarified that she meant the recent change in leadership at the state Department of Taxation and not Ige’s administration.
Change and leadership were on the minds of many at the Capitol on Monday.
Ige’s address sounded like a campaign speech. The January edition of the administration’s Capitol Connection newsletter was handed out liberally in the House gallery. “Taking action, getting results for the future,” it proclaimed.
His essential point was that his administration had successfully laid the groundwork to take the state into a glorious future. I counted 10 uses of the word “future” in the State of the State, including “the future is bright,” “brighter future,” “our future” and “imagine a future.”
He was interrupted by applause more than 30 times (his public-speaking skills have improved — no small task), and he received standing ovations at his introduction and conclusion.
The governor also managed to do something his critics (including me) have desired for some time: better communicate about his administration’s successes.
According to Ige’s speech, they include 1,200 classrooms with air conditioning, a record-high bond rating, the lowest unemployment in the country, the highest funding for Hawaiian Home Lands in nearly a century and being on target for 10,000 new housing units by 2020 with at least 40 percent of them classified as affordable.
To be sure, many of these accomplishments were made possible by the Legislature, and Ige gave lamakers credit several times. He also said he did not want to cram so much into the speech that it took two hours to deliver. Its actual running length was less than an hour.
“I have committed my life to the people of the state of Hawaii.” — Gov. David Ige
The governor used one of his favorite words — “challenge” — or a version of it numerous time, as when he said, “I am struck by the beautiful and often challenging complexity that makes Hawaii our home.”
What the governor attempted to articulate is that he has a vision for the state of Hawaii, although that word does not appear in the written version of the speech.
Vision is precisely what U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, his Democratic primary opponent, says Ige is lacking, along with leadership. Hanabusa’s campaign used both words in a press release Monday slamming Ige’s speech.
Ige believes differently, of course, and he is hoping voters agree with him.
“When I ran for governor four years ago I wanted to take my lifetime of public service and fundamentally change the path we were taking,” he said. “I have committed my life to the people of the state of Hawaii.”
The future will most certainly be challenging for Ige. But Monday, he demonstrated that he can make a case for another term in office.