Hawaii Gov. David Ige is disappointed that top leaders in the state House and Senate have endorsed his opponent in the 2018 Democratic primary.
But Ige said disagreements he currently has with his former colleagues “is not so much about leadership but about politics, and the manipulation and expression of power. This election is about character and the fight is between those who would return to the old days of doing things and the attendant backroom dealings.”
The governor was responding to Civil Beat’s story Thursday that Senate President Ron Kouchi, House Speaker Scott Saiki, Senate Ways and Means Chair Donovan Dela Cruz and House Finance Committee Chair Sylvia Luke signed a fundraising letter on Colleen Hanabusa’s campaign letterhead.
The letter is highly critical of Ige for his leadership and asks recipients to attend a fundraiser on Hanabusa’s behalf scheduled for Wednesday.
“This election is about who has the ability, capacity and capability to set the agenda, communicate, collaborate and take action, and do so with a sense of urgency,” the legislators write. “Colleen is ready to lead Hawaii as we move forward together, with our full support and endorsement, to tackle the issues and realize our shared vision for Hawaii into the next decade and beyond.”
The letter also reads, “As leaders of the Hawaii State Legislature, we ask you to join us in demanding better.”
Ige said his former colleagues are entitled to their opinion. But he also framed the contest between him and Hanabusa, a U.S. congresswoman, as being about running an open government versus conducting business behind closed doors.
“When one refuses to do the backroom deals there isa natural reaction to remove the one who refuses to deal,” he said in a statement Friday to Civil Beat. “The public needs to have and demands to have a transparent government, not one based on ‘cutting a political deal.’ If that is leadership, then deal me out. The people of this state deserve more, much more.”
Elected officials are allowed to contribute money and time to political candidates.
But the timing of the letter — in the middle of a legislative session — as well as the fact that top leaders in both chambers are aggressively working to depose a sitting governor in their own party’s primary is unusual.
It’s not the first contested gubernatorial primary in state history. Ige himself unseated Gov. Neil Abercrombie in 2014. Former Gov. John Burns and George Ariyoshi defeated well-known opponents from their own parties.
The letter also raises questions about whether the four lawmakers, whose signatures included their titles prominently displayed, might have violated state law.
Hawaii’s fair treatment statute reads, “No legislator or employee shall use or attempt to use the legislator’s or employee’s official position to secure or grant unwarranted privileges, exemptions, advantages, contracts, or treatment, for oneself or others.”
The statute goes on to state “including but not limited to the following”:
(1) Seeking other employment or contract for services for oneself by the use or attempted use of the legislator’s or employee’s office or position.
(2) Accepting, receiving, or soliciting compensation or other consideration for the performance of the legislator’s or employee’s official duties or responsibilities except as provided by law.
(3) Using state time, equipment or other facilities for private business purposes.
(4) Soliciting, selling, or otherwise engaging in a substantial financial transaction with a subordinate or a person or business whom the legislator or employee inspects or supervises in the legislator’s or employee’s official capacity.
Dan Gluck, the executive director of the Hawaii State Ethics Commission, spoke generally about the statute in question.
“The fair treatment law is clear that a state official cannot use state resources for campaign purposes, but it can also happen that you may have an individual who endorses someone else and it’s a biographical fact that someone holds a specific office,” he said. “What we look for is if the person is using state resources or somehow taking the imprimatur of their office to favor one candidate.”
Gluck continued: “Certainly, if it is made from a state office, or on state emails, or using state phones, that’s one thing. But the mere fact that a state employee is referenced in a campaign endorsement is not necessarily a violation of the fair treatment law.”
It is not clear if the Hanabusa fundraising letter involved use of state resources.
Speaker Saiki declined to comment on whether the fair treatment law may have been violated. He also had no comment on whether the endorsement might damage working relations between the Legislature and the governor.
“When one refuses to do the backroom deals there isa natural reaction to remove the one who refuses to deal.” — Gov. David Ige
President Kouchi did not respond to an inquiry Friday.
Asked for comment on the fundraising letter, Hanabusa spokesman Keith DeMello said, “We’re grateful these respected leaders of the Hawaii Legislature are willing to give of their personal time to express support and confidence in Colleen Hanabusa.”
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