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A new television commercial titled “Thirty Eight Minutes” is only 32 seconds long, but it is easily the most provocative political ad to run in the local market this election season.
It begins by showing the false emergency alert warning about an inbound ballistic missile on Jan. 13 that appeared on cell phones, then moves quickly to show news video of people appearing to flee, a child being helped into a manhole cover and to adults’ anxious telephone calls. It closes with Gov. David Ige at the press conference with emergency management that Saturday afternoon looking like he wouldn’t mind crawling into a manhole himself.
A narrator says, “David Ige’s administration took 38 minutes to officially tell us it’s a false alarm. His excuse? He forgot his Twitter password.”
The spot closes with these words: “Vote No On David Ige.” Here’s the ad:
Even the greatest fan of Hawaii’s current chief executive will likely acknowledge that the day of the false missile alert was perhaps his worst moment in office. The question is whether a majority of voters will hold it against him and deny him a second term.
In case folks don’t watch much TV, the ad is being emailed from an email address named 808 News Hawaii. I am not sure who that is, but the ad itself is from Be Change Now — a super PAC funded by the Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters. The union is spending big time to bring Ige down and put U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the governor’s chair.
Is the ad fair?
I was at the Jan. 22 press conference in which Ige admitted he did not know his Twitter account login information.
That quickly became the story, brushing aside the fact that the governor took responsibility for the false alert as well as took immediate steps to end the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency drill. Heads ultimately rolled, including that of the employee who pushed the wrong button that issued the alert, and there were several investigations and damning reports about what happened.
The “Thirty Eight Minutes” ad does not say all that. Nor does it point out that Gov. Ige’s official Twitter account has less than 10,000 followers. It also does not show Ige on the scene on Kauai after the devastating floods later in the year or the governor inspecting the lava flows on the Big Island.
But it does not have to. The ad shows a confused governor appearing way out of his depth.
After seeing it for the first time, I was reminded of the infamous “Daisy” ad from Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1964 presidential race against Sen. Barry Goldwater, or George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton ad damning Michael Dukakis.
In other words, “Thirty Eight Minutes” is a very effective attack ad.
Another ad, this one from the Ige campaign, has itself been criticized by several female lawmakers for amounting to an attack on women.
Titled “Watershed,” the 30-second ad begins with an unflattering photo of Hanabusa with the words “Is this leadership?” superimposed on the screen.
“Criticism isn’t leadership,” a female narrator states. “Leaders lift us up.”
Here’s the ad:
Excerpts from news clips from The Associated Press and Civil Beat suggest that Hanabusa has indeed criticized the incumbent. In fact, the Civil Beat article in question is an editorial criticizing state Legislature leadership for holding a fundraiser for Hanabusa during the 2018 session.
“Hanabusa supporter went to a new — and far lower level,” the ad says, crediting Civil Beat.
Here’s what the editorial actually said: “But the embarrassing intra-party fight went to a new — and far lower — level when, responding to the governor’s objections, (Rep. Sylvia) Luke later called Ige irrelevant, a crybaby and ‘a desperate caged animal.’”
So, that’s misleading.
Ige then comes on the screen to say that being a leader means doing “the right things for the right reasons.”
The narrator comes on again: “As governor, Ige protected 40,000 acres of watershed forest from developers.”
“I’ve stood up to the special interests,” Ige says, before the commercial closes by noting that the governor was “proudly endorsed by the Sierra Club.”
The problem, which most voters will not know, is that the Sierra Club does not mention the 40,000 acres in its endorsement of Ige. Nor does the Ige ad explain that the protection of those watersheds began under Ige’s predecessor, Gov. Neil Abercrombie — unless Ige is referring to some other 40,000 acres.
As for opening the ad with an attack on Hanabusa, on Sunday House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti was among several women expressing their concerns over what they called “misleading tactics” by Ige’s campaign.
“When a male candidate points out flaws in an opponent’s work, he is viewed as strong, passionate and confident,” Belatti said, according to Hawaii News Now. “But when strong words come from a woman, even one with decades of experience, it is described as ‘too critical.’”
Finally, another ad, this one from Hanabusa, argues that Ige is making false claims when he says he created 5,300 new homes
The 30-second commercial titled “Ige’s Housing Claims” says — without citing them — that news reports cast doubt on the claims.
“More than half were already under construction before he was even elected,” the narrator intones. “Others were approved and underway without any of Ige’s involvement.”
The ad adds that some of the housing units cited were in fact renovations rather than new units.
The ad closes by stating that Ige only created 922 housing units, a red marker circling the figure. Here’s the ad:
The ad is effective in that it raises doubts about the governor’s record on a top priority. And Ige has bragged about his accomplishments in housing.
The governor’s campaign website states, “So far, approximately 5,300 units have been built since Governor Ige took office, with 40 percent of those being affordable, and another 5,900 units are under construction or in the planning stages.”
The Ige administration’s website, meantime, states, “Since 2014, when Gov. Ige took office, the state has completed 5,300 new homes statewide, including 2,000 affordable homes.”
Did Ige make “false claims”?
I checked with a Civil Beat reporter who covers housing issues and who said that some of the projects were indeed started before Ige’s time.
And at least one former governor — Abercrombie — told Hawaii News Now that many of the units were created under his administration.
An Ige spokeswoman, HNN reported, said Ige stood by the numbers. But so does the Hanabusa campaign, which shared with me the same data that appears in the ad.
Bottom line: These three ads are going to sway some voters. Which is the point.
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