Gov. David Ige has defeated U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the Democratic primary for governor.
Ige had 50.2 percent of the vote to Hanabusa’s 43.4 percent after the final results were released Sunday morning.
Hanabusa took the stage late Saturday night to address supporters and concede the race to the incumbent.
“The most important thing about the election is we gave people choices, and the people have spoken,” she said.
Ige will face Republican state Rep. Andria Tupola in the Nov. 6 general election. She easily beat former state lawmaker John Carroll and former Department of Education assistant superintendent Ray L’Heureux.
Ige supporters filled the C’est Si Bon Ballroom at the Pagoda Hotel in Honolulu starting around 6 p.m. to watch the election results come in. They celebrated the announcement of each round of returns with cheers and applause when they saw the numbers flash across two large screens with Ige leading throughout the night.
He made his first appearance around 9:30 p.m., entering the ballroom with his family through a tunnel of supporters chanting, “Four more years!”
Ige thanked them for “staying on the high road” when the campaign got rough, and noted that many more votes were yet to be counted. That said, he felt “optimistic” about his future as governor.
He took the stage again an hour later to deliver his victory speech, thanking his family, supporters and the advocates who came to his side.
“When we work together, we can do great things,” Ige said, listing his administration’s main initiatives.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell made brief remarks to the crowd of Ige supporters before the first results came in, applauding them for having “stuck with a man when it was difficult.”
“You have climbed a very steep mountain, and we’re almost at the top,” he said. “I believe it’s going to be close.”
It’s another remarkable win for a candidate whose low-key style has led many to underestimate him. Ige has maintained the “quiet but effective” leadership that dismantled Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s 2014 re-election bid despite a 10-to-1 fundraising disadvantage and poor name recognition.
Addressing supporters at the end of the night, Ige said his journey began five years ago with a decision to make a run for governor against an incumbent and leave the safe Senate seat he’d held for two decades.
“This started with us deciding we were going to take on the world,” he said.
Ige had more money this time around and the advantage of incumbency as he sought a second four-year term. But he still found himself all but written off several months ago, trailing by double digits in polls and bogged down by his handling of the false missile alert that Hanabusa relentlessly attacked.
As the election drew nearer — and the Jan. 13 fiasco slipped into the past — Ige rebounded in polls and found his footing in a series of public forums that let him highlight how he handled two real disasters, April’s intense flooding on Kauai and the ongoing volcanic eruption on Hawaii island.
Hanabusa clung to the false missile alert as the main example of the need for new leadership at Washington Place. While the mistake by a Hawaii Emergency Management Agency employee and Ige’s bumbling response left thousands of residents and visitors terrified of annihilation for 38 minutes before the false alert was retracted, people seem to have moved on with their lives after seeing a new boss installed at HI-EMA and the responsible parties held to account.
Super PACs came to Hanabusa’s aid in the weeks leading up to the election as her poll numbers tanked. Be Change Now, the carpenters union super PAC, and Defend Hawaii Now, which entered under the radar last week and was fined for it, dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into negative ads. But it was either too little, too late, or voters just weren’t buying it.
Many members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, an early and important endorsement for Ige, were at the Pagoda Hotel to watch the results come in.
HSTA President Corey Rosenlee said teachers “came out in force” to help Ige get re-elected to another term, especially on the neighbor islands.
He underscored Ige’s commitment to air condition Hawaii’s hottest classrooms and do away with a teacher-evaluation system that union members deemed unfair.
Several members of Ige’s Cabinet and key commission appointees came to show their support for his re-election, including Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism Director Luis Salaveria, Board of Land and Natural Resources Chair Suzanne Case, Public Utilities Commission Chair Randy Iwase and others.
Some state lawmakers also showed up to support Ige, such as Sens. Karl Rhoads and Laura Thielen and Rep. Gregg Takayama.
The Legislature’s top leaders backed Hanabusa, including House Speaker Scott Saiki, Senate President Ron Kouchi, Senate Vice President Michelle Kidani and the heads of the two money committee, Rep. Sylvia Luke and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz.
Over at Hanabusa’s election headquarters at the Japanese Cultural Center, the mood among roughly 150 supporters was fairly relaxed, despite the first printout at 7 p.m. announcing Ige in the lead.
“We always knew it would be narrow,” said Hanabusa spokesman Keith DeMello. “We are facing an incumbent governor.”
With union banners plastered on the walls, including those of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, State of Hawaii Police Officers Union and Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters, supporters sat around circular tables, noshing on buffet food, like lechon, as musical entertainment like loud taiko drummers and the ukulele sounds of Na Keonimana filled the room.
When the first results were released shortly before 7 p.m., the din of the room went quiet as it was announced Ige was in the lead. The loud music didn’t stop for the second wave of results around 8:45 p.m.
Well-known Hanabusa supporters took the stage around 8 p.m. to rally the crowd not to give up. No one took the stage immediately after the second wave of results though, and the crowd started to thin as the night wore on.
“She came back for us. She did not let us down. We are not going to let her down. We are not giving up in her. She is still in this race,” Kidani said to cheers after the first wave of results.
Among those in the room were Ken Inouye, son of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
“The main reason I support her is, I believe she has the talent, the tenacity and the temperament to do the job,” Inouye, 54, told Civil Beat.
Both candidates had long careers in Hawaii politics, each with their own records of accomplishments and questionable decisions, but they don’t differ much on the issues.
Ige vowed to continue his strong stance against using liquefied natural gas as a bridge fuel en route to the state mandate of 100 percent electricity from renewable energy by 2045. Hanabusa said she was open to it.
They also differed on whether government agencies should continue charging the public for the cost of searching for public records and the time it takes to redact confidential information.
Hanabusa was against the state Office of Information Practices’ proposed tripling of the fees that agencies can charge and said she would not support anything that makes it more difficult for people to know what their government is doing.
Ige said it’s a balance, and that agencies need to recoup at least some of the cost of fulfilling information requests. He said his administration is working to put more records online, which he expects to lower costs.
The governor’s race really came down to leadership styles.
Hanabusa, 67, grew up in Waianae and went on to become a labor attorney before entering politics in 1998. She was a strong leader of the state Senate in the early 2000s, the first woman to serve as president. She’s earned respect for her decisiveness and speaking out.
Ige, 61, was raised in Pearl City and balanced a career as an electrical engineer and state senator for three decades before becoming governor. He is known for getting into the nuts and bolts of an issue, trying to bring multiple sides together and rarely making impassioned speeches to push his agenda.
Ige said in an interview with reporters after his win that it was a “really tough” campaign.
“I never take any election for granted,” he said.
State Sen. Josh Green, a Big Island doctor who bested four other well-qualified candidates to win the Democratic primary for lieutenant governor, joined Ige at the Pagoda at the end of the night.
He said Ige is someone he really respects and he thinks Hawaii is well served by the governor’s “steady, humble leadership.”
“He fought through a really bloody election,” Green said, adding that he looks forward to the opportunity to work with Ige should they win in November.
Ige said he considers the LG as part of his Cabinet and would lean on Green’s expertise in certain areas, especially in the medical field. The state faces a shortage of physicians, he said, which is something he could use his help in addressing.
Civil Beat reporter Suevon Lee contributed to this story.
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