As state lawmakers prepare their priority bills ahead of next session and Gov. David Ige crafts his proposed biennial budget, there are questions over how well the Legislature and his administration will work together to accomplish their goals given the bad blood that was spilled this election season.
Legislative leaders took broad swipes at Ige ahead of the Democratic primary in August and took the unprecedented step of helping raise money for his opponent, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, during the session that ended in May.
There hasn’t been much, if any, communication between them since Ige went on to win. And there are mixed feelings about what this dispute will mean in the coming session, which starts in January, not to mention the next four years.
How will it affect their ability to advance lingering initiatives, be it bolstering Hawaii’s overall sustainability, improving public education or building affordable homes? What about health, energy, agriculture, taxes and traffic?
Some lawmakers, speaking only on background due to the subject’s sensitive nature, and political insiders have speculated that Ige’s appointments — department heads, agency directors, board members — could face a rockier road to approval in the Senate. Even if it only amounts to grandstanding.
They also wonder about the levels of funding for Ige’s pet projects, from modernizing the tax system to protecting watersheds. Or on the flip side, how much spending his administration will restrict for legislative initiatives.
Others aren’t particularly worried.
Some legislators and political analysts see the Legislature and Ige, who few if any view as a vindictive type, quietly putting the matter behind them.
They point out that the governor really has nothing to lose, being term-limited and unlikely to seek a higher officer, whereas many lawmakers have future ambitions that require a relationship with Ige that lets them procure a record of accomplishments to campaign on later.
“There’s one norm that always seems to play a large role in all these kinds of things and that is non-transparency,” said Neal Milner, political science professor emeritus at the University of Hawaii.
“You can’t get rid of all that tension. But a lot of the public won’t be aware of it.”
In April, House Speaker Scott Saiki, Senate President Ron Kouchi and each chamber’s money committee chair, Rep. Sylvia Luke and Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, held a joint fundraiser for Hanabusa. They helped raise more than $50,000 for her campaign in a single evening.
In a co-signed letter, the four House and Senate leaders blamed Ige for letting challenges facing communities go unanswered or worsen. They cited his “inattention, indecision and inaction.”
Milner described it as an “odd situation,” where legislative leaders endorsed Hanabusa with a month still to go in the session.
“It is important for the governor to ask each of us individually why we did that so that we can move forward.” — Speaker Scott Saiki
Then in July, a month before the primary, House Majority Leader Della Au Belatti held a press conference at the Capitol to paint Ige as someone who silences women, which was vehemently dismissed by the governor’s supporters and even a state senator who had been staying out of the race.
Ige, a former senator, has his supporters in the Legislature still. But they appear outnumbered by those who backed Hanabusa — especially on the financial front.
About a dozen lawmakers donated more than $42,000 to Hanabusa’s campaign for governor. Aside from the four lawmakers who hosted a fundraiser for her, Sens. Michelle Kidani, Glenn Wakai, Clarence Nishihara and Gil Keith-Agaran and Reps. Henry Aquino, Ryan Yamane and Scott Nishimoto gave Hanabusa money.
Ige, by contrast, received about $16,000 from state lawmakers, including Souki and Reps. Kyle Yamashita, Mark Hashem and Matt LoPresti and Rep. Gregg Takayama.
Colin Moore, associate professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, said he thinks lawmakers will be more inclined to work with Ige next session and in the coming years because he has the upper hand.
“It’s going to be tough,” he said. “But there’s no incentive for them to try to embarrass him.”
Still, Moore described their relationship as it currently stands as “pretty poisonous.”
“Supporting your opponent in the primary is about as much a slap in the face as you can give someone in politics,” he said.
“I still think there’s a lot of bad blood. But it’s in both of their interests to meet each other halfway.” — Colin Moore, political scientist, UH Manoa
Dela Cruz, who has not talked to Ige for a couple years, said he just wants the administration to have solid proposals, such as public-private partnerships to solve some of the state’s more expensive problems like building new jails.
Saiki said when the four legislative leaders co-hosted a fundraiser for Hanabusa, it was mischaracterized as coming from an old-boy network. He said each lawmaker had their own reason for supporting her campaign and did not conspire to plan the event together.
“We were asked individually,” Saiki said. “Now it is important for the governor to ask each of us individually why we did that so that we can move forward.”
Ige was on a post-election trip with his family and his office did not respond to a message seeking comment.
“I still think there’s a lot of bad blood,” Moore said. “But it’s in both of their interests to meet each other halfway.”
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