Neal Milner: Public Disdain For Ige Goes Far Deeper Than His…


About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.


As far as Hawaii is concerned, when it comes to dealing with coronavirus, Gov. David Ige is in a class by himself.

That class? Bottom of the barrel.

First, I’ll show you just how bad the governor looks on the COVID-19 issue.

But then I am going to show how this low rating is hardly about the virus at all. It is really about the decadence of Hawaii’s politics.

Governor David Ige wears a Coronavirus Mask with Senate President Ron Kouchi at the Capitol. April 8, 2020.

Ige’s handling of the coronavirus is getting the lowest approval ratings among governors, but why?

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

According to a large national survey, no governor has a lower public approval rating for handling the virus than Ige does.

The average governor approval rating for handling the pandemic is 66%, compared to Trump’s 44%, and Ige’s rating of 39%.

Probably 12% of that 22% difference between the president and the average governor’s approval occurred during the last few weeks.

It’s unlikely that our governor has received any bump at all.

Unlike Hawaii, Wisconsin and Michigan are contentiously partisan states with considerably higher coronavirus rates than Hawaii and where opposition to the respective governors has dwarfed anything here.

Yet the Michigan governor’s approval (63%) and Wisconsin’s (58%) are both far ahead of Ige.

Only 55% of people in Hawaii feel that the state is doing a good job handling the situation. That’s the lowest percentage in the nation.

OK, that’s the surface side that leads you to focus on Ige’s pandemic incompetence. That focus on his virus performance is too narrow.

It’s hard to imagine that Governor Ige’s coronavirus pluses and minuses, goof-ups or successes are all that much different than what the other governors have done.

Ige is ranked so low on pandemic management because he is an avatar for a form of governing that’s as much a part of this state as shower trees and feral chickens.

It is also a form of government that the public now considers unworthy of its trust and support.

And there are data to prove it.

Ige’s 39% approval rating is nothing new. His approval rating has pretty much always lingered in the 30s — low and close to Trump’s. He’s also been rated the nation’s worst governor in the past.

Capitol looking Mauka showing open floor plan and architectural elements.

In one poll, just 9% said that the state of Hawaii could be trusted to act for the benefit of the public.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

It is a ceiling that the public is not willing to let him pass because the public has become so disaffected with Hawaii’s state government as a whole.

A 2017 University of Hawaii Center for Public Policy poll asked the question a different way, but with comparable results. Only 19% said Ige was doing an excellent or good job, while 36% rated his work as fair or poor.

But more significantly, in that same 2017 poll close to 40% said the state could seldom or never be trusted to do the right thing, and only 9% said that state government is run for the benefit of the people.

Now, think about the public’s take on the governor’s handling of the coronavirus crisis in terms of this pervasive sense that state government overall is a bumbling, stumbling, untrustworthy mess.

In other words, see the governor’s handling of the virus through the public’s lens of “same old, same old.”

That perception looks like this:

Of course the coronavirus response has been far from business-as-usual in so many ways.

But there also has been a kind of state government-esque, go-by-the book quality to it: we are moving cautiously; sticking to the protocols. The team is in place.

The masters of disaster. Sensible leaders doing sensible things.

At least that is the governor’s mantra. It’s also the mantra on steroids of Department of Health head Bruce Anderson, first in regard to testing and now contact tracing.

Sensible, sensible, everything is sensible.

Sensible — on the surface. But beneath the surface, where the public lives, it is not sensible at all, exemplifying just another day in the life of historically crappy state government. Worthy of our cynicism, not our approval.

Ige is an avatar for a form of governing that’s as much a part of this state as shower trees and feral chickens.

As a result, it is easy to view the state’s failure to pay unemployment benefits on time as not simply a COVID-19 problem but rather as the tip of an iceberg of benefits mismanagement and technical infrastructure problems that have plagued Hawaii forever.

Which, by the way, the governor promised to fix.

And boom! goes the cynicism.

It should not surprise us that there is such public disappointment and distaste for Hawaii’s state government. Admit it, folks. What those polls show is the way you typically talk about it. And yet publicly we let “sensible” conceal this longstanding incompetence.

Hawaii has a tepid sort of politics, low voter turnout, an extremely weak Republican Party and a sense among elites that politics is more about managing than mobilizing. The public’s basic disgust and discouragement get lost in this sensibleness shuffle.

An historically rooted combination of malaise, pessimism and being pissed off. People think about the Thirty Meter Telescope when they assess the governor’s coronavirus response.

Hawaii has become decadent. That’s not the term most of us would use, but see how close Hawaii is to the way Ross Douthat describes decadence in his recent book.

Decadence, he says, “is a very active time, full of deep concerns, but peculiarly restless, for it sees no clear lines of advance. … Institutions function painfully. Repetition and frustration are the intolerable result.”

“When people accept futility and the absurd as normal,” Douthat goes on to say, “the culture is decadent.”

It’s impossible to transform a place if futility and absurdity are the norms.

Which is another way of describing why the public reacts so negatively to David Ige.

He did not create these norms, but in the public’s view, he certainly reflects and protects them.

There is a lot of talk about the need to transform Hawaii in the pandemic’s aftermath. Fine, but understand that government is going to play a large role in this. Bad government, bad transformation.

So any kind of significant change is going to require a public level of confidence that futility and absurdity are no longer the best ways to describe Hawaii’s government at work.


Read this next:

Hawaii Is The Envy Of The Nation — For Voting At Home


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About the Author

Neal Milner

Neal Milner is a former political science professor at the University of Hawaii where he taught for 40 years. He is a political analyst for KITV and is a regular contributor to Hawaii Public Radio's "The Conversation." His most recent book is The Gift of Underpants. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views.


Latest Comments (0)

Change cannot come from a Governor. History has made it pretty clear that change cannot come from a beaurocracy because one of the main purposes of most positions is to protect the bureaucracy. Change has to come from outside and in spite of the bureaucracy. The Governor has to accept the change reluctantly because he/she has no choice. It is a trap to continue to complain about the actions of leaders, by design, so those whose hearts are stoked don't work in spite of the bureaucracy. If you want change, get more of the council on board. Because when has a change in Governor really changed things drastically for the average citizen? As for the reaction to the pandemic, everything is a delay tactic to delay when tourists come back en masse. Delay for better treatments, vaccines, tests. Dependency on tourism means dependency on the health of tourists financially and medically. What can we do about that?

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