David Ige, one-term wonder?

The new governor's selection of a development lobbyist to head the land-resource management branch of the state government is alienating many of his supporters.

Stephen Fox

Governor Ige has revealed Castle & Cooke exec Carlton Ching as his choice to head the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). Ching is registered as a lobbyist for developer Castle & Cooke, and placing him in control of the agency responsible for oversight of development shows a stunning level of favoritism for development. A petition immediately began circulating on MoveOn.org in protest. Ige may live to regret that nomination, should he follow it through.

Governor Abercrombie made a similar early misstep when he supported establishment of the Public Land Development Corporation (PLDC) in 2011, supposedly as a vehicle to help generate funds for the ailing DLNR.

The language used in Act 55 authorizing the PLDC gave its board broad powers to circumvent established due process in Hawaii land decisions. This placed lands with massive historic, scenic and cultural value available for development at the PLDC’s whim, and drastically weakened processes of environmental review and public input. The PLDC was so unpopular that Gov. Abercrombie was forced to repeal the act less than two years later.

Gov. Ige has again placed protection of Hawaii’s lands in the hands of those most motivated to profit from their development.

What both men seem not to realize is that, while Hawaii’s Democratic Party does benefit from support of construction and hotel industries, environmental and conservation groups hold enormous sway. Malama ‘āina is more than a cool bumper sticker slogan; the maxim is buried deep in the psyche of the people here.

This was most recently demonstrated by the victory of Maui’s GMO moratorium initiative. Environmentalist groups spent around $60,000 on their campaign, compared to at least $6 million spent by Monsanto and their fellow agro-chemical companies. If nothing else, this should show Gov. Ige that while he may have gotten campaign dollars from developers, money alone cannot overcome grass roots opposition to those who would poison the ‘āina—whether with chemicals or over-development.

Gov. Ige is alienating a large segment of his base at a time when he should be establishing positive feelings around the state.

His primary victory over Gov. Abercrombie last Fall showed, more than anything, how deeply unpopular Abercrombie had become. Gov. Abercrombie’s base began to erode swiftly during the fight to repeal the PLDC. His support of the pro-development corporation splintered the shaky coalition that brought him to victory.

Gov. Ige ignores the Abercrombie lesson at his own peril. Gov. Abercrombie won reelection to the U.S. House nine times before his gubernatorial stint, following years in state office. He brought enormous political cache to the office but his pro-development missteps cost his gubernatorial reelection.

Gov. Ige accomplished something noteworthy, to be sure, and he deserves credit for his gubernatorial triumph. But he will need a coalition, built and expanded over time, and not just a set of wealthy donors, if he hopes to extend his term in office eight years.

Between the burgeoning digital communities dedicated to holding government and the private sector accountable, and the good old word-of-mouth tradition in the islands, politicians simply cannot fool all of the people all of the time. And memories are long in Hawaii.

Take care of this ‘āina, Governor. The people are watching.

What do you think? Will David Ige’s nomination of Carlton Ching to head the DLNR end up being his version of the PLDC fiasco of Gov. Abercrombie’s single term? Comment or send an email response to [email protected]