Saving David Ige

What bold, progressive move should the governor make to secure the progressive vote on August 11? Members of that community weigh in.

Will Caron

Everyone in Hawaiʻi knows exactly where they were on the morning of January 13th, 2018. Like the assassination of JFK or 9/11, Pearl Harbor or ʻIniki, the day we thought the end was upon us will live forever in infamy for all of us. This includes Governor David Ige as well. If he wasn’t lagging behind his 2018 gubernatorial challenger, Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa, before the false alarm, he certainly is now.

Members of the legislature, including Speaker of the House Scott Saiki in his opening remarks today, have called into question the leadership of the Ige Administration in the wake of the missile scare. Commentators have called for the resignation of Ige’s Hawaiʻi Emergency Management Authority (HEMA) director Vern Miyagi, as well as for the resignation of Ige himself. And an angry populace is still looking for satisfaction in the sacking of the poor guy who pressed the wrong button.

Even before the missile scare, Ige was having trouble convincing the public that he is, in fact, a good leader. Ironically, it was his calm, reserved demeanor that acted as a winning foil to the intense energy (and perceived bullishness) of his predecessor Neil Abercrombie, who became the first ever sitting Democrat governor of Hawaiʻi to lose his reelection bid. Now that same reserved demeanor may make him the second sitting Democrat to lose reelection to the governorship.

At least, that’s how Hanabusa is playing it. Even before last Saturday, she had already accused the governor of a lack of leadership, using the term “rudderless” to describe his steering of the state. She also publicly called for Ige’s Attorney General, Doug Chin, to step down in order to run for her seat in Congress. And within days Chin did indeed announce his resignation, with a reserved David Ige standing next to him at the press conference. To the public, it looks as though Hanabusa is already calling the shots.

In this scenario, Ige’s chances of staving off what will no doubt be a powerful, well-equipped challenge from an astute and tenacious politician like Hanabusa seem slim.

Congresswoman Hanabusa is an establishment candidate—the anointed successor to the omnipotent Dan Inouye, a former president of the Hawaiʻi State Senate, an engine of the old guard of the Democratic Party of Hawaiʻi (DPH)—and will therefore likely take establishment votes. Logically, this means Ige needs to court the progressive vote—the new Democrats, the greens, students, labor (where he can get it), the Hawaiian community, Bernie supporters and anyone else tired of the political establishment here in Hawaiʻi.

But in order to court this vote and carry him over the finish line, he’ll have to show that he is not merely a demure and, perhaps, less effective version of Hanabusa. He’ll need to prove that he can be both an effective leader and a champion for progressive values. He will need to be bold, pushing through progressive directives akin to some of the moves President Obama made to bulldoze through the stalemate and quagmire of the American Congress. Over the next eight months, Ige has a chance to make history and, in the process, prove that a reserved demeanor does not preclude courageous and dynamic leadership.

We asked members of the public who align with commonly accepted progressive values to share with us what bold, progressive move they think the governor ought to take to win their votes in August. Here’s what they said.

Kris Coffield, Director of IMUAlliance:

For Governor Ige to win the progressive vote, he would need to dramatically alter his approach to policy and the tone of his politics. While Ige has always been fiscally conservative, his recent grandstanding on homeless sweeps and support for building both public and private prisons provide little hope to progressives seeking a departure from the status quo.

Progressives are demanding immediate action to rectify the socioeconomic, educational and environmental crises facing our state. Ige could, and should, seize the energy of the progressive community to advance a bold people’s agenda. We must raise the minimum wage, so that Hawaiʻi’s working families can meet their basic needs. We must fully fund our school system, so that all of Hawaii’s children have the opportunity to receive a quality education. We must provide restorative justice to nonviolent offenders, rather than subsidize our ever-expanding prison-industrial complex. We need billions of dollars of bond revenue to build truly affordable housing. We have to increase our investments in clean energy to fight the looming threat of climate change.

Ige could champion all of that. During his State of the State address, this month, he could call for a $15 minimum wage, passage of a constitutional amendment to raise revenue for education by taxing real estate speculators, and establishment of a carbon tax. He could advocate for increasing taxes on corporations and the rich to pay for services for the poor, something that’s even more urgent after the recent enactment of the Trump tax cuts.

In 2016, Bernie Sanders won 70 percent of Hawaiʻi’s Democratic caucus votes. People in our state are clearly ready to embrace a progressive vision for the future. Ige should remember that as he prepares for this legislative session and heads toward the August 11th primary.

Adriane Raff-Corwin, Sierra Club Maui Group:

One bold, progressive action that Governor Ige can take is to work with the Hukilike No Maui (Together for Maui) Coalition and negotiate the gift or purchase of Central Maui land from Alexander & Baldwin (A&B), which we can use to: grow local food for all of Hawaiʻi; build smartly-planned, truly affordable housing; and conserve and protect cultural sites and special lands. The Hukilike Coalition represents Maui organizations working on all these issues who understand that when we work together, we are stronger. The people of Maui want to have more control over our future, and Governor Ige can help by using his powers to help bring A&B to the negotiation table to work with the local community and make our goals a reality.

Andrea Peatmoss, community organizer:

To further many progressive causes in one bold move, Governor Ige could proclaim that the State Ag land between Kahuku and the Lāʻie Refuse Station shall never be used for anything but agriculture. Kualoa Ranch land could be included too, as the private nature reserve has commercial expansion plans in the works for its Ag lands now.

These lands are where natural rainfall keeps these windward coastal locations watered using less resources and energy for crops and pastures. This land-banking is for food security on an island chain thousands of miles from other food sources and that requires fossil fuels to ship in the food that feeds us now. With increased climate chaos and disasters (either natural or military-linked) likely to cause more food disruption, the benefits multiply.

This action would also save billions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on Transit-Oriented Development and the installation of Second/Third City infrastructure where it was promised that we would “Keep the Country, Country.” That kind of infrastructure does not exist on the windward coast or North Shore.

This action would also protect the tourist industry by ensuring that the world-class, irreplaceable scenic, open space that forms the North Shore “brand” remains in tact. Tour buses don’t go to Mililani or Kapolei.

Both the Federal and the State Departments of Transportation state that erosion of the coastal highway requires moving it inland and up. Having the foresight to not allow major developments that would dramatically increase the population in this area is both progressive and, in this political climate, bold.

Kaui Lucas, Project Manager for Hawaii 3RS, provided a list

• Confront the Navy on the Red Hill Fuel tanks, mandate they find alternatives and empty all tanks of fuel before 2025;
• Divest all State of Hawaii government taxpayer funding from fossil fuel companies, regardless of their renewables portfolio;
• Commit to some kind of carbon offset program;
• Set statewide capacity limits for residency and transient population loads;
• Support legislation mandating near-shoreline developments take into account the latest sea level rise information, essentially not guaranteeing any services, or being liable for affected areas;
• Support a constitutional convention;
• Support legislation banning styrofoam and glyphosphate;
• Support legislation to decriminalize cannabis; and
• Support legislation to end the bail system which incarcerates un-adjudicated persons and criminalizes poverty.

Maile Murphy, a student at Kapiʻolani Community College and a member of the Young Progressives Demanding Action – Hawaiʻi, formerly Students for Bernie Sanders:

Though it is a [Department of Education] issue, I believe that Governor Ige should make a public statement urging the schools in Hawaiʻi to repeal the measure preventing the distribution of prophylactics, such as condoms and dental dams, in our schools. Because of our unique geography, many young people on Oʻahu’s sister islands lack access to family planning services. In fact, per a Department of Health (DOH) survey taken in 2010, there is a direct correlation between an increase in unplanned pregnancies and lack of access to family planning services on our sister islands, especially in Hawaiʻi and Kauaʻi counties. Providing free prophylactics in our schools will not fix this issue, but it will be positive step forward towards addressing the reproductive needs of our young people.

Alan Burdick, Chair of the DPH Environmental Caucus:

[The governor needs to] scale way back the plans for the new OCCC jail, speed up minimum wage increases, adopt major initiatives on affordable housing, support legislation to ban sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate—they are killing our reefs—and support a major initiative to restructure funding for public education, either the Hawaiʻi State Teacher’s Association Constitutional Amendment proposal or some other [vehicle]. This is a structural failure that must be radically revised.

John Bickel, high school history teacher and member of Americans for Democratic Action:

I think [Governor Ige] needs to make a big move to fund education. [He should] support a tax increase primarily for education, but also for housing, and mandate that all “affordable housing” stay affordable forever. He should also support single payer health care for Hawaiʻi.

Dennis Miller, small business owner and member of the DPH ad-hoc Committee on Healthcare:

Gov Ige needs to address a topic affecting 40 percent of Hawaiʻi’s budget: Healthcare. [Governor] Ige needs to allow discussion of what the cost drivers of healthcare are and, specifically, he needs to allow data to be used in a public forum to rebut the point of view espoused by the [DOH] Director of Health, Virginia Pressler, and by Judy Peterson, the head of Med-Quest Hawaiʻi, which is that “Managed Care” has not caused cost increases to health insurance premiums.

It is a fact that our health insurance premiums will continue to increase by 6.5 percent per year if nothing changes. It is also a fact that, at a recent insurance industry event, Senator Roz Baker [chair of the Senate health committee], Dr. Pressler, Judy Peterson, and every other panelist all echoed the sentiment that prices are going up and there is nothing we can do about it. This is a false narrative.

Hawaiʻi used to be a member of a multi-state drug purchasing program for Medicaid, but voluntarily withdrew in 2010, allegedly due to Hawaiʻi’s insurance regulations switching from a “Fee for Service” model to Managed Care, according to Judy Peterson.

Thirty states are currently members of one of three multi-state drug purchasing groups, and several of them use a Managed Care model. It is clear that Hawaiʻi could, if it chose, spend less on prescription drugs for Medicaid, which makes Senator Baker’s statement that “we can’t negotiate drug prices,” false.

If we also funded the Hawaiʻi Health Authority, which the governor is actively seeking to abolish, all drugs in Hawaiʻi would be purchased at a discount rate. 

Prior to Managed Care, physicians spent close to half as much time on patient charting after seeing patients. With Managed Care, physicians spend twice as much time as when Fee For Service was in place. Clearly an argument can be made that increased administrative complexity causes cost increases. However, most state officials deny that increased admin complexity causes cost increases. This is an ethical problem which requires electing new officials.

Everyone agrees that healthcare costs related to diseases like diabetes and heart disease could go down if nutrition education spending went up. Where is the bill to increase prevention via education? Perhaps the governor’s office could write one.

Joey Gabel, member of the Our Revolution Hawaiʻi endorsement committee:

[The governor] should come out in full support of the creation of low-income, affordable housing that is sustainably designed. There are a number of cutting edge features and design choices that could be included to make new, vertical housing developments sustainable and carbon neutral. [The governor] should also come out in full support of protections for medial marijuana patients and for the decriminalization of cannabis.

Randy Ching, Hawaiʻi Common Good Coalition:

First: campaign finance reform. [We have got to] get private money out of elections. Hawaiʻi is moving in the wrong direction on just about everything because money is calling the shots. There’s too much campaign cash influencing policy makers. Make all candidates eligible for the same amount of public money because elected officials should be accountable to us, the citizens of Hawaiʻi. It would cost 10–15 million dollars every election cycle. This would be a tremendous investment for the public and Governor Ige should fully support it.

Second: affordable housing/homelessness. This is top of mind for a lot of folks right now. Many factors are simultaneously making it difficult for locals to purchase or rent. This leads directly to homelessness. Many people are a paycheck away from homelessness. Ige should make this mobilization on par with JFK’s call for the space program; he should make the Lt. Governor his point man on this issue; he should get the legislature to appropriate 20 times the money spent on rail for this undertaking; and he should get approval for several billion dollars in bonds to build affordable rentals. This problem can be solved.

The goal should be housing for everyone that wants it. Yes, there are a few homeless who want to live on the streets. We should provide medical help to them should they wish it. There is no excuse in the richest country in the history of history, for anybody not to have adequate shelter. Ige should engage all sectors of society (not just government). The non-profit sector including churches, plus the private sector. There are plenty of models to look at: there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Habitat for Humanity is a good example of how volunteers can be used to provide housing for the poor and/or working class. Duane Kurisu showed that with a little creativity, you can build Kahauiki Village.

Gaye Chan, professor of art at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa (UHM) and an organizer of the Hawaiʻi J20 group:

Governor Ige must be more proactive about homelessness and in assisting those in trouble. The “Safe Zone” suggested by Hanabusa is not enough. Longterm solutions must be put in place that include affordable temporary and permanent housing and social services for those disabled. The actions that have been put in place so far by the State and City have been brutal, counter-productive and downright shameful.

Jun Shin, a student at UHM and member of YPDA:

Governor Ige, who has brought up his resistance to President Trump as a strong point for remaining governor, must ensure that appropriate state tax policies are put in place to offset the regression working families will feel from the GOP tax plan. The rich have got to start paying their fair share of taxes and the governor must ensure that the burden is lifted off of working people.

On a similar note, if Governor Ige should also come out as a fighter for a $15 or higher minimum wage in a state where the high cost of living remains a major problem. Creating a better workers’ compensation system and showing a willingness to limit the effects of big money in creating career politicians who are thoroughly entrenched through initiatives like public funding of elections, term limits, sunshine law in the legislature would also help to show that he has the best interests of working people at heart. Governor Ige should support graduate student unionization and the necessary measures to fund the Hawaiʻi Health Authority. If he did all of this, I would be a likely voter for him.

Laulani Teale, Hawaiian self-determination and demilitarization activist and advocate for the houseless:

[The governor must] recognize the illegality of the State of Hawaiʻi and the legitimate continuation of the Hawaiian Kingdom. [He must] recognize that this is the primary problem that underlies all other major problems: the housing crisis, houselessness, cultural conflicts, the nuclear threat, crime rates, health and education expectancy outcomes, etc. [He must] actively work on a peace process for restoration and de-occupation and unite with Okinawan leadership in calling for demilitarization of Hawaiʻi and of the Pacific.