5 Reasons Governor David Ige Is Heading for Re-Election
Plus four other surprising things about Hawai‘i’s 2018 primary election
Photos: Courtesy of Team David Ige
If you’d asked pollsters, pundits and just regular people early this year about Hawai‘i Gov. David Ige’s odds of getting re-elected against popular opponent U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, most would have guessed very poor. Yet, Ige led every voter report on Saturday’s primary election night and won by a solid seven points.
Five reasons Ige won:
THE DEMOCRATS WHO WON IN THEIR PRIMARY ELECTION RACES PAUSE FOR A PHOTO SUNDAY, AT THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY UNITY BREAKFAST. FROM LEFT, ED CASE, WHO IS RUNNING FOR U.S. HOUSE, U.S. REP. TULSI GABBARD, GOV. DAVID IGE, U.S. SEN. MAZIE HIRONO, U.S. SEN. BRIAN SCHATZ AND STATE SEN. JOSH GREEN, WHO IS RUNNING FOR LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR.
1. Boring but Honest Technocrat
Ige, an engineer and a longtime Hawai‘i elected official, comes across as trustworthy, not flashy but someone who has reliably stayed the same. While he may struggle to articulate his vision, he showed up, did his homework and kept plugging away as governor. Still representing the state in Congress, attorney Hanabusa campaigned from 5,000 miles away for most of the year leaving a fuzzy impression of her recent accomplishments or plan of action if elected.
2. Supported Schools and the Environment
Ige consistently won points for his support for public education including: air-conditioning sweltering schools, even at a slower-than-first-predicted rate; negotiating a new teachers contract; and winning the endorsement of the politically savvy Hawai‘i State Teachers Association. While Hanabusa garnered a lot of support from other unions, the teachers were pivotal to Ige and his core emphasis. Ige also consistently earned support from environmental groups over the last two years of his term.
3. Avoided Negative Campaigning
Facing a strong challenge from Hanabusa, a veteran lawmaker and experienced labor lawyer, Ige stuck to the issues and steered clear of the slam ads that were being run by political action committees on behalf of his opponent. One Ige ad that took Hanabusa to task for criticizing Ige without proffering her own specific solutions drew fire. Two female lawmakers and other women supporting Hanabusa called a weekend news conference to say it was sexist to say “criticism isn’t leadership.” That allegation captured little interest and some blowback from at least one fellow Democrat, state Sen. Laura Thielen, who called bogus, saying the women played the discrimination card unfairly to support their candidate. She countered on Facebook after the news conference: “Several of the leaders stepping forward to accuse Ige of discrimination today were deafeningly silent several months ago, when a prominent legislator was accused of sexual harassment and ultimately resigned office.”
4. Not a Big PACMan
Political action committees poured money into supporting Hanabusa. A super PAC called Be Change Now, funded by the carpenters union, spent nearly $3 million on ads to help Hanabusa and state Sen. Josh Green for lieutenant governor. The Defend Hawai‘i Now PAC rolled out more attack ads as well. The strategy seemed to backfire—for Hanabusa if not Green—with more voters expressing distrust and disdain for the practices, and supporting Ige. Though he received some PAC support, the Ige ads remained issue-and record-focused.
FROM LEFT, U.S. SEN. BRIAN SCHATZ AND FIRST LADY DAWN AMANO IGE AND GOV. DAVID IGE SHARE A LIGHTER MOMENT AT THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY UNITY BREAKFAST.
5. Hanabusa Campaign Faltered
Polls in March showed Hanabusa 20 percentage points ahead of Ige with the January state false missile alert fiasco still fresh in people’s minds. Politicians were wondering how Hanabusa could lose. But the first ads for the tough Hanabusa pictured her incongruously mingling with children in what appeared to be an effort to soften her image. Later ads, and the televised debates, focused on Hanabusa blasting Ige for what he did without providing specifics of how she’d be different. Since the two longtime Democrats agree on most major issues, specifics—as well as style—gained in importance. The Hanabusa campaign seemed to lack a cohesive strategy.
Ige faces Republican state Rep. Andria Tupola in the general election after she won decisively over longtime GOP candidate John Carroll. The Green Party’s Jim Brewer is also running, but Ige remains the clear favorite in this heavily Democratic state.
THE IGE FAMILY
Four other election surprises:
1. The majority of people voted absentee.
Voter turnout remained low with 741,000 registered statewide out of more than 1.1 million eligible to vote as estimated by the U.S. Census as. Of the 38 percent who voted, 106,000 or about 14 percent showed up at a polling place, while 179,000 chose to vote absentee, at 24 percent. Turnout was better than the 2016 primary but still very low. Should the state switch to mail-only balloting, opponents worry about increased voter fraud while supporters believe participation may increase.
2. Why each vote matters.
Whoever said one vote doesn’t make a difference doesn’t live in Kalihi. State Rep. Romy Cachola faced a strong challenge from attorney/writer Ernesto Sonny Ganaden, who was leading by 10 votes at one point on election night. However, by the time the last vote was counted, Cachola prevailed by 51 votes.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono talks with Gov. David Ige at the Democratic Party unity breakfast.
3. Name or reputation?
In the statewide Office of Hawaiian Affairs races, the top vote-getters will face a runoff election in the November general election. In the O‘ahu resident trustee race, Kalei Akaka, granddaughter of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, and former Akaka aide Esther Kia‘aina finished on top to compete for one opening there. In the at-large race, incumbents John Waihe‘e IV, Lei Ahu Isa and Rowena Akana topped the ballot while former state land board chairman William Aila, controversial former state Rep. Faye Hanohano and newcomer Brendon Lee rounded out the top six to advance.
4. Trying again sometimes works.
Eight-term Big Island Democrat Rep. Cindy Evans was defeated by former state Rep. David Tarnas in a rematch. Tarnas, an environmental planner, will face Republican Tom Belekanich in the general election. Tarnas served in the Legislature from 1994 to 1998 and had run against Evans in 2016 to lose by less than 200 votes.