In calling for Hawaii and its citizens to move forward in a collaborative fashion from the divisiveness of the past four years, David Ige — the low-key electrical engineer from Pearl City — was sworn in as the eighth governor of the islands.
Amid overcast skies and a chill from the island breezes, Ige and Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui took their oaths of office at noon today at a ceremony in courtyard of the state Capitol.
The 57-year-old Ige, a veteran state Senate Democrat, opened with a line that he called fitting for the occasion.
"Let me begin this morning with an introduction," he said. "My name is David Ige."
The deadpan humor was befitting for a man who was little known outside his Senate district when he launched his campaign last year.
But riding a wave of voter discontent over the blusterous style of his predecessor, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Ige and Tsutsui swept into office last month over Republicans James "Duke" Aiona and Elwin Ahu.
Ige stopped short of making any specific policy statements, but ticked off a laundry list of issues that he sees as priorities for the next four years, according to his prepared remarks.
Those priorities included nurturing a sustainable economy, taking a more active role in growing small business and diversifying the economy, tackling the lack of affordable housing and poverty such as homelessness, collaborating with business, labor, community groups and public workers.
Ige, a graduate of Pearl City High School whose wife is a career educator and vice principal at Kanoelani Elementary School in Waipio, also said he would place an emphasis on improving education at all levels and empowering schools.
"As someone who came out of our public schools and who graduated from the University of Hawaii, I am a firm believer that a strong public education system unlocks the dreams to our children’s future," Ige said.
Shifting to health care, Ige said he would ensure that seniors and the elderly would be taken care of with dignity and love and also called on government to seize on the pioneering experience of the state’s pre-paid health care act, and not let bureaucracy get in the way of improving the state’s much-maligned Hawaii Health Connector marketplace established under the Affordable Care Act.
His administration would work to be responsible stewards of the environment, while also trying to strike a balance with development that was spurred by the Abercrombie administration.
"Being responsible stewards of the environment doesn’t have to force us to choose between that crucial role and economic growth or any other conflicting interest," he said.
Such work also included harnessing renewable energy to reduce the state’s dependence on fossil fuels and supporting local agriculture through the diversification of local crops and support of farmers.
Ige also recognized the divisiveness of the recent past, including issues that have divided communities such as same-sex marriage and GMO regulation.
"As important as those issues are, they really don’t define us as a community or as a people," he said. "Outside money that seeks to divide us on passing issues; hurtful and personal attacks that have nothing to do with the issues themselves; emotional appeals that feed on prejudices and stereotypes … they all have nothing to do with who we are."
Eula "Skippy" May Sweet, 85, of Kaneohe attended her first inauguration Monday representing the Daughters of Hawaii and has high hopes for Ige’s administration.
She hopes Ige and his administration "reflect the real heart beat of the citizens. I hope they would not adhere to the dinosaurian traditions of the past administration and they would visualize without any prejudice."
Tsutsui, who was appointed by Abercrombie two years ago after his predecessor, Brian Schatz, was named to fill the vacancy in the U.S. Senate left by the death of Daniel Inouye, echoed the call for unity.
"Having traveled throughout the state, I have seen the strengths of our communities, big and small, on all the islands," he said, according to prepared remarks. "I have seen the Hawaiian tradition of people treating each other with respect and kindness and embracing the spirit of aloha.
"I’m confident that together we will navigate through contentious issues and that together we will move our state forward and continue to build that better, brighter future that our ancestors before us were seeking."
The ceremony was titled "Honoring the past and charting a new tomorrow," and included performances by students from Pearl City High School and Moanalua High School, where Mrs Ige once served as vice principal, and also the Hawaiian immersion school Kula Kaiaouni O Anuenue.
Hawaiian singer Raitea Helm performed the national anthem and "Hawaii Ponoi" was sung by Pomaikai Lyman and the Kahaluu Elementary School Ukulele Choir.
Today’s ceremony, which also included a procession by the storied 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army, was the start of a statewide inaugural tour. Organizers said events on neighbor islands would be announced in the coming days.
Analysts said they did not expect grand flourishes of language or soaring rhetoric from the Ige, noting his more even-keeled, problem-solving style.
"Where he is and where his values are — they’re those of an engineer that wants to see something accomplished," said Dan Boylan, a MidWeek columnist and former history professor at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu. "That’s where I think he’ll define his capacity as a leader. That’s where I think we’ll find him.
"If we don’t, if he is just a fiscal guy who watches the money and so forth, then there’s not going to be much of an administration."
Ige takes over from Abercrombie, whose feisty, contentious political style alienated many voters who supported him in the previous election and led to an unprecedented 35-point victory by Ige in the primary.
Even the venue for this year’s inauguration shows the contrast in styles. Four years ago Abercrombie held the ceremony on the grounds of Iolani Palace, where governors of the past had taken the oath. Gov. Linda Lingle held her inaugurals at the Capitol in 2002 and 2006.
House Speaker Joe Souki said he expected Ige to preach civility in government and try to bring all the factions together.
"Even though he won a lopsided victory, there’s still strong feelings on the other side, and I think that needs to be resolved," Souki said. "I think he’s aware of that."
Ige still has to name the members of his Cabinet and begin preparation of the state budget — most of which will have been crafted by Abercrombie — to be submitted to the Legislature later this month.