Gov. David Ige is proving the truth of the political saying that in politics, timing is everything.
Ige was a second-tier legislative committee chairman running the Education Committee when he jumped in to become Senate Ways and Means chairman 10 years ago.
Dealing with an economy shaking from the Great Recession, Ige was forced to write a budget that endorsed public worker furloughs. Ige then made the surprising jump to statewide candidate and giant killer as he became the first Hawaii Democrat to defeat an incumbent governor, Neil Abercrombie, in a primary election. Abercrombie’s consistent unpopularity, not Ige’s campaign skills, provided the timing Ige needed for the win.
Now a decade later, with a state budget that has gone from bad to horrendous, Ige, as governor, has learned to avoid making a decision until the usual hew and cry of public demands escalate to calls for his head.
For instance, Ige, with a management style that could be described as either meticulous or overly cautious, started as governor with public demands that he finish his first Cabinet. But he couldn’t name his first attorney general, insisting he needed more information until critics blasted him, saying it wasn’t more information he needed, but the ability to make a decision. Supporters hoping for a return to the years of “quiet but effective” leadership, characterized by former Gov. George Ariyoshi, soon grew disappointed.
Criticism started in March, as House Speaker Scott Saiki noted “the number of positive test results is exponentially increasing on a daily basis.” The Kakaako Democrat called Ige’s lack of action “utterly chaotic … there is a mass confusion among the public.”
Ige, never accused of having lightning-fast political reflexes, finally acted by calling for the most dramatic and total state shutdown in the nation.
The plan must have given Ige some worry because it crashed the local economy as tourists numbers went from 35,000 a day to somewhere between 300 to 450 a day, and those visitors were supposed to stay locked in their hotel rooms for two weeks.
The severe restrictions resulted in widespread layoffs and furloughs, the rise of weekly food lines and the destruction of the local economy.
If there was a sweet spot in running the state in the middle of a national crisis, Ige was one of many governors across the nation who couldn’t find it. After first being criticized for not imposing a shutdown, Ige was targeted for failing to reopen the economy.
As Hawaii took repeated economic hits, the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii said the state’s businesses needed immediate direction, help and solutions.
“We, respectfully, urge a more immediate response and commitment to our state’s economic recovery process,” said the business group’s president and CEO Sherry Menor-McNamara.
Shortly after that last call for action, Ige moved to open Hawaii to out-of-state visitors come Aug. 1 if they can prove they have been tested for the virus.
Whether Ige’s approach proves wise or just hesitant is still up for judgment; however, the governor’s slow-to-act style has turned the slow-moving loris into a political animal.