It’s nothing new. Gov. David Ige once against gets very low approval ratings for just about everything he’s touched as the state’s chief policy progenitor.

Got a good memory? Think back to June of 2017.  A poll showed his approval rating at a measly 35 percent, an all-time low. Not only did the poll reveal that more citizens had a negative view of Ige than a positive one, but 57 percent of the respondents would have liked to see someone else running Hawaii.

Now, of course, it’s all about Covid-19 and the state’s response. Closing businesses and schools. Being slow with the federal unemployment plus-up funds. The turmoil in the Health Department.  But the reality is that handling a pandemic of this complexity has been a learning experience for everyone from families right up to the experts at the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Ige and his people were handling this on the fly. So why are so many people dumping on him?

I submit it’s what I’ve titled today’s column, taken from the classic 1967 movie with Paul Newman, in which the Captain (the warden) of a chain-gang southern prison explains why Luke has to be specially punished for disobedience. “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

What David Ige suffers from is a failure to communicate on a level that calms people’s fears and coaxes them to join him in his effort to do the very best he can under horrible circumstances.

Think what you will about the train, or windmills, or parks, or transit rental policies of Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, that fellow knows how to communicate! He speaks plainly, confidently, deferentially and with facial engagement. Ige, on the other hand, suffers from a public speaking handicap. He apparently wasn’t well coached in speech as a youngster. His tonality is weak and wispy. He always seems to be reading from a script rather than speaking from the heart. He sounds more apologetic than persuasive. He makes himself an easy push-back target.

My wife and I sometimes talk about all the speech coaching she got as a Punahou student. Young people fear talking to their classmates, fear laughter and derision. But they can be taught how to overcome that and win over people — even fellow students — with a confident speaking style.

Ige needs a coach more than he needs his current communications specialists. But it’s too late. His term is almost up. At best, he might be able to deliver a memorable farewell address.

There’s a lesson here for up and coming politicians. It’s a new world, and maybe not the best one, but you have to operate in the milieu that’s available. And right now, talented communication is the coin of the realm.

Maybe that’s too bad, too shallow. But it is what it is.

You’ve either got a talent for communication, or a failure to communicate.


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Biafran War in Nigeria (1968) Vietnam War (1969-73), Iraq in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. 2 Emmys for documentaries. Married to journalist Denby Fawcett; one daughter. Brett Jones, foreign service officer, State Department.

3 replies on ““What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” Prison warden in Cool Hand Luke.”

  1. It’s not Ige that is calling the shots it’s his chief of staff Linda that is running the show, Ige is just a puppet like Kirmit the frog.

  2. In the case of the pandemic, IMO his communication style is not the problem.

    It’s the lack of substantive communication, and in particular, the lack of information on the circumstances of transmission of the coronavirus.

    If he, or someone in the state government, was regularly providing us with that information, we could make informed decisions on how to proceed with our lives while minimizing the chances of becoming infected, or infecting others.

    I also remember a school principal on a news broadcast saying how he was making policy decisions for his school based on what he’d heard on the news. That principal, and others like him, would have been able to make better policy choices had Ige provided us will the information on viral transmission.

    That information would also allow us to judge the rationality of state and county policies. Policies consistent with that information would likely have high compliance rates.

    Instead, we are left with the situation summed up in a quote that was in Civil Beat. ““Half of the population is scared because they don’t know what’s going on, and half of the population is not scared enough because they don’t know what’s going on.””

  3. Interesting thing about the “vox populi” changes like the weather. Ige is a “wimp”. Abercrombie was too arrogant, pushy. Ben didn’t listen. Hawai’i has enough armchair quarterbacks to give the “Bows” an undefeated season. Ige and his administration. like the rest of the World, have been sailing through uncharted waters, learning as time, research, and information progressed. Mistakes ? Plenty. But, would we have been better off with another Information-Vender-In-Chief??? You know, the guy who told us it would be over by Easter. The vaccine would be ready by Election Day. Masks are not necessary. Take bleach to kill the virus. Open everything including schools because it will be OK. I can think of 220-thousand-plus reasons thoughtful, cautious leadership was the better path. I’ll take Ige over the know-it-alls and political streetwalkers like “Brutus” Green any day of the week.

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