The good news from Gov. David Ige’s point of view is that he has two years left in his term in which to craft a legacy.

The bad news from the citizens’ point of view is that David Ige will be governor for two more years.

Why is that bad news? He’s a nice man, moral, congenial and wants the best for us. Alas, as a former electrical engineer he’s a plodding technocrat. Not a bold leader with bold ideas and action in difficult times. He’d be fine if Hawaii were just humming along with few headwinds.

We’re not humming along and the headwinds of the pandemic and economic stagnation are growing stronger here, not fading. We lag most states horribly in the percentage of our population that’s been vaccinated. We’re in the BOTTOM 16. [This chart is before our mass inoculation program began at Pier 2 this week]

Here’s who is on top on the vaccination percentages so far:

Ige is no Andrew Cuomo or Gavin Newsom. His speech pattern and manner is neither Rooseveltian nor Churchillian. He doesn’t command his state. The pandemic revealed that. He let county mayors tug him this way and that with individual Covid responses. It often seemed his lieutenant governor was off and running in a different direction. His low-key, technocrat approach to governance reminds me of former Honolulu mayor Jeremy Harris’s impediment. He thought about things too long. We wanted action on traffic, road repair, water pollution  and an old-fashioned Waikiki.

In a recent, large, national survey, no governor had a lower public approval rating for handling the virus than Ige. The average governor approval rating for handling the pandemic was 66%, compared to Ige’s 39%. Only 55% of people in Hawaii felt that the state has been doing a good job handling the pandemic. That’s the lowest percentage in the nation. And now our Covid numbers are spiking again, threatening either additional shutdowns or at least sticking to Tier 2 while fearing a retreat to Tier 1.

Ige’s off the chart, near the bottom.

Civil Beat columnist Neal Milner summed it up succinctly:

“[We] see the governor’s handling of the virus through the public’s lens of ‘same old, same old.’ That perception looks like this: Of course the coronavirus response has been far from business-as-usual in so many ways. But there also has been a kind of state government-esque, go-by-the book quality to it: we are moving cautiously; sticking to the protocols. The team is in place. The masters of disaster. Sensible leaders doing sensible things.”

While Ige may see himself as that sensible leader with sensible handling, the feeling’s not  mutual.

We were late on the draw in doing a shutdown before Covid got a foothold. We re-opened bars and …whoops!  We closed bars but left restaurants doing 30% of their revenue from food  also be bars. We did not mandate masks in public. We did not demand compliance with no-group-gathering instructions.

Ige was very late at recognizing at the start that people here were not happy with our flood of tourists even before the pandemic. He went along with the argument that tourism is our only game and we have to play it.

So his worst decision was letting tourists and returning residents in with their promise to quarantine themselves somewhere for 14 days. That was stupid and often ignored. He should have requisitioned hotels near the airports and used them for mandatory quarantine, guarded, with the “inmates” limited to their rooms.

But Ige wanted more tourism business to be generated and who would come here under such strict rules? How could we do that to returning residents?

Well, Australia and New Zealand did it. Fiji and Samoa did it. They have Covid under control. We do not, and now we are encouraging visitors under a “bubble” concept in which they do the quarantine time in a resort hotel that has local people as staff that does not stay in the bubble but goes home, shopping, etcetera.

Then Civil Beat reported:

“Five months after a California congresswoman asked Hawaii for answers about its public health response and its spending of federal money, Gov. David Ige hasn’t provided her with any information.

“U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, who chairs a House subcommittee on health, expressed concern in August about the state’s worsening COVID-19 outbreak, which was resulting in new cases of over 200 per day. Gov. David Ige told the congresswoman he needed more time to respond. Months later, he hasn’t provided information.”

Early last year, House Speaker Scott Saiki sounded an early alarm, telling Ige that his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic “has been utterly chaotic and there is mass confusion among the public.”

POLITICO’s Bill Scher asked readers of that popular internet site which governors have done a better job at meeting the moment by acting decisively and boosting morale, and which have missed the moment, dragged their feet and succumbed to petty squabbling?

Ige ranked #4 in Scher’s “Gubernatorial Busts” category, state executives which he identifies as among the worst performing during this crisis in the country. Ige is the only Democrat ranked in the bottom six.

State of Reform is an 11 western state, non-partisan think tank that compares state policies on big issues like this pandemic.

It’s report: “Hawaii has an Office of Federal Awards Management but it isn’t apparent that they have been provided the resources or authorities to track opportunities and state agency actions. It should be noted that the state has a bad track record for not seizing and spending federal dollars that would benefit the people of Hawaii.’

My case is hereby submitted for judgment..


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.

7 replies on “Nice Guy But Not A Gifted Leader”

  1. It’s “Newsom,” not “Newsome,” Bob.
    He’s a putz, but get the name right.
    Rule Number One, you recalcitrant cub.
    And keep your necktie out of the glue pot.

  2. Governor Ige is on record saying to the media and to the people of Hawai’i that he would take a pay cut if other govt workers had to take a pay cut.

    Did he follow through on his promise?

  3. I don’t disagree with most of your criticisms, especially the part that he should’ve created mandated, monitored quarantine for arrivals from out of state.

    But I will raise this question: Who would’ve done better? Perhaps Derek Kawakami, but besides him, can you think of anyone else who might aspire to the position who would’ve done better?

  4. Reading too many Shapiro columns lately ?? You seem to conviniently ignore the fact that Hawai’i ISN’T NY or California and our politics are very different. Cuomo or Newsom-style here?? (BTW– NY and California also have huge vaccine problems.) C’mon. You, of all people, know that everything here is accomplished by committee. “A bold leader with bold ideas” ?? How’d that work out for Abercrombie ?? John and Lingle got along. Ben– spent a lot of time fighing even his own supporters. Ige is actually a fairly honest reflection of how we govern. His “engineer” style is what we asked for. He does need to be less “engineer” and more “dynamic”. But will that be supported? Even before CoVid, Ige was attacked by competing forces pushing their self-interests. You forget, Ige’s initial air travel and social lockdowns kept us at record LOW CoVid rates. And just about EVERYONE, Tourism and Hotels and Restaurants and Gyms and on and on, attacked his policies. (His “wingman”, “Brutus” Green was the Chief Underminer.) So he backed down. Now, he’s weak and ineffectual. Truth is, until people start working TOGETHER to find solutions, this will continue. And it’s not as simple as you want it to be. At KGMB, when you issued an order, it was followed or ELSE. You know, government is not like that. Stop throwing rocks and start advocating for smart compromise and planning. That’s what we need.

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