The Great 2014 David Vs. Goliath Match-Up

The Great 2014 David Vs. Goliath Match-Up

By Michael Markrich and Karleen Chinen

Tall and thin with a head of thick, white hair, 88-year-old former Gov. George Ariyoshi bounds to the stage at the opening of state Sen. David Ige’s gubernatorial campaign headquarters. Ariyoshi waits for the applause to die down; then, with the perfect timing that comes from years of practice, begins working the crowd with a fiery speech:

“I am an old man, and the future does not belong to me. The future belongs to most all of you and the young people in our community, and I want that future to be very good for them. I don’t believe we are heading in that direction now.”

The crowd responds with shouts and cheers.

Ariyoshi is followed at the mike by another former governor, Ben Cayetano, whose support for Ige came as a surprise, given his long association with Ige’s opponent, Gov. Neil Abercrombie. “The thing that has been heartwarming is I didn’t anticipate getting Governor Cayetano’s support so early in the campaign,” Ige later told the Herald.

Like-minded concerns about the path Hawai‘i was headed down drew the two former governors into Ige’s campaign. Ariyoshi explained his concerns in an interview at his downtown office.

“I think we are forgetting that what we are doing has great impact on the future,” he said. “We are having good times now, but what happens three or four years from now when the economy goes down and we have to lay off people and cut back? I feel you have to follow the [national economic trends] and if you have plenty of money, don’t spend it all.”

Gubernatorial candidate David Ige, wife Dawn and children Lauren and Matthew took a few days off from campaigning to witness daughter Amy’s graduation from the University of Rochester. (Photo courtesy Ige family)

Gubernatorial candidate David Ige, wife Dawn and children Lauren and
Matthew took a few days off from campaigning to witness daughter Amy’s graduation from the University of Rochester. (Photo courtesy Ige family)

Cayetano echoed Ariyoshi’s concerns about Hawai‘i’s economic future. In an online interview posted on Ige’s campaign website, Cayetano notes that one thing he, Ariyoshi and Ige have in common is their experience as former Senate Ways and Means Committee chairs during their respective times in the Legislature. As a result, each has an in-depth and statewide understanding of Hawai‘i’s budget.

Both former governors have been “very, very supportive and willing to not only get out and campaign but to help me understand what it means to be governor.” Ige said he has been able to discuss issues and different ways of approaching an issue or problem with them, which “has been very helpful for me in understanding what being governor means and how I would be able to do a better job if I approach things in different ways.”

Cayetano has been upfront about his decision to part company with Abercrombie, his longtime friend and political ally, and instead support Ige. He said he had supported Abercrombie with campaign contributions and his personal vote in each and every one of his election bids. But he could not this time around. He said Abercrombie has changed, from being a vanguard for the middle class and the disenfranchised to serving big money interests. He said his efforts to point out that change to his friend, Neil Abercrombie, were unsuccessful.

Back at Ige headquarters, it is the candidate’s turn to speak. Cayetano beams as the lei-bedecked Ige steps up to the stage and begins speaking. Ige acknowledges he is not well-known and reveals that some wondered whether he would be speaking to a largely empty room when he announced his candidacy.

He need not have worried. The ground floor of the old Varsity Building on University Avenue in Mö‘ili‘ili was filled to capacity with local supporters, many of them public school teachers who are members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the only union thus far to have endorsed Ige. Crowds of young people clapped and cheered enthusiastically for the veteran state senator who hopes to be Hawai‘i’s next governor. But first he will have to unseat Hawai‘i’s incumbent governor, a fellow Democrat — something that has never before happened in Hawai‘i.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (second from right), HUOA president Chris Shimabukuro (far left) and president-elect Mark Higa (far right) with the 2014 Legacy Award honorees (from left): Takejiro Higa, Ken Kamiya, Mamoru Kaneshiro, Jane Kaneshiro and retired Judge Herbert Shimabukuro.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie (second from right), HUOA president Chris Shimabukuro (far left) and president-elect Mark Higa (far right) with the 2014 Legacy Award honorees (from left): Takejiro Higa, Ken Kamiya, Mamoru Kaneshiro, Jane Kaneshiro and retired Judge Herbert Shimabukuro.

Four years earlier, many of the same people in the crowd had enthusiastically backed Neil Abercrombie. Today, Ige is their champion, and whether he wins or loses the primary, this is a race that will be talked about and analyzed for decades.

THE RELUCTANT POLITICIAN

In November 1985, David Ige was a supervising electrical engineer at Hawaiian Telephone Company when his Pearl City High School buddy — and now campaign manager — Keith Hiraoka called him. Would Ige be interested in getting involved in politics? “No,” Ige replied. Hiraoka’s father was involved in Democratic Party politics in the Pearl City area at the time. A short while later, Hiraoka called again with a different question: If the opportunity presented itself, would he be interested? Ige thought about it for a minute. “I suppose so.” The two hung up.

Then came a call from then-state Democratic Party chair James Kumagai, who told Ige that he was assembling a short list of possible candidates to replace Rep. Arnold Morgado, who had decided to resign his state House seat to run for George Akahane’s seat on the Honolulu City Council. In 1985, Honolulu voters had recalled councilmembers Akahane, Toraki Matsumoto and Rudy Pacarro after they switched parties, from Democrat to Republican, while still in office. The recall move was initiated by then-Councilwoman Patsy Mink.

In the days following Morgado’s announcement, Gov. George Ariyoshi asked Kumagai to assemble a short list of possible appointees for Morgado’s seat. Ige’s name had been suggested by several people, including teachers, community leaders, etc.

On the Friday after Thanksgiving, David Ige met with Gov. Ariyoshi. He was not a member of the Democratic Party at the time, although he considered himself a Democrat and tended to vote for Democrats. Kumagai had him sign the party card while driving to their meeting with Ariyoshi.

During the meeting, Ige, then 28 years old, said he would be interested in serving, but only if his bosses approved his appointment. After all, serving in the Legislature meant he would be off the job for three and a half months.

Ige returned to work and a conference call was hastily arranged with three of his bosses. Their decision: “no.” Ige called Kumagai and thanked him for the opportunity, but said he couldn’t do it. Twenty minutes later, Ige received a call from Hawaiian Tel president Charlie Crane, whom Ige had never met, giving the engineer the green light to accept the appointment.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, Gov. Ariyoshi announced that David Ige would be the Pearl City district’s new representative.

That was 29 years ago. Ige went on to serve nine years in the House, and the last 19 in the Senate, representing the area he has spent all 57 years of his life, Pearl City/‘Aiea. During session and when other legislative matters require his attention, Ige can be found at the State Capitol. Otherwise, he is at work at his brother Robert’s engineering consulting firm, where he is project and program manager.

“I’ve always tried to maintain a professional career while doing public service. And I get back to the whole notion of a citizen Legislature. . . . I believe retaining my professional career allowed me to do public service, but it also allowed me to be more independent.”

Ige could easily have retired as a state senator, so why is the soft-spoken engineer running against Abercrombie, a seasoned politician who began his political career in Hawai‘i the year David Ige graduated from Pearl City High School? Abercrombie has held city, state and federal office and, according to the most recent Campaign Spending Commission report, has amassed a war chest of over $4 million, much of it coming from developers, unions and millionaires, in his bid for four more years as Hawai‘i’s chief executive.

“Back in June or July when I made the formal announcement, I was very much concerned about the direction of the state. I felt like state government had lost its way,” said Ige. He said there seemed to be no long-term vision for the state and was bothered by what he perceived to be “a very divisive administration.”

Most of all, he questioned whose interests state government was serving. “A lot of the current administration seemed to be driven by special interests rather than the public interest and there was support for somebody stepping up. And so, at that point in time, I decided to run.”

The first of many people with whom he discussed his possible candidacy was the man who had appointed him to the Legislature 29 years earlier, former Gov. George Ariyoshi, who was supportive of Ige. Although a few thought the quiet, no drama legislator had lost his marbles, most encouraged him to run.

If ever there was a David vs. Goliath match-up in Hawai‘i politics, the Abercrombie-Ige face-off is it.

THE CHALLENGE

University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa journalism professor Gerald Kato, who covered Hawai‘i politics for decades as a newspaper and broadcast journalist — and continues to follow media reports of it — before entering the college teaching field, is well aware of the challenge Ige faces in going up against Neil Abercrombie.

“He’s (Abercrombie) had a remarkable run,” Kato said when interviewed a few months ago. “I would have never thought when I was a young student at the University of Hawai‘i that he was going to go anywhere.” But, he said, Abercrombie has been “the complete politician.”

“He has been in the House of Representatives; he has been in the state Senate. He has been on the City Council. He has been in Congress, and now he is governor. My God, who would have imagined?” Kato called Abercrombie “a tough politician,” even with his “supposed lack of popularity.” “Don’t ever count the guy out,” he said.

“They, the Democratic establishment, have never liked (Abercrombie’s) style. He has always been loud and aggressive.” Kato said former Gov. Ariyoshi always made the case that he was “quiet, but effective.” “Can David Ige make the case that he is quiet and affective, as opposed to this loud guy in the Capitol?”

He said Abercrombie’s willingness to defy the “Democratic establishment” by appointing his lieutenant governor, Brian Schatz, to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye’s seat following the senator’s passing in December 2012 was “a direct challenge to establishment Democrats.”

As Kato explains it, “The Burns-Ariyoshi networks still exist to the point where there are still people who believe in what the party stood for. But many of the people who knew Governor Burns have passed away. Ariyoshi is one of the last links to those who took over the Legislature [in the 1954 Democratic ‘revolution’]. There are younger people in this town who don’t even know who John Burns was.”

A circa early 1960s photograph of Tokio and Tsurue Ige with their six sons: from left: Richard, Steve, Robert, Theodore, David and Edward. (Photo courtesy Ige family)

A circa early 1960s photograph of Tokio and Tsurue Ige with their six sons: from left: Richard, Steve, Robert, Theodore, David and Edward. (Photo courtesy Ige family)

And then there is David Ige.

Gerald Kato is not alone in wondering, “How do you make the case for someone who is not very well-known?” Ige is well-known in legislative circles and in his district, but is largely unknown outside of those circles. “How do you motivate people to vote for you if they don’t know you?” Kato asks.

WHO IS DAVID IGE?

David Ige acknowledges that his decision to challenge the incumbent governor of his own party surprised many people.

Unlike Gov. Abercrombie, who is at his best pressing the flesh in big crowds, the more reserved and family-oriented Ige has had to “grow into” his role as candidate for governor.

“I’ve definitely gotten a lot better at getting out and meeting with people,” he said. “Now when I go to Kaua‘i, people actually recognize me as one of the candidates for governor, and that didn’t happen three months ago,” he said with a chuckle.

 

In the last year, he has criss-crossed the state many times, listening to people’s concerns and sharing with them his vision if he is elected governor. “I want to leave a better Hawai‘i for our children so they might enjoy the very things that I enjoyed when I grew up here,” he says.

The neighbor island visits have left Ige with a “much better understanding of the issues affecting the state,” he says. “I’ve learned to appreciate how different each island is and how even the same issue is different on the islands. So from that perspective, I’ve grown a lot.”

Ige said the fact that Hawai‘i had already had a Japanese American governor in George Ariyoshi, the state’s longest- serving chief executive (1974 to 1986), and that perhaps the next governor should be someone from another ethnic group never crossed his mind.

One of the beautiful things about growing up in Hawai‘i is that “ethnic boundaries don’t exist for many of us, so I never really thought about it in that context,” Ige said.
“Clearly, what the Democratic Party has demonstrated is that Democrats can work together to get people elected of all races and ethnic backgrounds, that your ethnic background hasn’t been a deterrent to success in the electoral process.”

Still, Ige admits that the historic election of Barack Obama as president in 2008 knocked even his socks off.

“I never thought I would live to see the day that someone born in Hawai‘i would become president of the United States and we have that situation today. When I go to speak to students, especially in the schools in my district, I always tell them that the United States of America and the state of Hawai‘i have proven that . . . your ethnic background does not limit you. You have every opportunity to pursue every dream that you can dream, because that’s what makes our country great. And, it is a country built by immigrants — we get immigrants from all around the world and they really add value to what makes, especially Hawai‘i, special.”

Ige knows that story well because his own grandparents lived that story.

David Ige is the consummate Sansei — the grandson of immigrants who left their homes in famine-stricken southern Japan for a new life across the Pacific Ocean in a group of islands called Hawai‘i. His father Tokio’s parents emigrated from Nishihara-Gaza Town in Okinawa and settled in ‘Ewa; his mother Tsurue’s parents were from Öshima island in Yamaguchi Prefecture and settled in Kahuku.

Tokio Ige, who died in 2005 at age 86, belonged to Tom Brokaw’s “Greatest Generation.” He volunteered for the segregated 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. While in training at Camp Shelby, Miss., he was called up as an early replacement for the casualty-plagued 100th Infantry Battalion. Tokio was wounded twice — the first time in the rescue of the Texas “Lost Battalion,” earning him a Purple Heart, and the second time, more seriously, when shrapnel entered his back.
Ige said his father was “typical of his generation — he didn’t talk about his activities in the war very much. He hardly mentioned it at all.” Tokio provided for his family as a steel worker on construction projects. Tsurue was a dental hygienist. Together, they raised six boys in their three-bedroom home in Pearl City. David was their fifth son. He said his mother was “very supportive, excited” when he told her he was going to run for governor.

“My mom has been one of my biggest supporters in the sense that she’s a lot more vocal than my dad. My dad was proud, but he would say ‘OK.’”

Ige attended public schools throughout his childhood and graduated in 1975 from Pearl City High School, where he was elected class president in his senior year. He was also involved in student government (Associated Students of the University of Hawai‘i) while an engineering student at UH-Mänoa.

He and his college sweetheart, Dawn, a school vice principal, recently celebrated their 32nd wedding anniversary — campaigning, of course. They are the parents of three college-age children, two daughters and a son, who often campaign with their parents.

Asked to identify mentors and role models, Ige pointed to Gov. Ariyoshi, who has been a role model from the day he appointed Ige to the Legislature in 1985.
“There are different people I’ve worked with during my career that I think are good role models for different things. Les Ihara and Suzanne Chun-Oakland have really been great partners in open access to government . . . and Sen. Chun-Oakland is just so passionate about human services and the safety net and the reason that government needs to provide support for those who can least afford it.”

IGE — AN ISSUES GUY

Ige, who ended his Senate career as chair of the all-important Ways and Means Committee, is most comfortable talking about issues and legislation to resolve issues. “I’m an electrical engineer by training, so I’m a systemic thinker and problem-solver,” he explains. “Really, that’s what engineers do, right? They try to look at different situations, identify what the cause of the issue or problem is, and solve it.”

Here is his take on some hot-button issues.

Kaka‘ako development: “I think there is too much happening too quickly in Kaka‘ako, and that’s what I’ve heard as I’ve gone around and talked to people in the community,” said Ige. He said no one he has talked to believes that the area needs to have “these tall, overly dense — those developments are three, four, five times the density that have been allowed in the past.” Many of the decisions were made at a time when the governor had “absolute control” of the Hawaii Community Development Authority board, the governmental agency responsible for overseeing development in the area.

“I think everybody acknowledges that there needs to be development in Kaka‘ako, but it really is about what kind of development,” he said. “They’re concerned that the board is not listening to their concerns. They have questions about how adequate the infrastructure is, whether the sewer systems can handle it.”

He is also concerned that there are no plans for an elementary school in the area, which is being touted as a community where families can “live, work and play.”

“And then, finally, what I hear is that nobody’s asking for multimillion dollar luxury condos that are bought by nonresidents. I think folks can understand the need for housing for residents, but many of these projects seem to be targeted to maximize profit at the expense of residents and, therefore, many of the projects end up being sold to nonresidents and end up not really helping with the housing situation.”

He said the 2014 Legislature attempted to rein in some of the HCDA’s power by passing legislation imposing a mandatory height limit on buildings in Kaka‘ako. The Legislature also restructured the HCDA board, giving the governor authority to appoint only two directors “to provide more diversity, so there would be more balance.”

“I look forward, when elected governor, to appointing board members that will represent the community and provide more balance in terms of listening to the issues raised,” he said.

Homelessness: The 2014 Legislature attempted to address homelessness in Hawai‘i by funding the Housing First Program, which has been successful on the Mainland in reducing the number of people without homes and living on the street living.

Housing First tries to “triage the homeless,” said Ige, acknowledging that some people choose to be homeless. Housing First can be of help to those who have become homeless due to circumstances beyond their control, such as being laid off from their job, or suffering reduced work hours or income. The program would provide them with shelter on a transitional basis and other services to help them move out of homelessness.

“It really is about trying to find community providers in each and every community rather than shift them from community to community by just chasing them out of the park,” said Ige, who has observed increasing numbers of homeless people while running in his district. “So the focus is really trying to have and identify partners in each and every community that can help either provide transitional housing.” He said the Legislature also increased funding for low-income rentals and tried to provide more support for state housing.

Ige noted that his colleague, state Sen. Suzanne Chun-Oakland has been looking into innovative alternatives such as micro-housing that would provide basic shelter for those without a permanent home — smaller rooms with access to community facilities and kitchen services. Ige says it is an attempt to “break the mode of what traditional housing would look like and really try to create lower-cost temporary transitional housing that would meet the needs and get the homeless off the streets.”
The high cost of housing and of living in Hawai‘i, in general, is a concern many people share with him wherever he has traveled. Government needs to identify those state lands that can be made available for housing, he said. Additionally, state land use plans need to be updated to make more lands available for housing, while still preserving prime agricultural lands. “Until we can go through the process, identify which lands we want to preserve, identify the opportunities for development and authorize it, then we are going to have the challenge of rising home prices and condominium prices.”

Same-sex marriage: Ige supported same-sex marriage, but disagrees with the governor’s decision to call an unbudgeted special session last November — two and a half months before the 2014 Legislature was to convene — to take up basically one issue that the House and Senate leadership had committed to fast-tracking and making a priority during the 2014 regular session.

Ige said he understands the argument that “justice delayed is justice denied.” “You could say that of any of the measures we deal with,” he said. “I guess it came down to whether the issue was so important and compelling that we convene in special session or not,” he said.

GMO labeling and pesticide use: “People have the right to know whether the foods they are eating have GMO (genetically modified organisms) materials or not. I would advocate that the federal government require it,” Ige said, adding that responsibility for verifying whether a product is or is not genetically modified should not fall on the shoulders of local producers or retailers.

Ige said concern about whether some companies are over-using pesticides, thus causing health problems, is a genuine one. He said ensuring the health and welfare of our community is a “core function of state government” and believes the state “should have been more aggressive and proactive in listening to the concerns voiced by the community.”

Board of Education: Ige supported an appointed board of education, but says he has also supported measures aimed at limiting the board to “establishing and impacting on statewide policy, rather than micromanagement of the Department of Education.” He is critical of the current board, saying it “has really taken efforts to isolate them from the people and the organization that they serve.” He is critical of the board’s decision to schedule only daytime meetings, when teachers, working parents and others interested in the school system cannot attend the meetings, and that meetings are no longer held on the neighbor islands.

“I’ve learned as I’ve campaigned around the state that the issues on the neighbor islands are very different and we’ve seen audits that really point out how different they are,” he said, noting that neighbor island schools lack the full staffing for repair and maintenance work that O‘ahu schools enjoy. “The neighbor island schools are really getting the short end of it because of that lack of support.” As governor, Ige said he would ask the BOE to revisit that policy and “be more proactive in getting out and meeting with the community.”

Unfunded liabilities: Ige concedes his position will not go over well with new state employees, but believes the state pension system “is now more sustainable.” However, that means benefits for new state employees have been reduced while the employee’s contribution toward their pension has been increased. Bottom line: Workers are now paying for a bigger portion of the reduced benefits they now receive. The retirement age also was increased, meaning some new employees will have to work longer before they can get retirement benefits. He said the Legislature also implemented a moratorium on additional benefits, which will make it difficult for future Legislatures to grant any kind of benefit enhancement until the Employee Retirement System is fully funded.

These changes, Ige maintains, are an attempt to strike a balance between “what is fair to public employees and what’s fair to the taxpayer.” “So, yes, it is a less generous pension system for new employees, but I think the general belief was that the old system was unsustainable, that there’s no way for us to be able to afford to do that for public employees on a going forward basis.”

ABERCROMBIE: DEFYING EXPECTATIONS

In spite of the governor’s unpopularity, Ige faces an uphill battle in challenging Abercrombie, said Kato.

“If I were Neil, I would say, ‘Look, we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country; we have a budget surplus. We are in good shape financially; we are on the comeback from economic decline, and [school] test scores are slowly getting better. We are [at the] leading edge of history by allowing gay marriage. We are not in decline!’” said Kato.

And that is exactly what Gov. Abercrombie is doing. He is defending his record and touting his accomplishments.

Abercrombie arrived in Hawai‘i in 1959, the year Hawai‘i achieved statehood. He earned his Ph.D. in American Studies at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa and made his name as an anti-Vietnam War campus radical. He parlayed that into a long political career. Long-haired and bearded, he drew attention driving around Honolulu in a converted Yellow Cab.

Abercrombie was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1975 — the year his opponent graduated from high school. Over the years, he has built a political base made up of left-wing university intellectuals; unions; young AJAs who, like him, opposed the Vietnam War and civil rights advocates.

In an interview at his campaign headquarters, Abercrombie recalled his first impression of Hawai‘i.

“I come from Buffalo [New York], where you are Italian; you are Polish or Jewish or Black. You were in a category and that was it for you. You were boxed in,” the governor explained. “But in Hawai‘i, what I discovered was when somebody said, ‘the haole guy over there, Abercrombie,’ that was just a physical description of me and not a judgment of your character, who you were. In the end, people wanted to know what you can contribute. That has followed me all the way through my political career. I was always in a minority.”

In a far-reaching interview, Abercrombie responded to his critics. He said he had no choice when it came to the teachers’ contract with the state facing a $220 million deficit when he came into the office.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, accompanied by his longtime friend and supporter and former DOE superintendent Charles Toguchi, greeted attendees at the Hawaii United Okinawa Association’s Legacy Awards banquet on July 13.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie, accompanied by his longtime friend and supporter and former DOE superintendent Charles Toguchi, greeted attendees at the Hawaii United Okinawa Association’s Legacy Awards banquet on July 13.

“I was in the position where, if we had not been able to implement the contract put forth to the HSTA that we might have been in a position where we might have had to lay teachers off in considerable numbers, and I tried to make that clear and I regret if it was not clear enough. This was to keep the schools open, to keep the teachers on the job, to allow the children to be taught. My principal objective was to see no more ‘Furlough Fridays,’ no more layoffs, no more short days, but rather that we would all work together to solve the financial crisis of the state.”

On Kaka‘ako development, Abercrombie thinks his critics lack an understanding of the area. “I am probably in a good position to comment on Kaka‘ako and the HCDA. It passed in 1976 (when he was in the Legislature). So, if one is talking about rapid development, it’s 2014; what the reality is is the Legislatures over time have completely neglected the area,” Abercrombie said.

The larger point, he says, is that he is trying to provide for workforce housing in a place where there has been none. Consequently, state leaders have, over time, contributed to a housing shortage that has tilted the balance in favor of higher-priced homes, pricing young people out of the market for buying any kind of housing, he says. The governor said he has taken an activist role in building affordable homes where none have existed for many years and he is not apologizing for it, even if others complain that the infrastructure is not in place to accommodate all the new units.

“The question is, can we put rentals and the units for sale at prices people can afford? That is the object there. I am sure there is room for improvement, but if the answer to the critics is that if you can’t do everything at once, do nothing at all, then what that means is that people will continue to be frozen out. My mom used to say the proof of the pudding is in the eating. The fact is when these affordable units become available, they are snapped up not just within a day, but within an hour. . . . So if what is going on in Kaka‘ako was not a response to a very real housing need, then you wouldn’t have these units snapped up instantaneously,” Abercrombie said.

“I think, finally, the fair question is, what is your plan? Anybody can say ‘no,’ obviously. Critics in the Legislature have been saying ‘no’ for decades. Do they want to develop the North Shore? Do they want to develop the central plains of O‘ahu? Do they want to keep the country country? Do they want to continue to have the present zoning in Kailua and Käne‘ohe? And Lanikai and on the Windward side? . . . And they think that West O‘ahu is already sufficiently congested, if you will, then where do they propose to build the housing? Where is the plan? Where is the plan for the housing for the working middle class? It doesn’t exist.

“All I am asking for is fair play here. I am asking people to say what happened before December 10, 2010? Nothing! Nothing in Kaka‘ako. Nothing for preservation. Nothing for housing. Nothing! Of ag lands or open space. Nothing!”

Abercrombie said he is the first governor in years to actually address the issue. The methods of the HCDA may be imperfect, he said, but it is an open process for everyone to comment.

He also addressed the issue of the $8.5 billion deficit.

“Read the financial assessment of this state over the last three years. You will see we have gone from negative, to stable, to positive. I am quite content to let the outside third parties, as opposed to those who have their own political agenda, make an evaluation as to the fiscal stability of this state.

“I took the hand that was dealt to me and played it. We got rid of the deficit. Then we moved into a positive balance. That is what this is: $844 million — an $844 million turnaround. The unfunded liabilities are now being funded. As a matter of fact, in this budget, included in the financial plan that has the positive balance for our fiscal year is $50 million dollars in the Emergency and Budget Reserve Fund, $50 million dollars into the Hurricane Reserve Trust Fund.

“Building up our reserves, and paying down the unfunded liabilities — we are on the track for the next three decades of paying down to zero the unfunded liabilities.

“Those billions (of debt) are going to disappear over time,” Abercrombie maintains. “The reason we are doing it over time is, it’s like a mortgage, you pay it off over time in order to be able to handle the monthly and yearly expenses associated with paying it off. We can do that without raising taxes.

“What you have to have is a financial plan and stick to it, not a papered-over accounting trick, which are the hallmark of some of the critics who are now commenting on how sound our fiscal plan is. It is very, very simple — go to Standard & Poor’s, go to Moody’s, go to Fitch!”

Abercrombie said he plans to use a portion of the money to restore some Department of Agriculture positions that were cut during the Lingle administration, such as in vector control. He also plans to develop a special museum at Honouliuli in West O‘ahu, where Hawai‘i Japanese Americans and prisoners of war were imprisoned during World War II.

COUNTDOWN TO AUG. 9

With barely three weeks left before voters go to the polls to select the Democrat who will advance into November’s general election, both campaigns are going full-speed ahead. With a healthy war chest of over $4 million, Abercrombie is getting his message out to voters through the media and through appearances at community events. Ige, on the other hand, is cash-strapped, with not even a million dollars in his campaign account. So, he is relying on public forums, public appearances and good old-fashioned, people-to-people grass roots “touches.”

He remains optimistic. “I get my energy just from the events that we do, meeting with people. I believe and have confidence that the voters won’t let the election be bought, that it will be about people supporting the best candidate for the job.”

Michael Markrich is a Honolulu-based researcher and writer.

5 COMMENTS

  1. There”re 2 Hawaiian guys on Oahu with my name, but I’m the Ha’ole Paul Meyer. One big concern of mine in this election is who will most effectively keep the best ag land growing food so we don’t have to keep increasing food imports. Maybe most of Kapolei is a lost cause, but Koa Ridge(?) and the Galbraith estate between Wahiawa and Haleiwa may still be used to feed us. I don’t have a clear idea of who will most effectively keep ag land in ag, and not used for the highest and best use from the point of view of real estate developers who only rate the value of the best ag land in terms of fungibility into their asset portfolios. Haven’t voted absentee yet, because this is still being determined. This is certainly not the only issue, but it’s a big one with me.

  2. Nice summary for those catching up now, to decide how to vote.
    Especially since absentee ballots just came in the mail last week.

  3. I hope David Ige starts campaigning and connecting with the Hawaiian people! I see him in pictures with local Japanese and Filipinos. When will he start talking to the Hawaiians? We can help him win this election!

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