Ige: We Can Do Better Than Neil

State Sen. David Ige. Photo courtesy David Ige

State Sen. David Ige. Photo courtesy David Ige

David Ige wants to be Hawaii’s next governor. He wants to defeat the spectacularly well-known and extraordinarily well-financed incumbent Neil Abercrombie in next August’s Democratic primary election, then stiff arm whomsoever the Republicans nominate.

“Who,” you might ask, “is David Ige, and how does he propose to do that?”

He’s a 56-year-old veteran of 28 years in the state Legislature, nine in the House of Representatives and 19 in the Senate. His majority Democratic colleagues have entrusted him with chairmanship of a variety of committees: in the House, Higher Education, Economic Development and Hawaiian Affairs, and Technology; in the Senate, Health, Consumer Protection and Technology, Education, and Ways and Means.

Ige’s roots run deep into rural Oahu’s plantation past. Mother Tusure’s people were a Kahuku sugar plantation family; father Tokio’s parents were employees of Ewa Plantation. Ige’s father served in the 100th Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team during World War II. After the war, he took a job as a steelworker, married and settled in Pearl City near the present Don Quijote store. He and his wife raised six children there, all boys of whom David was the fifth, and all, save one, university-trained engineers or Internet technology graduates.

He was a product of public education in Hawaii, kindergarten through MBA: Pearl City Elementary, Highlands Intermediate, Pearl City High School (fifth among the class of 1975’s 500 students), and the University of Hawaii.

“I graduated in 1979 with a degree in electrical engineering,” says Ige. “It was the beginning of the technology boom and I had 40 job offers, one in Hawaii and 39 on the Mainland. The first time I left Hawaii was to go to Silicon Valley for a job interview.”

He took the Hawaii job with GTE Hawaiian Tel, married college sweetheart Dawn and began raising kids – apparently well. A graduate of USC, eldest daughter Lauren will enter Georgetown Law School this fall. Middle child Amy attends the University of Rochester, where she’s studying biology and public health. And son Matthew will matriculate in September at Johns Hopkins University, where he’ll be a Bloomberg Scholar.

While Ige had played campus politics at both Pearl City High School and Manoa, he entered the big time in 1985 when Gov. George Ariyoshi appointed him to fill a vacancy in the state House. The arc of his legislative career has been marked by humility, intelligence and a growing stature among his peers. But he suffers a charisma gap in any contest with a politician such as Abercrombie.

More than a year from primary election 2014, Ige sounds vague on policy issues, saying only that he sees “education K-20 as a soft spot. Education is the state’s most important function, and we can do better.”

He also cites the need to diversify the state’s economy: “Everything that happens in Hawaii seems to be ad hoc, people responding to different proposals rather than following a sustained plan,” says Ige. “In the 1970s, we had functional plans, and we followed them into the late 1980s.”

Ige dismisses, almost with contempt, any suggestions that former Gov. Ariyoshi or the HGEA or his own ambition to make a more serious run in 2018 prompted his decision to challenge Abercrombie next year.

Says Ige, “I’m focused on building a team, reaching out to everyone and engaging as many people as I can with the message that Hawaii can do better.”