Moving into our second year of the COVID-19 crisis, you can question whether the rising number of cases, especially those requiring hospitalizations, warns of the end of Gov. David Ige’s ability to run the state or is just a brief bump in the road.
Reviewing the question on Ige’s continuing ability to steady Hawaii’s government in the face of the virus, the governor’s score is sketchy and the public knows it.
Before COVID put Hawaii in an unemployment and economic crisis, Ige was not a popular leader.
His latest public approval rating, taken last year for a national survey, was bad. The survey of the 50 governors showed Ige coming in last.
Ige’s rating ranged from a high of 46% last June to the latest national low of 26%. COVID has taken whatever luster Ige could build.
Ige’s political success runs ahead of his public approval.
His reelection campaign appeared strongly supported, as he triumphed over former Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa 50% to 43% in the 2018 Democratic primary, but his time in office has been marked by repeated calls for action and movement.
Back in 2020 as the pandemic was taking hold, the Kokua Council was demanding immediate action by the state government to protect its citizens as criticism increased that the state Health Department was unable to perform the promised contact tracking of infected citizens. The state said it had 450 at the ready, while legislative investigations showed between 15 to 105 at work — all outrageously overloaded.
Repeated calls for action ended with Health Department head Bruce Anderson and epidemiologist Dr. Sarah Park leaving their positions. Ige never pointed any fingers.
Later the business community feared Ige would not act to put top-level guidance in place to assist in controlling the virus.
“Hawaii businesses are on the brink of shutting down or taking other drastic measures due to the COVID-19 economic downturn. They can’t wait weeks or months for relief measures — they need help now,” said Sherry Menor-McNamara, Chamber of Commerce Hawaii president and CEO.
The Chamber reports support from Lt. Gov Josh Green, county mayors and House Speaker Scott Saiki — but is asking for a unified, consistent message from Ige.
In an interview last week, Saiki said that “the governor gets it and we need to avoid another statewide shutdown.”
The two-term Democratic speaker said he has decided to not run for lieutenant governor as had been speculated, and will run for reelection. As for Ige, Saiki said the public is looking for the governor to be “decisive and firm.”
“I think the governor understands the issues, he understands the underlying data; he just needs to make a decision,” Saiki said.
Adding to that, Saiki said Ige is hampered by poor support. Although Ige is now closing out a second four-year term, he suffers from a lack of a capable staff, saying “the team needs to improve.”
“The governor can’t do everything,” Saiki said. “His team needs to arm the governor with the information and analysis he needs to be able to make decisions, that is absolute.”
When asked if the problem is with Ige not demanding more from a staff failing to provide relevant information, Saiki summed up the dilemma: “When the Governor’s Office is constantly searching for an answer, you know there is a disconnect.”