April 15, 2018
Gov. David Ige is calling out his leading political rival, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, and top leaders in the Legislature for collaborating on a fundraiser in the final weeks of this year’s session, saying the event sends a clear message to anyone who hopes for anything from the Legislature that they must donate to Hanabusa.
The Hanabusa camp circulated a fundraising letter last month announcing a $250 to $1,000 per person political fundraiser on April 4 at Artizen by MW at the Hawaii State Art Museum.
That letter on Hanabusa campaign stationery sharply criticized the governor’s office for “inattention, indecision and inaction” in dealing with the state’s problems, and was signed by House Speaker Scott Saiki, House Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke, Senate Ways and Means Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz and Senate President Ron Kouchi.
Those are the four most powerful lawmakers in the state, and Ige said, “clearly nothing can get passed in the Legislature without them agreeing that it will go forward for a final vote, so if you have any issue that you want to get passed by the Legislature, these four people control your destiny.”
“It truly means that if you don’t play ball with us, if you don’t make a contribution to Hanabusa, then nothing will happen in this session,” said Ige, who is seeking a second term as governor. He is being opposed by Hanabusa and former state Sen. Clayton Hee in the Democratic primary.
Ige said people told him the fundraiser “was a very concerning event. Certainly the message was loud and clear. People told me that the message is loud and clear.”
Luke described Ige’s comments as “kind of pathetic.”
“I think this is an effort by a person who is significantly losing in his polls, and all indications show that the chance of him losing is likely, and he’s grasping at everything,” said Luke (D, Punchbowl-Pauoa-Nuuanu).
Luke described Ige as “almost like this desperate caged animal. He still has a responsibility to help the state, and we’re doing our best to work for the state of Hawaii for the people, and we are going to continue to work with the administration to come up with the best thing for our citizens, and this is not helpful at all.”
“In spite of him being a crybaby, and in spite of him grasping at straws, we are going to continue to work with the administration and we are going to continue to come up with bills that will help the state, but if he wants to be going on this warpath, then he will just no longer be relevant,” she said. “We will just deem him irrelevant, and we will work with his people to get the best effort.”
Ige questioned why Hanabusa would want to hold a fundraiser during the critical final weeks of the session, and answered his own query: “Well, it’s obvious. She wants to make it clear to anybody that they’re soliciting funds, that she has the power to control what happens at the state Legislature, and she can say what lives or dies.”
When asked if the fundraiser was unethical, Ige replied that during his years at the Legislature he would not hold fundraisers while lawmakers were still deciding on pending legislation. He said he scheduled his fundraisers during the final days of the session after all decisions had been made “because I do believe it’s not appropriate to have fundraisers during session, especially when people are taking action.”
As for the fundraising letter lawmakers signed for Hanabusa: “I wouldn’t ask my friend to do it on my behalf because it’s not upright,” Ige said. “It really is about Colleen Hanabusa. It really is about what she wants, which is to demonstrate her power, even if it would require action that is not the best example of good ethics.”
But Luke and Saiki said the April 4 fundraiser is no different from what was done for Ige in his 2014 primary campaign against former Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Saiki cited documentation filed with the state Campaign Spending Commission for an Ige fundraiser on April 16, 2014, when Ige was chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, which also fell in the final weeks of the legislative session that year. Saiki said he sees no difference between that event and Hanabusa’s April 4 fundraiser this year.
“The governor should focus on his record rather than attacks on other people,” Saiki said.
When asked about that Campaign Spending document, Ige acknowledged that he did hold two fundraisers during the 2014 session while he was running for governor.
However, he said he did not use his official title as Ways and Means chairman in his solicitations as Saiki, Luke, Kouchi and Dela Cruz did in theirs last month..
“It’s absolutely an entirely different situation,” Ige said. “When the speaker of the House, Senate president, chair of Finance and chair of Ways and Means have a fundraiser just before the beginning of the conference period where the four of them collectively control the fate of virtually every single bill that is before them, and every single appropriation that is before the Legislature, it’s an entirely different situation from an individual senator holding a fundraiser. Clearly, to equate the two is absurd.”
Ige also acknowledged that as Ways and Means chairman in 2014 he held a very powerful position, but said he was not nearly as influential as Saiki, Kouchi, Luke or Dela Cruz together are today. “The four of them will definitely determine what the outcome is of virtually every single (bill) there. By myself, I can’t. You know, it’s a very different situation.”
War of words
Kouchi said the Senate draft of the state budget lines up with many of Ige’s priorities, and “as far as any kind of punitive action and going after somebody if they didn’t contribute, that’s an incredible stretch.”
“I think that the Senate budget reflects a conscious effort about trying to put together a great product for the people of the state of Hawaii and put all of the politics on the side and put the people’s business first,” said Kouchi, (D, Kauai-Niihau).
Ige’s comments are “not healthy, because if there’s a slim chance that he does get re-elected, this is going to be a really hard four years for his next term, because he pretty much has engaged war,” Luke said.
“It’s a shameful effort to demonize politicians when the same thing was done four years ago, and we didn’t play games, and at that point he knew that we weren’t going to play games like this,” she said.
Hanabusa said in a written statement Friday that Ige’s comments were “wildly hypocritical.”
Ige was willing to accept lawmakers’ support and fundraising efforts in the past, and “his campaign has repeatedly sought to capitalize on Mayor (Kirk) Caldwell’s name and title to sponsor fundraisers — the most recent of which was a $2,000 per person event just weeks after the missile alert controversy.”
Caldwell signed a letter endorsing Ige and inviting donors to that event.
“Voters and legislators are clearly frustrated by David Ige’s lack of leadership,” Hanabusa said in her written statement. “Instead of taking this to heart and actually stepping up to lead, he is grasping for distractions and excuses for his poor position in the polls, weak fundraising performance, and status as one of the least popular governor’s in the nation.”
Dela Cruz said it is “ridiculous” to suggest the Hanabusa fundraising letter was designed to pressure people into donating to her campaign. “Oh, come on,” he said. “I don’t think any of us have called anyone and said that or implied that.”