The 2018 election is still 10 months away, but daaaaamn–Governor David Ige’s got some problems. Four years ago, he was a comfortable (though largely unknown) Hawaii state Senator representing Pearl City. Then his protest candidacy against then-Governor Neil Abercrombie (a fellow Democrat!) steamrolled into a primary upset and then an overwhelming general election victory.
Today, after three years as Governor, Ige’s greatest accomplishment is that he’s somehow become an even weaker incumbent than Abercombie was in 2014.
Ige wasn’t doing too well even before the horrific false ballistic missile alert on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 13, but his troubles have only multiplied since then. On Jan. 24, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D–2nd District–who is enormously popular–endorsed U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D–1st District, in her bid to unseat Ige. This, so early in the campaign, is a very bad development for the Ige campaign–especially since Hanabusa’s campaign already has a surplus of more than $650,000, compared to Ige’s $249,000.
Then on Monday, Jan. 29, Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui suddenly announced that he really, really needed to see more of his kids (and start working for a Seattle-based lobbying firm) so he would resign, effective Wednesday, Jan. 31. That’s right–he gave just two days notice. And yeah, that’s kind of a dick move.
It’s not helping Ige that neither Senate President Ron Kouchi nor House Speaker Scott Saiki wants to succeed Tsutsui. I can’t imagine why–being Lieutenant Governor is a thankless, powerless job under the best of conditions, but in this case, you’re also hand-cuffed to a perilously weak incumbent who might be out of a job in a year.
And then today, both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the State of Hawaii itself released their reports on the false missile alert. Long story short: the reason for the false alert is even dumber than you originally thought.
“The Hawaii employee who sent out a false alarm earlier this month warning of an incoming missile attack had a troubled work history and said he misunderstood a drill and believed a ballistic missile was actually heading for the state, according to state and federal investigators,” The Washington Post reported today. “The employee’s work history was detailed by a state investigation made public Tuesday that found he had ‘been a source of concern … for over 10 years’ to his coworkers. On at least two other occasions, that probe found, this employee also ‘confused real life events and drills.'”
Employee 1, as he is called in the report, “does not take initiative and has to be directed before he takes action,” the report states. “He is unable to comprehend the situation at hand and has confused real life events and drills on at least two separate occasions.”
He is described as the only employee to not hear the words “EXERCISE, EXERCISE, EXERCISE” when the drill was initiated. Instead, he said heard the words “This is not a drill,” which caused him to click the button he did to send out the alert.
These are inexcusable errors, both human and systemic. Or, as U.S. Senator Brian Schatz put it in a Jan. 30 statement, “The reports from the FCC and the State of Hawai‘i demonstrate systems and judgement [sic] failures on multiple levels, and they reinforce my belief that missile alerts should be handled by the federal government.”
Needless to say, that employee has reportedly been fired. What’s more, Hawaii Emergency Management Administrator Vern Miyagi also resigned today–a virtual requirement, given the finding that his department tolerated the false alert employee’s problems for a decade.
These aren’t the signs of a strong administration. They’re not even the signs of a merely competent administration. And sure, Ige can still turn things around (though I’m drawing a blank as to exactly how). But if not, it’s going to be a very rough year for him.
Photo of Gov. Ige: Staff Sgt. Jason Fudge/US Marine Corps