Ige: From electrical engineer to leader

LIHUE — Hawaii’s governor never planned to get involved in politics.

In 1985, David Ige was 28 and working as an electrical engineer in the private sector, with no thought of ever running for elected office.

“I had been promoted three times in four years,” Ige said during a recent visit to The Garden Island. “I was definitely focused on a career in the private sector.”

Those plans unexpectedly changed when he received an early morning phone call from an old high school friend, who told him there was a vacancy in the Legislature, and that the governor at that time — George Ariyoshi — wanted to appoint someone who wasn’t a politician to fill the opening.

“He was looking to get a young person who would not choose to get involved in public service, into public service,” Ige said, and “my name had surfaced.”

So at his friend’s urging, Ige met with the Democratic Party chair, who had been tasked with the job of coming up with a list of young people who might possibly fill the role.

After talking with his wife, Ige agreed to allow his name to be added to the list, then went to meet Ariyoshi for an interview.

“On the way to meet the governor, I joined the Democratic Party,” Ige said.

It was the Friday after Thanksgiving.

The meeting only lasted about 40 minutes, but that was enough to convince Ariyoshi that Ige was the right choice. But there was a problem: He had to check with his bosses first.

“They decided that I couldn’t go,” he reported.

And so he turned down Ariyoshi’s offer to appoint him to the Hawaii House of Representatives.

But about 10 minutes later, Ige received a phone call from the president of Hawaii Tel, with a different answer. It seems Ariyoshi didn’t like being turned down, and called the head of the company to pressure him to let the young engineer accept the position.

So, Ige said, “In the course of literally one day, I went from being non-political to being appointed to the House of Representatives.”

Ige turned 29 on his first day of session, becoming the youngest lawmaker serving in the Legislature at that time.

For the next three decades, he continued to work in the private sector as an engineer for the phone company and later as a successful business entrepreneur, all while continuing to serve as a lawmaker.

Ige was eventually elected to the state Senate, where he served on the powerful Ways and Means Committee, and then in 2014 he became the first challenger in Hawaii’s history to ever successfully beat an incumbent governor in an election.

Despite a long career in politics, Ige still thinks like an engineer: find the cause of problems, and solve them.

One of the problems he is currently grappling with is the difficulty involved in finding good people to serve on the state’s many boards and commissions. To solve that, he is taking a page from his own history and encouraging people who do not normally get involved in politics to volunteer.

Ige invited Kauai residents who have an interest in serving on a state board or commission to submit applications online at http://boards.hawaii.gov.

He also encouraged residents to keep in touch. Ige can be followed on Facebook at www.facebook.com/GovernorIge or on Twitter @GovHawaii.

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