KOLOA — The first question posed to Gov. David Ige at Thursday’s Kauai Chamber of Commerce luncheon stumped him — for a moment.
“What is your favorite animal?”
Ige paused, smiled and then laughed. The answer? Lucy, a cat his daughter talked him into adopting about 10 years ago, and which still lives with the Iges today, although the daughter has moved on.
Not every question was that easy for the governor before about 300 people at the Koloa Landing Resort, but it was a relaxed atmosphere for the annual program.
Ige, saying it was an honor and privilege to be there, outlined some thoughts for about 25 minutes before taking questions. He touched briefly on education, housing, minimum wage and gambling.
He started by letting the crowd know their legislators, Senate President Ron Kouchi and Reps. Dee Morikawa, Jimmy Tokioka and Nadine Nakamura, “do a terrific job of representing all of you at the state capital.”
The key to progress, he said, is working together, which they do very well.
“Together, we can definitely accomplish more,” he said.
As chair of the Western Governors Association, he said it gives him “an opportunity to put the issues that are most important to us here on the island at the national level.”
He called education the foundation of the state’s future.
“I believe every high school kid should have the opportunity to take and earn college credits at low cost,” he said, adding the initiative “Early College” is a “game changer.”
He said it’s important to provide preschool opportunities to each child to assure educational success, but said the state can only serve about a third of the students who need preschool services.
“I’m committed to a universal public preschool system,” he said.
He said when he visits Hawaii schools, he leaves impressed.
“I’m amazed continually when we challenge our students to do more they step up to the plate every time,” he said.
“It’s always inspiring to me to be able to see our students and what they are able to do.”
The lack of affordable housing in Hawaii exacerbates the state’s homeless problema, he said.
Ige said the state is committed to producing 10,000 new affordable housing units by 2020 and has reached 6,600.
The pieces are falling into place to do more, with partnerships between agencies continuing to develop.
“We are moving forward in every community across the state to develop more affordable housing,” he said.
Reopening of Kuhio Highway
He thanked everyone for their patience with the reopening of Kuhio Highway beyond Hanalei. The highway has been closed since being damaged in the flooding of April 2018. It is projected to open in mid-June.
“We are working diligently to complete those repairs as quickly as we can,” he said. “And we are committed to reopening access to the highway as soon as we can do it safely.
“As you all know, it’s certainly a challenge with the rain that we get always having an impact on our progress.”
Why not allow the lottery here?
“I personally am just opposed to gambling,” he said. “It doesn’t add value to our visitor industry here on the islands.”
He said he doesn’t believe it will generate the revenue some people think it would. He also added that if the state allows any form of gambling, it would open the door for Native American tribes to introduce casinos in Hawaii.
“As you know, Waikiki and lot of resort communities would be perfect sites for casinos,” he said.
Ige said he supported a proposal to increase the minimum wage by a dollar an hour each year to reach $15.10 in five years,
There were many hearings on the minimum wage this session, he added, but there was no agreement on how to proceed and nothing was passed into law.
Still, he said he is committed to providing tax credits to mitigate the impact raising the minimum wage would have on small businesses.
Strategy to keep people working in Hawaii
He said the Department of Education and the University of Hawaii are working to make sure graduates have the skills that make them valuable employees.
The Department of Labor is working to identify the types of jobs that will be in demand and that the training is available.
“We want to make students aware of opportunities available here and get the skills they need to be employed,” he said.
“I think we all feel very disappointed when companies have to go off island or out of state to find employees that they need. In the ideal world, we would have the system aligned so we are generating graduates in the areas that are necessary.”
The state is looking to improve the main runway and expand the waiting areas so there are more seats.
“At times you are waiting for your flights, there is no place to sit,” he said.
Ige added that he is often asked about Wi-Fi at airports, and said, with a smile, that free Wi-Fi is now available at airports statewide.
Ige concluded by thanking people for being committed to improving their communities.
“I just want you to know I am committed to being your partner,” he said.
Bill Buley, editor-in-chief, can be reached at 245-0457 or firstname.lastname@example.org.