Gov. Ige faces criticism, mixed reviews over COVID-19 response

In a recent opinion piece from Politico, author Bill Scher offered his views on the top and bottom-ranked governors for their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Which governors have done a better job at meeting the moment, by acting decisively and boosting morale? And which have missed the moment, dragged their feet and succumbed to petty squabbling?,” asks Scher in the piece.

Hawaii Governor David Ige ranks #4 in Scher’s “Gubernatorial Busts” category, state executives which he identifies as among the worst performing during this crisis in the country. 

Ige is the only Democrat ranked in the bottom six where he is joined by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (ranked #1), Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (#2), Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (#3), Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (#5), and West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (#6).



The low ranking is in part due to Ige’s initial hesitation to issue mandatory social distancing orders, instead relying on county mayors to close businesses and order residents to shelter-in-place.

In a March 19 letter, House Speaker Scott Saiki told Gov. Ige that the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic “has been utterly chaotic and there is mass confusion among the public.” Saiki called on Ige to issue a 15-day statewide shutdown, order all people in Hawaii to shelter-in-place, prohibit nonessential travel, and quarantine travelers arriving from outside of Hawaii.

“The directives from the Lieutenant Governor and Mayors are mere recommendations. As Governor, you are the only person in this state who has the direct authority to instate these actions,” wrote Saiki.

On March 21, Ige ordered all residents and visitors arriving in Hawaii to self-quarantine for 14-days. Two days later he issued a statewide stay-at-home order.

Scher also points to the reported tension between Ige and Lt. Gov. Josh Green as a rationale for Ige’s low ranking.

Earlier this month, Ige tapped his Lieutenant Governor Josh Green to play a key role in the state’s response to coronavirus. Green is an emergency room doctor, so his calls for strict travel restrictions and quarantines on arrivals carried great weight. But once Green publicly pushed for strong measures, Ige cut him out of the loop, instructing Cabinet officials not to consult with Green, and keeping Green out of his press conferences,” wrote Scher.

In a separate public opinion poll of the support of each governor across the US, Ige ranks 30th for his handling of the crisis. The survey compared governors and their performance to that of President Trump on the question of approval of their work “to keep people safe during the ongoing public coronavirus crisis.”

Unsurprisingly for Hawaii, President Trump enjoyed only a 10% approval rating, the lowest level in any state in the country. Rhode Island was second lowest with a presidential approval rating of 27%.

For perspective, State of Reform reached out to several health care experts and political insiders for their takes on Ige’s COVID-response. Many had lots to say privately though few wanted to be on the record. Only one long-time health policy watcher we spoke with was willing to let us print their remarks. 

The comprehensive nature of the comments was striking, so we are posting them here in full:

“The Governor has been slow to mandate social distancing and self-quarantine, acting only after mayors had already taken steps. He has refused to ask the president to halt non-essential travel, even when 3 mayors have done so. (True, the Interstate Commerce Clause may make it impossible, but these are unprecedented times and there have already been a lot of temporary actions taken that would be unconstitutional restrictions to personal freedoms in normal times).

What I want to see now:

  • A clear and public mandate that the Gov’s departments work together to identify and redeploy public workers to fill in-demand jobs at the Dept. of Labor, the Dept. of Health, and elsewhere. Currently, the state and all its departments have no idea how many essential workers are still reporting, how many are working from home and what they’re doing there, and how many are just doing nothing.
  • A clear and public demonstration that the state is taking advantage of every waiver and federal dollar available. Currently, the state has an Office of Federal Awards Management but it isn’t apparent that they have been provided the resources or authorities to track opportunities and state agency actions. (It should be noted that the state has a bad track record for not seizing and spending federal dollars that would benefit the people of Hawaii). 
  • An effective effort to provide information to the public about what federal and state resources are available, what programs are being expanded or altered, and generally be a clearinghouse of information to assure the public that state government is on top of the situation and using state and federal resources effectively.
  • Some indication that there’s a process and opportunity to hear from community leaders and agencies to quickly plan and deploy CARES Act funding that will come to the state.
  • Some indication that someone in the Governor’s office is thinking about short-term actions to get us back to work and long-term steps to restart the economy.”