Iges reflect on tenure, contemplate future run for office

Nov. 17—After eight years of family Christmases and a daughter's wedding at Washington Place—the governor's mansion—Gov. David Ige and first lady Dawn Ige face an uncertain future over what they'll do next.

After eight years of family Christmases and a daughter's wedding at Washington Place—the governor's mansion—Gov. David Ige and first lady Dawn Ige face an uncertain future over what they'll do next, where they'll spend Christmas and even where they will sleep after they leave Washington Place as of 12 :01 a.m. Dec. 5.

Seemingly every aspect of their future is up in the air. But the Iges are surprisingly calm about all of the uncertainty in their lives following eight years of dealing with oncoming hurricanes, catastrophic floods on the North Shore of Kauai, a volcanic eruption on Hawaii island, an economic collapse triggered by COVID-19 and an alert of an incoming missile attack that made Ige the butt of late-night comedy shows for failing to tweet out a false alarm message because he couldn't remember his Twitter password.

"Now you know (it ), " Dawn Ige told her husband Wednesday during a joint interview with the Honolulu Star-Advertiser inside the glassed lanai of the governor's mansion.

There were 41 emergencies in all—each of them played out in the unforgiving eye of social media criticism often directed at Ige, famous for his methodical thinking and low-key, measured responses.

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner once told Ige that he had to manage seven or eight disasters.

"I've got that beat, " Ige said.

Just in 2018, 14 mudslides wiped out Kuhio Highway and devastated Kauai's North Shore.

Ige said he regularly sifts through all of the social media vitriol in search of legitimate concerns and suggestions, especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I do know it's part of the job, " Ige said. "You have to rise above the hurtful and mean. ... There were some pretty terrible things that were said. It's harder for the first lady."

Sometimes overlooked have been the many accomplishments that the governor is most proud of that were sometimes hard fought : an unprecedented "rainy day fund " budget surplus of nearly $1 billion ; record levels of general funding ; and the state's highest credit rating.

"We initially had deficit spending of $200 million, " Ige said. "We had to right-size state government and then the pandemic took us from the lowest unemployment rate to the highest in the nation in six weeks."

The state also has built more than 9, 400 affordable housing units, including in Kakaako and downtown.

And reductions in homelessness include a 53 % drop in homeless families and 55 % drop for homeless children.

Both Iges repeatedly said it has been an honor and privilege to have served the people of Hawaii. Both said they want to continue serving the community somehow and Dawn Ige even teased the possibility of seeking political office herself, but has no specific office in mind.

He's 65 "and just signed up for Medicare." Dawn Ige demurred on her age.

"I'm younger than that, " she said. "I'm not going to say how much."

Eight years of having a front-row seat to Hawaii governance and politics has only left her considering a political campaign of her own.

"I will just leave that open as a possibility, " she said. "I'm not ready to retire yet."

If she were to run and win election, Dawn Ige likely would insist on a weekly sit-down with her husband—as they do now—to get an update on issues that Dawn Ige said she only sometimes learns about by reading about them in the Star-­Advertiser.

"I would tell David, 'You never told me this was going on, '" Dawn Ige said. "You have to set aside time. Every governor and first lady needs to find their path."

David Ige also said he would not rule out a future run for office, but has no specific office in mind.

The only things for certain are that the Iges want to take a few weeks off to decompress, plan a possible trip to Patagonia "to see nature in its rarest form " and—for David Ige—"definitely get healthy. Exercise regularly, lose some weight."

Ige, an engineer by training, also wants to take a deeper dive into learning more about technology, whether cybersecurity, communications or digital media. It could include formal class instruction or online learning.

"I want to catch up on the things that have changed since I went to school, " he said.

The unknowns include the uncertainty of where the Iges will sleep the night of Dec. 5—when David Ige's term ends—because they're in the midst of remodeling their six-bedroom, three-bath home in Aiea.

They've been waiting on a building permit since May or June to "move a wall 1 foot, " David Ige said. And new kitchen and bath cabinets are on back order, part of the global supply chain delay.

The home could be in good enough shape that they could live among all of the remodeling. Or they could end up staying in a hotel.

What's for certain is that the Iges no longer will host family Christmas at Washington Place for the first time in eight years for their three children : Lauren, 32, an attorney in Santa Barbara, Calif.; Amy, 29, a registered nurse in Mount Vernon, Wash.; and Matthew, a 27-year-old software engineer at Microsoft, also in Washington.

"They're not coming here, " David Ige. "It's the first Christmas they're not coming home."

This Christmas—without the allure of Washington Place—the Iges likely will find themselves as guests at the homes of their children's extended families—anywhere from California to Michigan.

The Iges are prepared to revert to a mundane life outside of Washington Place without a full-time driver, which means they'll have to learn how to drive all over and find parking on their own to go out to restaurants or to shop at Costco.

Dawn Ige hasn't driven in eight years.

"I have to learn to drive again, " she said. "I have my daughter's student driver sign."

David Ige drove once on a mainland vacation, but "our kids said I probably need to take new lessons."

None of it seems to worry the Iges.

"I'm quite calm, " Dawn Ige said. "The last eight years have been filled with many different crises. Going through the next phase of our life, we can handle what comes next."

Many of the fondest memories for the Iges over the past eight years center around life in Washington Place.

Two stick out in particular : daughter Amy's December 2017 marriage "on the lawn under the mango tree, " Dawn Ige said.

The other occurred during a 2018 dinner for Japanese Crown Prince Akishino, who abruptly asked to see the allspice tree planted on the grounds of Washington Place by his grandfather decades before.

The entourage had to interrupt dinner to visit the tree before nightfall and David Ige wasn't sure about the health of the tree and what they would find.

But the impromptu visit to the tree was a success, Dawn Ige said.

"We just stood up in the middle of dinner, " she said. "People were standing up and getting a little excited. (The prince ) was so happy to see the tree growing so tall and so strong."

One of their last official duties was greeting President Joe Biden on Wednesday during a refueling stop for Air Force One at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Biden used David Ige's cellphone to take a selfie with Hawaii's first couple.

Biden landed on U.S. soil following a global trip where he made headlines this week vowing an era of cooperation with China.

The Iges have met Presidents Barack Obama, Donald Trump, Biden and their spouses, and said that it is an honor to have met presidents and their first ladies from both parties.

David Ige called Trump "just a very different type of person. He definitely says whatever comes to his mind. There was no filter on Donald Trump. It was very partisan."

But the job of Hawaii governor requires working with whoever's in office from the president to state legislators to county mayors, Ige said.

"The general public doesn't differentiate between federal government responsibility and state government and cities, " he said.

Because the bigger issue, he said, is focusing on the needs of Hawaii residents.

Even compared to the presidency, Hawaii's eighth governor since statehood said, "There are no other jobs like it, for sure. It is a very small club."