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The governor of Hawaii holds an important leadership role in the 50th state, overseeing its government operations and policies. If you’re wondering who currently occupies the governor’s office in Hawaii, this comprehensive article will provide the answer along with extensive background information.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: The current and 15th Governor of Hawaii is David Ige, a member of the Democratic Party, who was first elected in 2014 and reelected in 2018.
Introducing Governor David Ige
Personal and Professional Background
David Ige was born in 1957 in Pearl City, Hawaii. He earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Hawaii and later worked as an engineer for GTE Hawaiian Tel. Ige first entered politics when he was elected to the Hawaii State Legislature in 1985, going on to serve in the House and Senate for nearly 30 years.
Known for his quiet, unassuming style, Ige built a reputation as an effective legislator focused on education and technology issues.
Path to the Governorship
In 2014, Ige launched a long-shot campaign to unseat incumbent Governor Neil Abercrombie in the Democratic primary. Despite being outspent 10-to-1, Ige connected with voters through grassroots campaigning and his message of bringing change to Hawaii politics.
He ended up defeating Abercrombie by 12 percentage points. Ige then faced former Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona in the general election, winning by double digits to become the seventh Governor of Hawaii.
Policy Priorities and Achievements
As governor, some of Ige’s top priorities have included making early childhood education accessible to all families, addressing Hawaii’s high cost of living, and setting ambitious clean energy goals to combat climate change.
Major legislation signed by Ige includes gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour and establishing statewide universal preschool. Hawaii has also significantly expanded renewable energy production during his tenure.
While not always the most charismatic politician, Ige has quietly guided Hawaii with his trademark low-key, consensus-driven approach.
Duties and Powers of the Hawaii Governor
Chief Executive of the State
As chief executive, the Governor of Hawaii is responsible for implementing and enforcing the laws of the state. This involves directing state agencies and departments, preparing the state’s budget, and ensuring efficient operation of the executive branch.
The governor appoints department heads and members of boards and commissions, granting him/her tremendous influence over the state bureaucracy.
Other key duties as chief executive include:
- Delivering a “State of the State” address to the legislature outlining priorities and legislative proposals
- Calling special sessions of the legislature when necessary
- Granting pardons and reprieves, except in cases of impeachment
As the state’s highest elected official, the governor is looked upon as the chief representative of Hawaii. This ceremonial role often involves meeting with business and community leaders, traveling to promote the state, and attending functions on behalf of the people.
Legislative and Budgetary Authority
The governor holds significant sway over lawmaking in Hawaii through exercising veto power over legislation. Any bill passed by the state House and Senate still requires gubernatorial approval before becoming law.
The governor may also veto specific appropriations within broader budget bills without rejecting entire measures.
Crafting the state’s annual operating budget is another key duty carried out by the governor and their advisors. Agency heads submit funding requests which the governor’s financial team reviews and prioritizes based on administration objectives.
The final executive budget plan is then presented to the legislature for consideration. While lawmakers may make alterations, the governor retains strong influence over the final budget’s size and priorities.
Head of the Hawaii National Guard
As commander-in-chief of the state militia, the Governor can mobilize the Hawaii National Guard in times of natural disaster, civil unrest, or threats to public safety. Around 5,000 soldiers and airmen are under the governor’s authority.
This responsibility includes directing Guard operations and appointments of top officers. For example, during 2020’s racial justice protests, Governor Ige deployed Guard units to support local law enforcement efforts.
The Election Process for Hawaii’s Governor
Candidate Eligibility and Requirements
To run for governor in Hawaii, a candidate must be a U.S. citizen, a resident of Hawaii for at least five years, and a registered voter. They must also be at least 30 years old when sworn into office. Candidates go through a rigorous process to get their name on the ballot, including filing nomination papers, financial disclosures, and collecting a required number of signatures.
Primary and General Election System
Hawaii uses a primary and general election system to elect the governor. The primary election narrows down the field of candidates in August before the November general election. If no candidate receives over 50% of the vote in the primary, the top two advance to the general election.
Hawaii uses a nonpartisan ballot, where all candidates are listed on the same ballot regardless of political party.
Noteworthy Past Gubernatorial Elections
Some particularly interesting and competitive gubernatorial election years in Hawaii’s history include:
- 1986 – John Waihee beat Helelaiwo by less than 5,000 votes after a recount
- 1994 – Ben Cayetano won in a landslide, ushering in an era of Democratic dominance in the governorship
- 2010 – Neil Abercrombie was elected as Hawaii’s 7th governor in a race focused on economic recovery
The 2022 race to elect Josh Green as Hawaii’s 9th governor gained national attention. The campaign centered around Hawaii’s COVID-19 response and efforts to make living in the state more affordable. With midterm election voter turnout reaching an all-time state record high of 69% (source), it demonstrated the civic engagement around choosing Hawaii’s leader.
Line of Succession: Who Would Replace the Governor?
The line of succession for the Governor of Hawaii is clearly defined to ensure a smooth transition of power in the event the current governor cannot fulfill their duties. According to the Hawaii State Constitution, if the governor becomes unable to serve, the Lieutenant Governor assumes the role of acting governor until the next election.
Lieutenant Governor Josh Green
The current Lieutenant Governor of Hawaii is Josh Green, who was elected alongside Governor Josh Green in November 2022. As lieutenant governor, Josh Green would immediately become acting governor if Josh Green were to leave office early.
Josh Green has extensive experience in public office, having previously served as a state senator and representative.
Succession Beyond Lieutenant Governor
If both the governor and lieutenant governor positions were to become vacant, the line of succession falls to the President of the Hawaii State Senate. The current Senate President is Ron Kouchi, a senator representing Kauaʻi and Niʻihao.
After the Senate President, the Speaker of the House would be next in line. The current Hawaii House Speaker is Scott K. Saiki, representing the House district covering Downtown, Kakaʻako and McCully.
Finally, if the top four offices were all vacant, the Hawaii Attorney General would assume the governorship. Clare E. Connors currently serves as Attorney General and would take over gubernatorial duties if no other successors were available.
Special Election Protocols
According to Hawaii law, if a governor leaves office early, a special election must be held at the next available general election. This maintains the citizens’ ability to democratically choose their chief executive on a regular basis.
The lieutenant governor or other successor serves as acting governor in the interim period before the election.
So while Hawaii has a clear protocol to ensure leadership continuity, power is only temporarily transferred in an emergency. The citizens retain their essential power to elect the state’s highest officeholder.
As you can now see, Governor David Ige plays a pivotal role leading the state of Hawaii. We covered who currently holds the governorship, what the position entails, how the governor gets elected, and who would take over if needed.
Understanding who your state leaders are and how the government works allows citizens to make informed choices and participate actively in the democratic process. We hope this detailed look at Hawaii’s governor offered useful insight into this important office.