Governors of the State of Hawaiʻi

#201 in the Moʻolelo series

William Quinn (1959 – 1962): Quinn was the last Governor of the Territory of Hawaiʻi and the first elected Governor of the State. As I wrote in the post on Territorial Governors:

Quinn was appointed Governor by President Eisenhower in 1957, and managed to beat Democratic leader John A. Burns in 1959. Quinn was a lawyer, a graduate of Harvard Law School and involved with Parker Ranch in Waimea, Hawaiʻi Island. He later became the President of Dole Pineapple. He died in 2006.

John A. Burns (1962 – 1973): Much can be said about Burns, the so-called “Great White Father” of the 1954 Democratic Revolution. Iʻll suffice with quoting the New York Times, which noted upon his death in 1975:

By any standard, Governor Burns stands in the front rank of those figures who have made Hawaii what it is today. Moving slowly, honorably and with great dignity, this shy whitehaired man gathered the weak strands of ethnic political power and wove them into a Democratic party that has been supreme in the islands for 20 years.

New York Times, Apr. 6, 1975
Matsunaga, Mink, Pres. Johnson, Burns, Inouye

George Ariyoshi (1973 – 1986): I met Ariyoshi when I was six and thereʻs a picture of it somewhere. Ariyoshi began a pattern of the Lieutenant Governor becoming the Governor. Born in 1926, Ariyoshi was the first AJA, or Japanese American Governor and was said to have had a string of mafia and syndicate figures streaming in and out of his office. The National Governors Association summarized his career:

He served as an interpreter with the Military Intelligence Service, U.S. Army, in Japan at the end of World War II. He attended the University of Hawaii and transferred to Michigan State University where he graduated with a Bachelors of Art. In 1954, Ariyoshi was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives. Four years later, he was elected to the territorial Senate, and finally elected to the state senate. In 1970, he was elected lieutenant governor. In 1973 he succeeded Governor Burns and served the reminder of the term as acting governor. In 1974, he was elected as governor and reelected in 1978 and 1982.

John Waiheʻe III (1986-1994): Waiheʻe had come up politically in the prominent role that Native Hawaiians had in the 1978 Con Con, where Hawaiian became an official language of the State. He flew only the Hawaiian flag on January 17th, 1993. He also presided over a budget deficit and ended his term fairly unpopular.

Ben Cayetano (1994-2002): A Kalihi-raised, self-proclaimed “street kid” who went on to UCLA and Loyola Law School,”working his way through school as a draftsman on the Apollo spacecraft project” ( Cayetano wrote about about the journey (which I have yet to read). He was known to be abrasive, and had direct confrontations with Hawaiian leaders such as the Trask sisters, Haunani-Kay and Mililani. He later had a near-comeback as the Anti-rail candidate for Honolulu mayor. The Hawaii History website notes:

Cayetano began his career in government in 1972 when he was appointed to the Hawai`i Housing Authority by Governor Burns. In 1974, he was elected to the State House of Representatives, followed by election to the State Senate in 1978. From there he moved to the lieutenant governorship in 1986, a path several others had followed to the chief executive’s office. Beginning in 1994, Cayetano served two terms as governor, holding his post as the highest-ranking Filipino-American official in the country. During his tenure, Hawai`i experienced an economic downturn, the state’s teachers went on strike and the attorney general’s office conducted a criminal investigation of Bishop Estate, one of the wealthiest private estates in the Islands. Cayetano married for a second time while in office, and presided over the first wedding reception of a sitting governor ever hosted in Washington Place, the governor’s mansion.

Linda Lingle (2002 – 2010): Beginning her political career on Molokaʻi, and later as Mayor of Maui County, Lingle was a change from the standard Democratic dominance of Hawaiʻi’s political scene of the late-twentieth century. Describing herself as a “bleeding heart conservative” (a play on “bleeding heart liberal,” and also reflective of George W. Bush-era “compassionate conservativism”), Lingle presided over the 2008 economic crisis, most notable for “Furlough Fridays,” a highly unpopular move. (But in an incredible turn of events, test scores went up!).

Neil Abercrombie (2010-2014): Starting strongly with a surprising rout of former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman (it wasnʻt even close), long-time US Representative Abercrombie immediately tried to make good with Hawaiians, proposing and signing Act 195, which gave OHA parcels in Kakaʻako Makai. It seems he didn’t adapt well to an executive branch role, as he soon became very unpopular and one of the few one-term Governors, losing in 2010 to the previously-unknown State Senator David Ige. The mood seemed to be “anyone but Abercrombie.”

David Ige (2014-Present): Ige almost became a one-term Governor when during the missile scare he lost his Twitter password and “let” Hawaiʻi residents rush around in fear for 38 minutes. (Opponent Colleen Hanabusa said that her husband was driving over 100 miles an hour on the freeway to get to their family members). Ige was indeed trailing to Hanabusa as the election approached. But by the 2018 election, however, the polls narrowed and Ige won a second term. I wrote about the period for my Political Science students:

The year 2018 in Hawaiʻi may well be remembered as the year of disasters. Residents awoke on January 13th to receive a message on their phones warning of an incoming ballistic missle, presumably from North Korea. It took 38 minutes for the all-clear message to be sent out by Governor David Ige. This rattled the community and became a major issue in the Gubernatorial race; US Representative Colleen Hanabusa said in the media that her husband was driving 100 mph during the missile alert trying to reach their family, and her ads stated that the alert was prolonged for 35 minutes because Ige could not remember his Twitter password. Hanabusa held a large lead in March 2018, but this slowly shrunk and on election night in August, Ige won by a comfortable margin. This set up a contest between Ige and Republican nominee Andria Tupola. But as former Republican State Senator Sam Slom said on the night of the Primary, “today is the election.” The same held true in races across the state, where incumbents tended to hold on to their seats. On the same program analyzing the election, Former Governor John Waiheʻe said that Republicans were “eating their young,” i.e., running otherwise talented candidates (like Tupola, who should have run for State Senate, not the Governoship) in races they are guaranteed to lose. Tupola is not seen to have a chance against Ige.

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