HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii State Teachers Association has announced that it is endorsing state Sen. David Ige in the race for governor.
Ige, a Democrat, is challenging Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the primary election. Hawaii News Now previously reported that former governors Ben Cayetano and George Ariyoshi are also throwing their support behind the Pearl City-Aiea senator.
The HSTA endorsement came a day after the union's Government Relations Committee recommended Ige over Abercrombie. Committee members had interviewed both candidates before making its recommendation, said union president Wil Okabe.
"There's no question that HSTA wanted to come out first in regards to endorsement of a candidate," said Okabe, who added that he hoped the early endorsement would also prompt other public worker unions to follow suit.
"Thousands of teachers, every day, touch the future," said Ige. "I want to work with them, listen to their ideas and develop a plan that would be in the best interest of our students."
The union's choice reflects what has been an occasionally rocky relationship with the governor, who imposed a contract with a five percent pay cut in July 2011. Teachers also voted down a contract proposal in January 2012.
Both sides were all smiles when a contract was finally ratified last year, but Okabe hinted that teachers haven't forgotten.
"Teachers were imposed a contract, and we understand that the teachers were very frustrated with that situation," he said. "So that was a factor that was included in our decision."
Ige said his leadership style will be different with teachers.
"I believe that they want a leader that listens to their concerns, that they want someone who brings our communities together rather than divides them," he said.
In a statement, Abercrombie's campaign manager, Bill Kaneko, said, "HSTA's decision does not diminish Gov. Abercrombie's life-long support for teachers. As a former educator, Gov. Abercrombie remains committed to early education, quality teaching, and advancing education for all children in Hawaii."
Ige, currently the chair of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means, served as the chair of the Senate Committee on Education and Technology from 1999-2000 and the House Committee on Education from 1993-1994. His wife Dawn has been a public school teacher and currently is a vice principal.
The HSTA represents 13,500 public school teachers statewide.