HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Two of the major candidates for governor said they can remain independent from the large public unions that have endorsed them, and one candidate said long-time union supporters dropped their support for him one year when he clashed with them on a key issue.
Union endorsements can be very helpful for the governor candidates this year, because none of them has raised large amounts of money. Unions can offer the campaigns cash and foot soldiers, volunteers who walk door-to-door or help with phone-banking and other important tasks.
In this year's Democratic primary, State Sen. David Ige was endorsed by the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the public school teachers' union.
Ige said he has taken stands against HSTA that has often backed him over the years.
Several years ago, when he was Senate education chair, Ige said he killed a bill that would have allowed the teachers' union to negotiate over the number of students in their classrooms.
"Negotiable class size was their number one priority one year and I was chair of education and the bill died and I didn't get endorsed that year," Ige said.
Ige said he also worked to craft the state's first laws setting up charter schools, efforts the teachers' union initially opposed.
"There's not 100 percent agreement on every education issue with HGEA or HSTA for that matter," Ige said.
The Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state's largest union that represents about 43,000 current and retired state and county employees, endorsed Ige for the general election.
Ige said he chaired of the Senate health committee when it passed the framework for public-private partnerships in the state hospital system, something public unions opposed.
"It's about trying to find balance and trying to serve the public interest and move the state forward," Ige added.
Ige said a number of unions also did not agree this year with his position on raising the minimum wage, because he believed a tip credit should be included for businesses that employ waitresses, waiters and others who get tips.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann served six years as Honolulu mayor. This year he has been endorsed by SHOPO, the police officers union as well as the Teamsters, who represent city bus drivers.
"They kind of understand that I will do what is best and I will not necessarily do what they ask me to do all the time. You can't satisfy someone all the time," Hannemann said.
Hannemann said when he was Honolulu mayor during the recession and the city needed to cut union employees' wages, he reduced his own pay and that of his cabinet by five percent the year before he asked union workers to do the same.
"I always said, 'Look, I will try to do what I need to do. If I'm going to ask you to sacrifice in some area, we're going to do it first.' And I will always have a justification to do that," Hannemann said.
Hannemann did not provide any examples of direct conflicts with unions that had endorsed him.
But Hannemann said he has a different style from his opponents.
"I engage in a lot of talk-story sessions before we actually get to the negotiating table. So I know and I can anticipate what their concerns are going to be. A lot of leaders will wait and the first time there's a discussion is when an agreement is put across the table," Hannemann said.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Duke Aiona has not been endorsed by any unions so far in the governor's race.