HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Democratic gubernatorial candidate David Ige has won the endorsement of the state's largest union, which will help him compete with two better-known candidates but brings criticism from Republicans that he's too close to organized labor.
Ige has a long history with unions: his father was a steelworker and Ige's first job was as a unionized pineapple cannery worker.
Ige's wife Dawn -- who's a public school vice principal -- is a member of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state's largest union that endorsed Ige's campaign for governor.
"He has served almost anonymously for so long," said Randy Perreira, HGEA's executive director. The HGEA represents 43,000 active and retired state and county employees, everyone from principals and scientists to secretaries and clerks.
"We look at his record of service and say 'Hey, you know what? This mirrors what a lot of our members do.' They come in, do their jobs day in and day out, no fanfare, but they're solid people, and I think with a solid foundation for our state," Perreira said.
The union's backing will help Ige, who has low name recognition, in a three-way battle with better-known opponents, independent Mufi Hannemann and Republican Duke Aiona.
The Hawaii News Now-Honolulu Star-Advertiser Hawaii Poll taken a few weeks before the primary election in August found 28 percent of the likely voters surveyed either had no idea who Ige was or didn't know enough about him to form a favorable or unfavorable opinion.
"I think that labor union support is important. It's important to me as a candidate," Ige said. "I will be talking with them and encouraging their support. But I'm also talking to businesses and CEOs and the business community."
For years, the HGEA has endorsed Ige and Hannemann, who was twice elected Honolulu mayor. Hannemann is a life-long Democrat who became an independent this year.
"In the comparative analysis we felt that David Ige was a better choice that, again, embodied what public employees find to be important," Perreira said in explaining why the union did not endorse Hannemann this year.
Hannemann has been endorsed by SHOPO, the police officers' union, as well as the Hawaii Sheet Metal Workers Union.
"I think it's gonna come down to ideas," said Hannemann. "Who's able to get their voters out and people going to be responding to our message of a candidate who wants to put people first, put Hawaii first and not parties and politics."
Reached for comment, Blake Parsons, the executive director of the Hawaii Republican Party, said Ige's HGEA endorsement "won't change the fact that families in Hawaii understand that four more years of the Ige-Abercrombie agenda will only bring more of the same broken policies. Hawaii clearly needs a new direction in order to lower the cost of living and create a prosperous future for all."
Campaign spending reports filed by the candidates Friday showed that as of the primary election on Aug. 9, Ige had roughly half as much cash on hand as his two major opponents. Ige listed a surplus of $94,569, while Hannemann reported $174,812 in his campaign coffers and Aiona had the most money with $198,153.
Perreira, head of the HGEA, said a big challenge is that not enough people know who Ige is, so the union plans to buy media time to boost his campaign.
"I think when you have a chance to hear the man (Ige), you will be impressed," Perreira said. "And I think it's one of the things that we can help with to provide exposure for him to a large number of people to get his message out."
Ige said he seeks collaboration between union and management on labor issues and won't be a pushover for unions if he's elected governor.