HONOLULU - Democrat David Ige was sworn in Monday as Hawaii's eighth governor, taking the oath of office in the state Capitol in a ceremony that featured hula dancers, conch calls and ukulele serenades.
Ige took the helm after defeating Republican James "Duke" Aiona in the general election and upsetting incumbent Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the primary.
In an event that paid tribute to Ige's roots as the grandson of Japanese immigrants and a melting pot of Hawaiian traditions, Ige began his acceptance speech in his trademark humble style, saying to the crowd, "My name is David Ige."
"Some of you may find the gesture unnecessary," he said. "But I find it quite appropriate. After all, an inauguration is really an introduction of a new governor, a new administration, a new beginning."
The 57-year-old former state senator vowed during his campaign to engage the public with a less confrontational style than his predecessor. He has been working to build a cabinet that shares his vision of a transparent government that engages the community in solving problems.
"As I prepare to take over the reins of your government, I ask each of you to join me in the process of governing," Ige told the crowd. "I ask you to find your voice and use it not only to choose your elected officials but to shape the issues that will shape our lives."
Shan Tsutsui also was sworn in as lieutenant governor.
Strong winds blew and soft rain fell as veterans from the 100th Battalion and 442nd Regimental Combat Team of the U.S. Army - where Ige's father served and earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star during World War II - proceeded onto the stage. The veterans carried a flag from the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who served in the unit.
"I stand here today - in the shadow of my parents' and grandparents' accomplishments - because of their willingness to sacrifice and look to my future," Ige said.
"Okage sama de," Ige continued in Japanese. "All that I am, I am because of you."
Young hula dancers from Pearl City High School, Ige's alma mater, smiled and reached for the sky as they performed onstage in flowing red skirts.
Ige is the eighth person to hold the office since Hawaii became a state in 1959. He has said one of his first priorities will be to craft a budget that keeps the state within its means. A draft of the budget is due to the Legislature on Dec. 22, and Ige believes it will be a tight budget year.
"When our economy is truly healthy and everyone rises with the tide of prosperity, then issues such as the lack of affordable housing, homelessness and hunger are greatly diminished," Ige said.
The former chairman of Hawaii's Senate Finance Committee hopes to improve the state's finances by upgrading technology in state offices like the Department of Taxation. The agency misses out on hundreds of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes every year because of its outdated systems, he has said.
Ige, an engineer, was tapped by former Gov. George Ariyoshi to fill a vacant seat in the state House when he was 28. He continued to serve in the Legislature for nearly three decades, moving to the Senate in 1994. Throughout that time, Ige continued to work as a technology executive in the private sector, which he said gave him valuable perspective.
In a press conference after the ceremony, Ige said it's been a challenge to hire staff because of the low salaries offered by the state compared with the private sector.
Many governors in the past held inaugural ceremonies at Iolani Palace, which was the royal palace of the Hawaiian Kingdom until its overthrow in 1893. But Ige held the ceremony at the Capitol in part out of respect for that history, and in part because he served at the Capitol for 29 years in the Legislature, he said.
"Clearly, this has been my home," Ige said.
Ige choked up while reflecting on the support he received from his wife and his mother, who watched the ceremony from the hospital, he said.
"It was a very tough campaign, so to actually be in that position, introduced as governor, was very special for my family," Ige said.