LIHUE, KAUAI — Gov. Neil Abercrombie brought his Cabinet to the Garden Isle on Wednesday for a listening session.

What he heard was loud and insistent: Repeal Act 55, the legislation that created the Public Land Development Corporation.

Protesters at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Lihue frequently, and rudely, interrupted the Hawaii governor and his directors to shout things like “Stop the PLDC!” “We don’t trust you!” “No GMOs!” and “It’s all about land and assets!”

“When you combine government and corporations, you get fascism!” a man named Rich said into a speaker’s microphone. “You have given a five-member appointed board complete control over public lands. That’s the concern people have.”

The governor insisted, as he has several times this week, that people should consider the positive aspects a PLDC might bring to the state. Land Director William Aila said the PLDC would not have the power to interfere with water rights, decide the fate of ceded lands or evade the state statute on environmental review.

But the protesters were not the least bit mollified. If the PLDC does not actually end up allowing for the building of a hotel in pristine Kokee, as some warned, Kauai residents remain very wary of the agency’s potential reach.

Kauai County Council member Mel Rapozo, who supports Act 55, told the governor that the council would consider a measure asking lawmakers to reconsider the PLDC’s exemption from county zoning and permitting rules.

“That is the problem,” Rapozo told the governor in front of a packed audience. “The five-member board doesn’t know Kauai — these people know Kauai.”

By the time the 90-minute community meeting concluded and Abercrombie was whisked by his security to his awaiting vehicle, one wondered if he was reconsidering his long-held view that Kauai is the most beautiful place in the world.

Into the Lion’s Den

The governor deserves credit for holding a community meeting on Kauai.

It is the first of a planned series of “Governor’s Cabinet in Your Community” meetings intended to ensure that the administration not be Oahu-centric. Top Kauai leaders were on hand for the occasion.

The administration knew it would receive questions about PLDC. Protesters stood outside the school before the meeting, including Raymond Catania, a retired state worker who helps preserve iwi burial grounds

“I don’t trust this buggah,” he told Civil Beat. “This is a corporate free-for all, that’s what it is. Abercrombie’s trying to pay back his corporate masters. He wants to open up lands to developers with very few controls.”

Inside the school, many in the audience had concerns other than the PLDC — like about beach erosion, health care, homelessness, agriculture development. The governor and his Cabinet did their best to answer them.

Abercrombie’s spokesperson, Donalyn Dela Cruz, reminded folks that Kauai had received $71.6 million to fund capitol improvement projects since he had become governor. Earlier in the day, he had attended a ground-breaking for Piilani Mai Ke Kai housing in Anahola and Lihue Mill Bridge, and a dedication for a widening project on Kaumualii Highway.

But, with dozens of people holding up pink fliers that read “Repeal Act 55 … or pink slip,” a single issue dominated the room.

Things erupted when Scott Enright of the Department of Agriculture and Health Director Loretta Fuddy attempted to answers questions about GMOs and pesticides.

At one point a woman hissed at the governor, who responded incredulously, “What’s that? It really doesn’t accomplish anything.”

When a man stood up and loudly exclaimed “Read agenda 21! Read it!” — apparently, it’s some sort of global conspiracy, I’m told — the governor encouraged audience members like him to heed the posters schoolchildren had put on the wall — posters with words like respect (hooihi) and self-discipline (aohiiho).

The governor received strong applause for that line. Aila, meanwhile, reminded the audience of the pule delivered at the beginning of the meeting that called for respecting one another and agreeing to disagree.

In spite of all the outrage, there was a moment early on in the meeting that reminded many of the other responsibilities of government — of the good that government can do, or should.

A 9-year-old girl with multiple sclerosis who lost the ability to walk at age seven had a question about health care — specifically, about why she had been denied disability assistance from the state, apparently because she did not meet eligibility requirements.

“I used to run into my mother’s arms,” she said, the audience hushed in attention. “I can’t put a jacket on when I’m cold, or open the fridge when I’m hungry. I can’t even wash my hair or teeth. I need help in every part of my life.”

Fuddy told the girl and her family, “We’ll re-look at this. You certainly are deserving of care. Come talk to me after.”

It was so perfect of a moment it almost seemed scripted. No matter: more applause.

Several people told me that at the hearing a few weeks ago, when the PLDC came to Lihue for its rules hearing, things were much worse.

“People were screaming at each other,” one person told me.

Ah, democracy in action on the Garden Isle.

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