Hawaii, led by Gov. David Ige, is staking out an increasingly combative stance in opposing Trump administration policies.
In lawsuits, legislation, protest letters and government filings, the overwhelmingly Democratic state is taking a strong line against the Republican administration on issues involving immigration, the environment, civil rights, education and consumer protection.
“Right now, states have an opportunity and obligation to lead on a variety of issues, and Hawaii will continue to fight for the values that are important to our community,” Ige said.
Last week, for example, Hawaii asked to join a group of about a dozen, mostly Democratic-leaning states threatening to sue the federal government if the Trump administration pushes ahead with a proposal to weaken auto emission standards established by the President Barack Obama.
Chin said he intended to sign on to a letter to Scott Pruitt, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, warning that the states will “vigorously oppose attempts” to roll back vehicle emission standards for new cars, something the state officials said would worsen smog, accelerate global warming and “imperil public health.”
In March, Pruitt and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced they would review Obama administration rules that boosted fuel economy for cars built in year 2022 and beyond. Pruitt said the standards were “costly for automakers and the American people,” and that a “fresh look” was needed to determine if the previous approach was “realistic.” In May, Pruitt indicated that he believed the process was flawed.
Joining the fight on auto emissions is a logical next step for Hawaii. Early this month, it became the first state to pass legislation implemented portions of the Paris climate agreement that Trump has repudiated.
In all, the state has initiated or participated in about a dozen actions that place it in opposition to Trump administration policies.
Since Trump was inaugurated in January, Hawaii’s stand on immigration has drawn the most national attention.
Attorney General Doug Chin participated in an early lawsuit opposing Trump’s original travel ban on information from seven Muslim-majority nations. The state was the first to sue after Trump issued a revised ban that instead covered six nations. That case is now heading to the Supreme Court.
Other actions are less high profile.
In April, Steven Levins, executive director of the state office of consumer protection, joined a multi-state letter written to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos expressing “profound concern” about the education department’s decision to roll back student loan servicing reforms set during the Obama administration.
Maura Healey, Massachusetts attorney general, said the “common-sense federal” reforms had protected student borrowers from loan administrators’ “poor practices and servicing failures” that ruined their credit scores, forced them to pay excessive fees and pushed them into financial distress.
The state officials cited an Education Department memo where DeVos said the process under the Obama administration had been adversely affected by “moving deadlines, changing requirements and a lack of consistent objectives,” and that instead the process should go forward “with precision, timeliness and transparency.”
“There is a strong and bipartisan consensus that the harsh sentencing practices reflected in the DOJ policy announced last week do not increase public safety, and that consensus is supported by strong data,” they wrote. Hawaii was joined by attorneys general from California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, Washington state and the District of Columbia.
In an interview, Ige said actions opposing the federal government are taken only after discussion with his cabinet, which includes Chin, the state’s top legal officer. In most states, attorneys general are elected to office. In Hawaii, by contrast, the attorney general is appointed by the governor and acts on his behalf.
Ige said that he talks with Chin several times a day, and that they consider the practical ramifications of their decisions when they decide to oppose Trump administration policies.
“We are connected to the federal government,” Ige said. “We get federal funds, and we rely on many of them. So we talk about it as a cabinet—the things we felt are important, and that we would stand up and be counted for, and the things that are not so important.”
“We come to a consensus,” he said, albeit under his direction.
Chin said he appreciates the support he receives from the governor, something that attorneys general do not receive if they are elected and are members of the opposite political party. Many governors also see attorneys general are political threats.
But in Hawaii, the relationship between the two men is close and amicable.
“In contrast with some of my colleagues, I am fortunate to have the support and backing of my governor, Governor Ige, and I am grateful to him for his leadership,” Chin said in an email.
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A Kailua girl, Kirstin Downey is a special correspondent for Civil Beat. A longtime reporter for The Washington Post, she is the author of "The Woman Behind the New Deal," "Isabella the Warrior Queen" and an upcoming biography of King Kaumualii of Kauai. She can be reached at email@example.com.