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Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa wasted no time Thursday at an environmental forum featuring four candidates for governor pointing out Gov. David Ige’s 2005 vote against the creation of a land conservation fund.
She said he was the only Democrat to vote against the bill in the state Senate, joining five Republicans in opposition.
“It’s kind of troubling,” Hanabusa said during the two-hour event at the Hawaii Conservation Conference. Hanabusa cited Ma’o Organic Farm in Waianae, the Ka Iwi coastline on Oahu’s windward side and Turtle Bay on the island’s North Shore as examples of recent projects that utilized the Legacy Land Conservation Program.
The forum’s format let the candidates — including Republican state Rep. Andria Tupola and former lawmaker John Carroll — take turns answering the same questions. Topics included climate change, funding for natural resources, community engagement and invasive species.
When Ige, who has the Sierra Club’s endorsement, spoke after Hanabusa brought up his “no” vote, he did not offer an explanation for his position at the time, but said his administration has been using the fund to preserve sensitive places, including those she mentioned.
In an interview after the event, Ige said he did not remember why he voted against that bill. He noted it was one of thousands of votes he has cast in his career.
“It’s obvious Colleen is desperate in reaching for that one 15 years ago,” he said. “I don’t really even recall what the issue was. The legacy land program is an excellent program and we are using it to protect lands that the people of Hawaii would be proud to protect.”
The Senate journal from 2005 shows Ige did not make any remarks before casting his vote on the bill, but a few others spoke up for and against it.
The bill, introduced as part of the House majority package, drew support from then-Sen. Gary Hooser, among others. The Kauai lawmaker said the measure was about more than buying land. It was about preserving waterfalls, trails and beaches.
“There are many in my community who can’t go fishing where they used to go fishing,” he said at the time. “You can’t see the view where you used to see it, and perhaps living in urban Honolulu you forget that sometimes.”
Sen. Gordon Trimble, a Republican, said on the day of the vote that while there was a good case for using state money to protect legacy lands through an increase in the state conveyance tax on real estate transfers, in reality 35 percent of those funds would get dumped back into the general fund and be used for other purposes.
“So, one could say that we’re raising the conveyance tax so that we can pay our public sector employees the increase in wages that has just been granted,” Trimble said. “I think that’s wrong.”
The event at the Hawaii Conservation Conference marked the first gubernatorial forum dedicated solely to environmental issues before the Aug. 11 primary. All four candidates appeared eager and comfortable to talk about those issues in front of a large audience at the Hawaii Convention Center.
Tupola spoke with confidence and clarity as she fielded the question asking what she would do to ensure Hawaii has the capacity and regulatory framework needed to effectively prevent the introduction and spread of invasive species.
She said the battle is three-pronged — before invasive bugs and other critters reach Hawaii’s shores, at the border and in the field for those species already here.
Tupola called for significant improvements in staffing, authorizations and funding for the primary agencies responsible in the fight, which are the state land, health and agriculture departments, as well as the University of Hawaii.
Carroll said the invasive species issue was “tantamount” on his list of what needs done in Hawaii. He said eradication programs need to be examined if they are not working.
Beyond that, he said he would do everything Tupola said she would do if he is elected governor.
Hanabusa, whom political analysts have criticized for being short on specifics in her campaign, was full of them in this forum.
After highlighting the origin of the state and county invasive species councils, she said the real issue is not that there isn’t a structure in place already, but how it could be changed to work more efficiently. She suggested looking at the makeup of the councils to see if “other kinds of talents” should be on those appointed boards to focus more on climate change, health and technology.
The two Republicans and two Democrats all agreed that climate change is an existential threat to Hawaii residents’ way of life and as governor they would work toward lasting solutions and mitigation efforts.
Ige frequently highlighted his Sustainable Hawaii Initiative, which he said builds on the Aloha+ Challenge that started under Gov. Neil Abercrombie. He said the plan involves doubling local food production, reducing emissions and combatting invasive species through increased biosecurity.
Hanabusa praised two bills Ige signed into law that address carbon sequestration and carbon-offset programs, and noted the work she did in the state Senate with then-Gov. Linda Lingle to mandate reducing greenhouse-gas emission limits to 1990 levels.
The forum was moderated by Neil Hannahs of Kamehameha Schools.
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