There’s no polite way to say it: Gov. David Ige has done a terrible job on the Thirty Meter Telescope.
James Madison famously warned that “a popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps, both.”
So far, Ige’s approach toward the TMT has been a farce and a tragedy, as his absence of leadership almost adds credibility to the belief among some locals that the State of Hawaii is a “fake state.”
In Ige, we see a programmatic personality whose administration on any given day will deliberate, collaborate and bloviate over the most minute details, demanding the highest level of precision from his departments. Timelines, logic models, strategic plans and evaluation to the point of exhaustion are hallmarks of the Ige technocracy.
Yet on the TMT standoff, we see paralysis and policy schizophrenia, as if Ige has completely lost control.
Having unseated an incumbent governor in a primary, resisted a primary challenge by a congresswoman and solidly won re-election in a historic blowout, one would assume Ige has a mandate to lead confidently in his second term, including on the TMT. As if to ice the cake, the state’s Supreme Court even handed the BLNR and the Ige administration a massive victory when it sided with the TMT.
But instead of confidence, we see chaos.
First, Ige announced the construction of the TMT with a low-energy rollout that protestors countered with an emotional mobilization to the mountain. As if to throw all PR sense out the window, Ige then preemptively declared emergency powers over Mauna Kea before an emergency even existed, issuing a lengthy proclamation loaded with so many “whereas” clauses that it was less a legal order and more of a glorified legislative resolution.
As is the case with all asymmetric campaigns that leverage Establishment offenses as gasoline to ignite recruitment of more supporters, the protestors predictably used the emergency proclamation against Ige to draw in outside thought leaders and celebrities. Even Ige’s 2018 Republican opponent, Andria Tupola, visited the mountain.
Lt. Gov. Josh Green went to the mountain before Ige did, and practically threw Ige under the bus with what looked like a rogue humanitarian mission by a doctor without political borders. When Ige finally visited the mountain, he swiftly washed his hands and appointed Big Island mayor Harry Kim to be his emissary, whose first thought was “oh, shit!”
“Oh, shit” is right.
What Ige needs to realize is that what we are witnessing on Mauna Kea is not a battle between science and religion, or a clash between modernity and ancient traditionalism. In truth, the standoff between the protestors and the State of Hawaii is Jeffersonian democracy. The state and people have competing roles to play in this society, and right now, Ige is simply not doing his job.
Students of history know the Whiskey Rebellion, Taos Revolt and McMinn County War are all examples of how people, states and the federal government have constructive conflict of interests intentionally engineered into our system of government as a check against any one group forming a monolithic system of dominance. We neither have mob rule on one side or despotic totalitarianism on the other in America because all sides are supposed to rebuff each other.
The state and people have competing roles to play in this society, and right now, Ige is simply not doing his job.
That being said, Ige also has an opposing responsibility as the state’s executive to effectively represent the state’s position until it is fully implemented. The people’s place is to protest, but Ige’s job as an executive is to persuade on behalf of the state; that is the very reason why we have, for example, a Department of Education.
Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.