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.

Governor David Ige announces start of the vehicles and State of Hawaii plan on TMT.
Gov. David Ige is not showing much leadership on the Thirty Meter Telescope dispute. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

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 protestors absolutely have a traditional right, dating as far back as the Magna Carta to petition for redress of grievances over the TMT, and sovereignty activists under the precedent of the Declaration of Independence have a legitimate cause to institute new government “as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

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.

Unlike other Ige policy rollouts, on TMT construction we saw no advance prep with mass awareness campaigns, speeches in the community or the benefit of statewide town hall meetings, as was the case with the administration’s proposed road-use charge.

If the TMT stays stalled, then Hawaii has failed. As it is, the existing telescopes nearly missed an opportunity to track difficult-to-spot asteroids that came dangerously close to hitting Earth.

Instead of posting pictures of people sign-waving for the TMT on Facebook, Ige personally needs to be out sign-waving, speaking in the community, addressing disinformation and recruiting allies to his cause, not the least of which should include Hawaii’s own Democratic congressional delegation. Did Ige even consider giving astronaut Buzz Aldrin or other celebrities a call to stand with him in support of the TMT and the State of Hawaii?

Ige is the state’s chief spokesperson. He needs to stop waffling. If he really believes the TMT must move forward, then he needs to move forward first with some persuasive leadership.

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