Gov. David Ige needs to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and time on Mauna Kea.

From the very outset, the standoff between the Ige administration and groups opposing the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope has been a blue ribbon example of what not to do in public administration, and things only seem to be getting worse.

As if to channel the Christmas Truce of 1914, Gov. Ige announced last week amidst mounting costs that he would be withdrawing the law enforcement officers from Mauna Kea.

In a press release, Ige said, “While I am disappointed that TMT will not move forward at this time, I hope this will allow for some respite during the holiday season. I also remain committed to continuing the many conversations that are currently taking place. I know that we can do great things when we work together, and am hopeful that our community will be stronger going forward.”

Magnanimous as this may seem on the part of the governor, it is also confusing when taken in the greater historical context of how Ige has handled the TMT controversy.

In July, Ige telegraphed a rolling start and forceful position with an emergency proclamation designed to give law enforcement broad authority to ensure construction could begin. The move backfired when the officers who were ready to implement the plan were told to stand down and protesters leveraged the proclamation to characterize Ige as a tyrant, accomplishing the rare feat of making Ige look gutless and dictatorial all at the same time.

Mauna Kea supporters right hold their line as left, DLNR law enforcement officers tell them to clear the road to allow their vehicles to make the ascent to the summit. One demonstrator decided not to move and instead laid on the ground only to be arrested within minutes. 24 june 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Gov. David Ige has de-escalated law enforcement on Mauna Kea. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A sovereignty pageant hosted on the taxpayer’s dime then ensued as elected officials, movie stars seeking political relevance and other international celebrities descended on the Big Island, drawing large crowds that state and county officers could do nothing but helplessly stare at.

Much like 20th century Panama, where Panamanians who believed Americans were illegally occupying the canal zone took to driving pickup trucks and coupes equipped with patriotic symbols as a means of protest, Oahu saw organic traffic protests and flag convoys with inverted Hawaii flags in response to Ige’s actions.

The governor was forced to walk back his emergency declaration, but police were still deployed to the mountain, and the administration found itself in the pickle of being pressured by opposing movements to either clear the road or demobilize the police.

As if dealing with protesters were not enough, things got worse for Ige when a wooden  structure was constructed by protesters and, in classic Orwellian fashion, Hawaii county government implied that the State of Hawaii could face fines of $1,000 a day for every day the unpermitted structure remained on top of conservation lands.

Apparently, no one in either Hawaii County or the State of Hawaii had read the Federalist Papers or the U.S. Constitution, or they would have known that in America, executive and legislative magistracies are purposefully distinct and separate spheres of authority, and government can choose not to impose fines, especially on another government.

The stellar lack of imagination among our local government came out in full force when police officers and engineers under orders from the Department of Hawaiian Homelands then proceeded in early September to dismantle the structure. Predictably, the owners of the structure were looking for a public relations victory, so they nailed the door to the structure shut and affixed a State of Hawaii-like flag to the door, “forcing” authorities to breach the door and cut the flag with a chainsaw.

I say “forcing” with sarcasm, because whichever task force leader was put in charge of this fool’s errand had to know (or should have known) that people would be watching and video recording with cell phones the dismantling of the library. Protesters who had laid the public relations nightmare fly trap were well rewarded when gonzo video emerged of an officer gloriously shredding the flag with a giant saw.

Apparently with all the technology we have in 2019, the means to cut the side wall of a wooden building does not exist (but check YouTube videos of Marines in Afghanistan, and you might learn otherwise). Worse yet, I guess no one knows that the reverse end of a hammer’s head can be used to pry nails out of wood or break wooden planks.

Just for the PR optics, if they absolutely had to cut the flag, DHHL could have told the officers to stop, salute the flag, fold it into a triangle, and retire it to the hands of a nearby civilian, but this state lacks the imagination to beat trolls at their own game.

Not surprisingly, the protesters’ trap worked, and soon public opinion soured against both police and Ige, with people going so far as to send threats to state employees and officers.

Not learning that when one is in a hole, one should stop digging, Ige then threw a bravura press conference to showcase social media bullying and threats – yet stopped cautiously short of announcing he would punish such acts – which TMT supporters decried and Mauna Kea protesters used to take a victory lap.

We could go on, but alas, the latest gimmick by the Ige administration in pulling police from Mauna Kea puts in question why law enforcement were even up there in the first place. Ige has wasted time, money and the patience of Hawaii residents.

Last time I checked, the flag flying over the Governor’s Office was supposed to be red, white and blue, not the all-white flag of surrender. Ige needs to make up his mind whether he wants the TMT constructed at all or whether a sovereignty movement should topple the State of Hawaii on his watch.

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