That’s a proposal coming from the Hawaii Senate and House of Representatives, whose leaders on Monday introduced identical concurrent resolutions calling for the governor to pull together a blue-ribbon commission to reconcile issues of “past, present and future” importance to Native Hawaiians, the state and the nation.
The resolutions single out the “current discord related to Mauna Kea” as a priority, along with issues tied to land use and stewardship, the environment, economy, culture and science.
It’s great that Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki acknowledge the importance of understanding the need to resolve the matter on the mauna, where the fight over building the Thirty Meter Telescope is now in its second decade with no resolution in sight.
Gov. David Ige delivers his 2020 State of the State address at the Capitol in January. Seated behind him are, from left, Senate President Ron Kouchi, House Speaker Scott Saiki and Lt. Gov. Josh Green. A solution to the TMT dilemma will require collective leadership.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
To call it a discord is an understatement, however, and raises a concern that the Legislature’s action may be insufficient to the challenge. The announcement of the introduction of the resolutions came on the same day that Civil Beat reported on how Hawaii’s top leaders, including legislative leaders, are pointing fingers and avoiding responsibility for the telescope standoff.
Still, while resolutions do not have the force of law, these identical measures could result in legislation and appropriations this very session to help resolve the impasse.
In an indication of how serious the resolutions are being taken, the House version already has a hearing — its only one — teed up for Monday morning at the Capitol auditorium. Reconciliation is accurately described in the resolutions as “a pressing need.”
Should the measures result in concrete plans for Mauna Kea, it would be a welcome development and demonstrate real leadership. But a satisfactory resolution is not in sight, even though Gov. David Ige promised repeatedly since 2015 — when protests first halted telescope construction — that he would uphold the state laws and processes that green-lighted the project.
While Ige’s desire to prevent violence and arrests on Mauna Kea has merit, so does adhering to the oath of office to support and defend the state constitution and execute the law.
State lawmakers also swear an oath to the constitution. While neither Saiki nor Kouchi mentioned Mauna Kea in their opening day remarks, Ige did bring it up in his State of the State: “I ask all to join me in continuing to look for a way forward. I stand ready to work with any and everyone who refuses to let this issue divide us. Let us together find a way forward.”
But they better move fast. The resolutions do not specify a date for the formation of a commission, nor when its findings are to be completed.
By the time a blue-ribbon reconciliation commission is convened and its work completed, the TMT could well be on its way to the Canary Islands. While some would cheer such a development, the telescope’s loss would forever be a black mark on Hawaii.
Fortunately, there have been recent promising developments in addition to the concurrent proposals, ones easy to lose sight of.
Under Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim — who Ige last fall asked to take the lead on the crisis — the Mauna Kea Access Road was reopened last month and will stay that way until later this month, at which time there may be an update on the telescope work.
Kim also crafted a 15-page plan in September in order to get the building of the TMT back on track. It placed much responsibility with the Legislature to end the stalemate, in part by permanently restructuring Mauna Kea’s management. Ige has pledged to do exactly that along with representatives of the Hawaiian community and county government.
But Kim’s “way forward” on Mauka Kea also calls for bringing additional resources to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands to increase housing and expedite subdivision approvals to put more beneficiaries on DHHL lands. The DHHL acting director, William Aila, has made a pledge toward that goal. It could involve subsistence agricultural awards and tiny homes.
How a blue-ribbon commission’s recommendations would be received at the Legislature is unclear. As Civil Beat reported Friday, bills regarding DHHL, the Hawaiian Homes Commission and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs frequently flounder.
But there are other hopeful signs that things really could be different this time. The introduction of a joint House-Senate legislative package focused on the cost of living, housing and education — one backed by the governor and key community leaders — demonstrates that new ways of governing can arise.
The reconciliation resolutions also require that they be delivered not just to the governor, the Legislature and the congressional delegation, but also to OHA, the Hawaiian Homes Commission, the University of Hawaii president and the state’s four alii trusts — Kamehameha Schools, the Queen Emma Foundation, the Queen Liliuokalani Trust and the William Charles Lunalilo Trust Estate.
As Saiki told Civil Beat last fall, state government alone cannot solve the riddle that is Mauna Kea.
We understand that leaders of the protest movement have said they won’t accept the building of the telescope on Mauna Kea under any conditions.
And we are on record stating that civil disobedience should not be used in perpetuity to obstruct the legal process that resulted in TMT being permitted construction.
Nobody wants to see anybody arrested. But it is time to indeed find a way forward on the mauna — “to move respectfully into the future.” The reconciliation resolutions can help move us in a shared direction.
Sign up for our FREE morning newsletter and face each day more informed.
Before you go
Civil Beat readership has more than doubled in the past nine months. That’s incredible growth for which we’re so grateful.
But for a small nonprofit newsroom that provides free content with no paywall, readership growth alone can’t sustain our journalism. The truth is that less than 1% of our monthly readers are financial supporters.
To remain a viable business model for local news, we need a higher percentage of readers-turned-donors.
The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Nathan Eagle, Chad Blair, John Hill and Jessica Terrell. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at email@example.com.