Dear Saiki And Kouchi: Please Help Save Hawaii From Ige - Honolulu Civil Beat

About the Author

Paul Arinaga

Paul is an experienced project manager, outreach professional and grant writer who manages the Go Native and Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest projects.

Dear House Speaker Scott Saiki and Senate President Ron Kouchi: We appreciate all that you are doing for the people of Hawaii. That is why I am writing out of deep concern for our present and future circumstances.

Gov. David Ige and his administration have bungled testing and contact tracing and, as of this writing, it is still not clear whether these efforts are on track. In addition, the governor has not proactively expended over half a billion dollars in CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds which are due to expire at the end of this year (in less than four months).

On top of all of this, at the outset of the pandemic, Gov. Ige suspended the state’s open meetings and public records laws. This was considered one of the most extreme anti-transparency measures taken by any U.S. governor in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Gov. Ige’s administration has lacked transparency and more recently the governor has refused to share COVID-19 data which you, Speaker Saiki, and others have reasonably requested. Lastly, we have seen scant evidence of any concrete and viable plan for economic recovery.

Sen President Ron Kouchi and Speaker Scott Saiki state of State 2019.
Senate President Ron Kouchi and House Speaker Scott Saiki at Gov. David Ige’s 2019 state-of-the-state address at the Capitol. Some say the governor should step down because of his lack of leadership on COVID-19. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2019

This second lockdown on Oahu is due in part to the Ige administration’s failure to ramp up testing and contact tracing, as well as properly enforce social distancing. While some members of society did not do their part either, I believe that the vast majority of citizens acted responsibly and followed social distancing mandates.

As members of the public dutifully adhere to a second stay-at-home order, the Ige administration now has an implicit social contract with the public: we will follow the rules, but in exchange we expect the Ige administration to come through with effective contact tracing, testing and quarantine measures to contain the virus once the number of infections has been brought down to a more manageable level.

The public has grudgingly (do we have a choice?) given Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Gov. Ige this second chance. I feel, however, that the public’s mood is rapidly souring. The public will not be fooled again.

If the state fails to put in place the necessary levels of contact tracing and testing, I think that large sections of the already disillusioned public will lose all faith in our government. As a result, they may be less willing to cooperate with future public health measures. Yet with the onset of flu season, stay-at-home orders may again become necessary in the near future.

As Neal Milner said in a recent commentary in Civil Beat, “… recovering from the pandemic here is going to require plenty of government activity and plenty of citizen mobilization. Both of those require trust, optimism, a sense of efficacy and a belief that promises get kept and ideas won’t just get adopted but will also be carried out.”

We are at a critical fork in the road. Failure to come through with contact tracing, testing, and effective quarantine measures may make it impossible to ever fully contain COVID-19. Such a failure would further overwhelm our health care system and possibly condemn us to endless cycles of lockdown.

Economically, the second lockdown may be the last straw for many small local businesses that were hoping to stage a comeback or at least weather the crisis. Imagine an entrepreneur who spent his or her entire life building a small business only to see it go up in smoke within the time span of just a few months.

The small business sector is the lifeblood of every economy but contributes more than just economic value. Small businesses also contribute to the richness of local culture. What would a neighborhood be without our favorite local restaurant or hair salon?

Local culture itself is threatened by the effects of the pandemic. If as many as 100,000 residents are forced to leave the state due to extreme economic duress, that will probably contribute to the further hollowing out of the middle class and increase inequality.

Moreover, those who leave may be replaced by an influx of outsiders who do not necessarily share our community’s values, or we may be unable to assimilate the newcomers due to the suddenness and size of the influx. That could change the very character of Hawaii as we know it.

Decisive Leadership Needed

To contain the virus and get the economy back on track, we need decisive leadership now. We need a leader who can bring people together, pull the right levers of the state bureaucracy to get things done, and communicate openly to reassure the public.

To ensure a brighter economic future, we need a leader who can articulate a compelling vision and pragmatically manage its implementation. We need a leader who is willing to take risks, admit mistakes, re-orient when necessary, and be held accountable. Unfortunately, Gov. Ige lacks these qualities. He is not at all the man of the hour.

Under normal circumstances, this would not matter. However, with a virus raging through the islands, unemployment at or near historic levels, and an uncertain economic future, we simply cannot afford mediocre leadership.

For this reason, I believe that Gov. Ige needs to be strongly encouraged to step aside. The options are as follows: 1) he steps back from day-to-day management of the COVID-19 crisis and turns it over to Lt. Gov. Josh Green; 2) he resigns; 3) he is impeached. Admittedly, Gov. Ige’s own ego and the political landscape in Hawaii make the above options unlikely to happen. Moreover, as you know, here in Hawaii we do not have recourse to referendum or recall.

There is, however, a fourth option. The Hawaii State Legislature should pass a formal concurrent resolution officially censuring Gov. Ige for his mismanagement of the crisis, lack of transparency and failure to produce a clear economic recovery plan. This would be similar to a vote of no confidence in a parliamentary democracy. It could be paired with legislation laying out a plan for managing the COVID-19 crisis and the economic recovery that must come.

By whatever means necessary, Gov. Ige needs to formally be put on notice. Incompetence and obfuscation can no longer be tolerated.

Apologists for our leaders’ incompetence note the difficulty of navigating this crisis and claim that it is difficult to manage something “new.” Having worked with scientists and public health experts, I can tell you that none of this is new.

Gov. Ige is not at all the man of the hour.

When I worked with virologists, epidemiologists and public health experts nearly two decades ago, they were already predicting a global pandemic and examining the effectiveness of surveillance systems, testing, contact tracing, social distancing and other measures. While the specifics related to the SARS-CoV-2 virus may differ from those of other viruses, the public health measures needed are broadly the same.

Our leaders do not need to reinvent anything here. The playbook is well-established, if they will just heed the advice of credible experts.

Except for protesting or writing letters to the editor, it has become amply clear that — sadly — we the people of Hawaii have no power to influence policy. If anything, with his new emergency powers, Gov. Ige has further diminished the public’s power. Our only hope is that leaders within the State Legislature — as our elected representatives — will step up to apply the maximum pressure on the Ige administration.

I fear greatly for the future of our state, both because of the virus and because of the economic dislocation caused by it. We need urgent action. Speaker Saiki and President Kouchi, we are counting on you and your colleagues to take rapid action to ensure that: 1) COVID-19 is managed as effectively as possible; 2) all federal COVID relief funds are productively expended before they expire; and 3) a short-term economic relief plan and a medium/long-term economic recovery plan are put into place and clearly communicated to the public.


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About the Author

Paul Arinaga

Paul is an experienced project manager, outreach professional and grant writer who manages the Go Native and Honolulu Zoo Children’s Discovery Forest projects.

Latest Comments (0)

Mr. A thanks for taking your time & talent to write Mr. Saiki and to share it. I, too, have written letters; it is frustrating there's not a better way to be heard and have an influence. Your points are excellent & well said. (Can we do something re: our mayor too?)  I believe the real shame is not as much on the 1 leader but on the many (71?) in the Legislature who sit by while our Governor operates outside the constitutional emergency provisions & against the laws and practices of transparency & keeping MUCH-needed data hidden (out of privacy concerns for a public problem yet asking the q-tine app being developed to track a person's location--also a privacy issue).  It's a helpless feeling having our elected representatives not upholding our laws and ethical behavior.I appreciate this forum: ea. citizen's thoughts informative; at least we can listen to each other. Maybe eventually find way to be heard by those in power.

AlwaysThinking · 3 years ago

Ok, Governor Ige’s leadership has been something less to be desired. Not only with the pandemic, but with his total lack of leadership skills. Why do you think he had 2 Lieutenant Governors? Other Governors saw some of the short comings of the State Constitution Ben Cayetano, who created the office of elections and took the Lieutenant Governor out as the chef elections officer and Linda Lingle, who created the rainy day fund, which is technically illegal under the balance budget statue.BTW, I totally agree with what they did, I just didn’t like the way it was done. Ige only proves he has no imagination. That is why he had 2 Lieutenant and he is looking at budget cuts instead of suspending the balance budget statue for his last biannual. Come on now, the pandemic is an once in  a century even, GO OVER BUDGET. As long as, it is reasonable.That is why we need a CON CON.

dboy54 · 3 years ago

I'm not one to blame a single person for the failings across the state, even if he's the governor.  Fortunately, my family and I aren't impacted severely by Covid as much as others.  My personal concerns seem minor in comparison but still important to me such as illegal fireworks, especially on the west side.  Shouldn't we learn from the California wild fires to know that the fireworks can set off mass brush fires?  Secondly, helicopters and planes that are flying too low over homes are a safety issue in addition to being a real noise nuisance.  I don't blame Ige for these things, this is on everyone.  

elrod · 3 years ago

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