Chad Blair: Can Josh Green Restore Hawaii’s Broken Trust? - Honolulu Civil Beat

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

After the fires, the governor says it’s really the only way to resolve the state’s longterm challenges.

The keynote speaker promised he would be brief but provocative, and he largely delivered. But maybe not entirely in ways that he may have wished.

While Hawaii is blessed with unique characteristics, the speaker said — especially a diverse and generous society that can unite and work toward a common purpose — such strengths will amount to little if the people lack one essential ingredient: trust in one another.

“None of them work if we don’t trust one another,” Gov. Josh Green told the Hawaii Economic Association Friday. “And I can tell you that, because of change, people are afraid. They’re afraid. Do we trust each other enough — do people trust me enough — to make certain decisions that are going to be good?”

Green’s talk was titled “Rebuilding Maui: Opportunities and challenges to the reconstruction efforts in the wake of the Maui fire disaster.” And the governor did provide some updates and perspective.

But the trust that has been broken in so many corners of the state since the events of Aug. 8 was his main theme.

Lahaina can and will be rebuilt, he promised. “But if we don’t trust one another, it will take forever, and we won’t really get there. Do we trust that we can navigate the conflict that we have between peoples, between the ethnicities?

“We should,” the governor continued. “Because I’ll tell you what, no one else is coming to our rescue.”

Gov. Josh Green, right, was at the Halekulani Hotel on Friday for the Hawaii Economic Association conference, along with Seth Colby of the Department of Taxation, who introduced the governor before his keynote. (Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2023)

Green did not say much about how he planned to restore trust as well as hope and faith. He teased that he would announce on Nov. 8 the creation of a Lahaina fund similar to the one set up after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to help care for the victims of the fires. And he said he has charged his team to move boldly.

But the very theme of HEA’s conference illustrated a chronic condition that persists in these islands and may impede progress: “It’s Groundhog Day again?!! Why does Hawaii’s political system keep making the same decisions?”

The two expert panel discussions that preceded Green’s keynote and another that followed only underscored that it can seem like we are all Bill Murray, waking up every day in a hotel in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to find that it’s still the same damn day.

Housing has been a crisis for decades. Regulatory hurdles are formidable. Projects take forever to complete. Government is not innovative. The political structure is beholden to special interests.

The governor recapped some of the things the administration is doing as a result of the fires, such as asking for a lot more money for the Department of Land and Natural Resources to mitigate against wildfires.

He also said he would again push the Legislature to establish a visitor-impact fee to offset the damage 10 million tourists a year bring to the islands. The so-called “green fee” (named for the environmental movement and not the governor) was killed in the last days of the 2023 session.

“If we have (visitors) support us, we will then have hundreds of millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars every year to do the things that we’ve always dreamt of — to protect our environment, to mitigate the impact of climate, to fix the roads that are falling into the sea, to make the parks perfect to the outside, to have the firebreaks, to invest in just better housing,” he argued.

And Green said he would push for more “tax equity” to give lower-income families and individuals a break, although he did not offer details. “People are living right at the edge — 60% of our people are basically at the edge,” he said, one or two paychecks “away from devastation.”

As for Lahaina, while Green reiterated that its rebuilding would indeed directly involve its people, he cautioned that it’s going to take a very long time.

“So prepare for that,” he said. “Prepare for this to be a five- or even a 10-year process to rebuild Lahaina.”

Blame Social Media?

The Q&A that followed Green’s talk revealed more about his views on current events.

It began with a softball question from Seth Colby, the tax research and planning officer for the state Department of Taxation who is also part of HEA’s board of directors: How did Green’s background as an emergency room physician and style of leadership impact how the governor dealt with the wildfire tragedy?

Playing to his strength, the governor said it helped him make quick decisions in the middle of a crisis and to help with the trauma that followed. Less predictably, he admitted that his response to the fires has not been universally embraced. In a sense, he said, his background as a medical doctor is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to governance.

“I will tell you that people are slightly freaked out about my leadership style because we pick something to do,” he said. “And Jonathan is the one that’s probably most freaked out in this room right now.”

Green was referring to Jonathan Scheuer, the former chair of the state Land Use Commission who was an HEA panel speaker and who was sitting just a few feet away from the governor.

Green did not elaborate on why he singled out Scheuer, but it likely had something to so with Scheuer’s strong advocacy for Native Hawaiian water rights in West Maui and the decision by Green’s land board chair to temporarily reassign a Commission on Water Resource Management official, Kaleo Manuel, following the fires.

The Hawaii Economic Association’s conference Oct. 13 at the Halekulani Hotel featured dozens of sponsors and expert panelists. (Screenshot/2023)

That led to another reveal. Asked about how he felt about social media, Green was frank: He thinks it’s “incredibly destructive,” he wishes it would be a more positive platform, and he shared firsthand experiences:

“The moment I suggested that climate change was a part of this crisis and why Lahaina ultimately suffered destruction at the hands of the fire, the number of death threats, the number of the worst kind of comments that came from all across the globe was astounding,” he said. “Comments that suggested not only I’d be assassinated, but my children would be killed. And to see that on social media is pretty unbelievable because I’m just trying to have dialogue with people and saying what I believe.”

Green then shared “a little something extra” with the HEA audience: “Social media ultimately took out Nani Medeiros. That really was what happened to her. And she’s a darn good person. And that hurt to see that happen, to see social media take apart a person like that.”

What happened with Medeiros, his chief housing officer who quit her post last month following blowback over the scope and powers granted through the emergency proclamation, was in his view the fault of social media.

It is, the governor said, “to a large degree why I backed away from anything that was controversial in the housing proclamation. To a large degree. It’s why I was happy to see the decision on Kaleo Manuel, who I respect a great deal, reversed because it was creating a conflict that then got out of control. Things get out of control nowadays because of social media.”

Green’s hope is that everyone will now take a deep breath and push back on how social media is so destructive. Me too, but I don’t think that is going to happen.

Gov. Josh Green and others spoke during the Hawaii Economic Association’s conference at the Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki. (Chad Blair/Civil Beat/2023)

The 1993 fantasy-comedy “Groundhog Day” has a happy ending, only because Murray’s character — a weatherman bored with his career and a jerk to all those around him — painstakingly learns to remake himself into a secular saint. He gets the girl, the storm clears and life returns to normal.

But the reality is that 10 months into his term Green’s most important policy initiative has been derailed and his leadership is under heavy fire.

The HEA conference was an important opportunity to talk seriously about Hawaii’s challenges and to offer solutions. But nobody at the conference was wearing a red Lahaina Strong T-shirt.

It was held at the luxury Halekulani Hotel in Waikiki, and it was sponsored by many of the very same groups that are so often at odds with environmental and cultural interests in the islands: Hawaiian Dredging Construction Co., Dowling Co., D.R. Horton, Goodfellow Bros., The Wilhelm Group, Nareit Hawaii, Hawaii Realtors, First Hawaiian Bank and the Bank of Hawaii.

Restoring trust is a tremendously tall order. It’s going to require a lot of people saying very difficult things to each other at a very large table. And it’s going to require a very skillful leader to bring everyone together.

Read this next:

Matthew Leonard: The Maui Coder On A Mission To Help House Displaced Residents

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About the Author

Chad Blair

Chad Blair is the politics and opinion editor for Civil Beat. You can reach him by email at or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

Latest Comments (0)

IMO, it's doubtful; he only seems to have the welfare of his campaign contributers in mind, despite his words. There's LOTS of construction in the plans during his term. Actions speak louder than his words.

Naauao · 1 month ago

Restoring trust is a pretty big ask of a single person. Point out the government entity that ISN'T currently subject to a scathing audit, or being sued, or has people getting arrested or indicted... It's not just Josh Green that isn't trusted, it's every facet of government here, and for good reason. They keep giving us ample evidence to distrust... dont be upset when that comes to fruition.

Help.Hawaii · 1 month ago

"The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted." James Madison, 1751-1836"The first responsibility of every citizen is to question authority." Benjamin Franklin, (January 17, 1706 [ O. S. ] January 6, 1705– April 17, 1790)Who the Hell! Is James Madison?Who the Hell is Benjamin Franklin?What the Hell do they know?Don’t worry!, just be happy!dennis hanna

DennisHanna1 · 1 month ago

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