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Hawaii NewsVolcanic Ash

Political snits snarl recovery from Big Isle eruption disaster

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This aerial view on Saturday shows fissure 8 containing two small ponds deep within its crater. One pond slowly circulates with an incandescent surface while the other pond is stagnant with a crusted top.

House Speaker Scott Saiki and Finance Chairwoman Sylvia Luke are out of line in their political bullying of Big Island officials trying to recover from an ongoing volcanic disaster that has crippled a major quadrant of the island.

Saiki berated Mayor Harry Kim for giving Gov. David Ige a courtesy heads-up that Hawaii island could need relief of $500 million to $600 million, complaining the mayor didn’t kowtow enough to the Legislature and was seeking a “blank check.”

He accused Kim of mismanagement and threatened withering scrutiny of the recovery plan the county has yet to submit as it finishes assessing the damage to homes, businesses, farms and infrastructure.

Luke made clear the real reason for the speaker’s tantrum when she said the relief request “reeks of politics” because Kim endorsed Ige over U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the primary election.

Luke and Saiki endorsed Hanabusa, and Luke dubiously painted the aid request as some kind of political deal.

Dragging politics into this natural disaster days before the primary election was a low blow to suffering Big Islanders.

The 78-year-old Kim, who has been in and out of the hospital with heart trouble, and his managing director, Wil Okabe, have worked diligently with state and federal partners to plot a path to recovery.

Legislators certainly should perform reasonable due diligence when the aid request comes, but throwing political bombs before the county has even finished its plan is recklessly premature.

As Okabe rightly noted, “This is not about politics; this is about helping people in need.”

Compare these Saiki and Luke rants to the Legislature’s response to the severe April flooding on Kauai, when lawmakers sent $125 million in aid within weeks without threats or recrimination.

If we’re talking about the reek of politics, Saiki and Luke sound a lot like the Trump administration in its disparate and politically charged relief responses to hurricanes in Louisiana and Puerto Rico.

The primary election is over, and legislators need to move past the political grievances that have nothing to do with the social and economic fallout of the Puna eruption and help local officials with the same dispatch and compassion they showed Kauai.

In a broader sense it’s becoming a concern that Saiki and Luke too often use threats and tongue-lashings as weapons of first choice against state and county officials who appear before the Legislature.

They led a reform faction of the House that came to power promising transparency and fairness — the opposite of the strong-arm tactics and favoritism they accused former Speaker Calvin Say of practicing.

If Saiki and Luke can’t show more of the humility, empathy and service they preached, perhaps it’s time for others in the ruling House Democratic faction who still cling to those ideals to reconsider their leadership.

Reach David Shapiro at volcanicash@gmail.com.

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