Gabbard pays visit to protest site, questions TMT plans
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard toured the protest camp on Mauna Kea on Sunday, embracing activists and visiting with kupuna, or elders, who have been camped in the roadway for four weeks.
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MAUNA KEA, Hawaii >> U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard toured the protest camp on Mauna Kea on Sunday, embracing activists and visiting with kupuna, or elders, who have been camped in the roadway for four weeks.
More than 3,000 opponents of the Thirty Meter Telescope turned out for another day of protests Sunday, lingering to pray, listen to music and watch hula performances on the closed roadway, which was packed with TMT opponents. People set up folding chairs and tents dozens of yards out into the rough lava fields on either side of the access road.
Gabbard embraced an enforcement officer with the Department of Land and Natural Resources as she approached the kupuna tent, which has been the nerve center of the demonstrations that have blocked Mauna Kea Access Road.
Once in the kupuna tent, Gabbard presented an offering wrapped in ti leaf and took a microphone to tell the protesters that “we recognize that what is happening here is about so much more than just the telescope, that this speaks to not only the history of disrespect and dishonoring sacred places here in Hawaii, but this alarming trend that we see happening around the world.”
>> Photo Gallery: Rep. Tulsi Gabbard visits Mauna Kea
She then donned a red-and-gold t-shirt bearing the protest slogan “Ku Kia‘i Mauna,” or “protector of the mountain,” and waded through the crowd, stopping for a series of selfies with well-wishers.
“The next president, guys,” beamed Alii Samoa, who was helping with security for Gabbard. Gabbard has been busy in recent weeks traveling on the mainland on her long-shot campaign for president.
After meeting with the kupuna Sunday, Gabbard then crossed Daniel K. Inouye Highway for a meeting with protest leader Kaho‘okahi Kanuha.
The protests on Mauna Kea have stopped the $1.4 billion TMT project in its tracks while Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim leads discussions to try to resolve the impasse.
Opponents of the telescope consider it a desecration of a mountain that many Hawaiians consider sacred, and say they will not allow the telescope to be built. Supporters of the TMT say the project has a legal right to proceed and note that sponsors of the project spent a decade obtaining the necessary government approvals to move forward.
Gabbard, who represents the neighbor islands in Congress, has called on Gov. David Ige to delay construction of the telescope and deactivate about 80 Hawaii National Guard troops who were called up to help move construction equipment to the summit area.
After a month of protests, two state lawmakers including state Sen. Kai Kahele (D, Hilo) have said publicly the TMT should give up on its plans to build on Mauna Kea and look to an alternate site in the Canary Islands. Kahele has announced his candidacy for Gabbard’s seat. Gabbard can run for reelection to Congress if her bid for the presidency fails.
The next hurdle for her run for the White House is to qualify for the September Democratic debate in Houston. Gabbard has the 130,000 individual donors needed to make the debate but has yet to achieve the poll numbers required. She needs at least 2% support by Aug. 28 in three polls approved by the Democratic National Committee. So far, she’s met that threshold in only one qualifying poll.
Polls conducted by Quinnipiac University and Morning Consult following the last debate, on July 31, had Gabbard stuck stubbornly at 1%, which she has averaged throughout the campaign.
Gabbard said in an interview Sunday that the kupuna have invited the TMT board of directors to come to the mountain and see what’s happening, “and they said no one has taken them up on that invitation yet,” she said.
“I don’t see how you can talk about building another telescope here again without addressing these deeper-seated problems, and it doesn’t appear to me that that’s taken place,” she said.
When asked to elaborate, she said, “It’s recognizing how things have been done wrong in the past, and therefore to make sure that we don’t continue to make those mistakes as we’re dealing with very sacred sites that have great spiritual significance, both to Native Hawaiians or kupuna or to people from all over who draw inspiration from these places,” she said.