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Column: A critical test of community leadership

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  • Gary Hooser

    Gary Hooser

The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the ultimate test of leadership — for all of us. Collaborative, inclusive and assertive decision- making are required and I believe that is what we are ultimately getting. Yes, of course we can do better, but given the scale and totality of the circumstances, all of us deserve some credit for holding it together.

The announcement by Gov. David Ige of a mandatory 14-day quarantine impacting all travelers coming to Hawaii is welcome news and hopefully, will tamp down both the health risks for our residents and the community anger that has been building toward the visitor industry.

The pain and hardship that many employees in the travel and hospitality industry will incur as a result of this decision will be significant. While not taking legal effect until Thursday at midnight, the results of the announcement has already caused incoming travel to come to a screeching halt.

Ige and his team should be commended for taking this unprecedented action that will protect the health of our community, but which also effectively shuts down Hawaii’s visitor industry.

This week’s earlier “stay at home” orders by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Maui Mayor Mike Victorino and Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami are also welcome and important steps — as is the similar statewide directive announced Monday that went into effect today.

The public criticism and demand for these actions have been swift and strong, and justifiably so. And in a positive sign of a functioning democracy, our political leadership has responded appropriately. The community spoke out and the governor and mayors listened and took action. This is a moment to pause and to acknowledge. Yes, it’s been painful getting to this point, but it is a major accomplishment and a milestone in the COVID-19 path to recovery.

There was a moment when it looked like both our community and our political leadership were starting to break down. While the community was growing increasingly outraged at the ongoing influx of visitors, some in top leadership positions appeared to join in to what was starting to look like a public stoning of the governor. At times it seemed that some had forgotten that it’s the governor (and not them) who is in charge of the Department of Transportation. Others spent far too much energy banging hard on the Department of Health.

But thankfully it seems that moment has passed.

Now more that ever residents need reassurance that our leaders are working together toward the best interests of our community. We need more collaboration, not more political statements. The broader community is frustrated, and increasingly apprehensive at how our government is managing this pandemic, and we are not well served when those in high places fan the flames and feed the angst.

We need collaboration, and we need inclusivity.

Advocates for low-income working people and the homeless need to have a voice in these discussions as well. The closing of public restrooms is a glaring example that the needs of the homeless are not being heard. Where are those living on the street supposed to go to the toilet and/or wash their hands? Moving forward, policy-makers must not forget the vulnerable 48% already living on the very edge.

We need to include at the table also local farmers who actually produce food for local consumption. If we learn anything from the calamity that surrounds us, it’s that food self-sufficiency must be front and center.

There will be more tests of leadership coming for all of us, some of which will arrive literally tomorrow and others will occur over the coming months and beyond. My hope is that all in positions of leadership will recognize the urgent need, now more than ever, to paddle together and aloha kekahi i kekahi.

Gary Hooser is a community activist and board president of Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA).

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