In the Legislature’s recent 10-day emergency session, lawmakers devoted more energy to fighting Gov. David Ige than the virus.
Their main efforts were to rework the deficit-ridden state budget to protect public workers from potential pay cuts and furloughs by Ige — even though he said he’d do so only as a last resort — and stash $635 million of federal relief money and a like amount of state revenues in the “rainy day” fund to put it beyond Ige’s reach.
Also beyond the reach of suffering individuals and businesses sorely in need of relief as Hawaii’s unemployment nears 25% in a dead economy. Legislators pushed out little money to help them in the apparent belief that it’s raining only when government employees don’t get paid.
In another dig at the governor, lawmakers refused funding of $10 million for the office of Ige’s coronavirus “navigator,” utility executive Alan Oshima.
The session ended with Mike McCartney, Ige’s economic development director, refusing to let his staff testify before a Senate coronavirus panel. He claimed bullying and harassment by the committee led by Sens. Donovan Dela Cruz, Donna Kim and Michelle Kidani, who have for weeks thrown personal insults and accusations of incompetence at administration officials.
The Senate sharpened the battle lines by elevating its Special Committee on COVID-19 to an investigative committee with power to subpoena witnesses and issue contempt citations against those who are unforthcoming.
The governor has mostly let his underlings take the flak while keeping personally above the fray; under his broad emergency powers, he can pretty much do — or not do — as he pleases no matter what the Legislature says.
Ige’s plodding response to the coronavirus and his uneven communications with both the public and fellow elected officials have certainly left him open to fair criticism.
But some of the over-the-top broadsides from the Legislature, especially the Senate, appear to be based as much on political rivalries and bloated egos as policy concerns. There’s little sign that good-faith talks to find common ground occurred before the grandstanding began.
Even House Speaker Scott Saiki, who has had his own differences with the Ige administration, said the Senate’s prosecutorial approach is “not constructive at all.”
COVID-19 is an existential crisis unlike anything Hawaii has faced in modern times. People are deeply worried about their health and financial well-being as new waves of the virus loom and the economy is likely many years from recovery.
The last thing we need to see is self-important local Democratic officials fighting among themselves as fiercely as the Democrats and Republicans in Washington.
Reach David Shapiro at email@example.com.