As the reds and the blues gather again today before the County Council, it seems an apt time to paraphrase a quote from Shakespeare: something is rotten on the island of Kauai.
And I'm not talking about the usual county cronyism and corruption. I mean Bill 2491 and the movement behind it.
Not the entire movement, mind you. Many passionate, caring, concerned people have thrown their hearts and souls into this process — political novices who never guessed their movement had been hijacked by those whose intention is to ensure that a pesticide bill is never approved on this island.
What we're seeing play out on little Kauai is a misinformation campaign by the biotech/pesticide multinationals, replete with plants. Infiltration is an old trick used to destabilize and derail political movements, and that's what's happened here.
Yup, the red shirts have been infiltrated by the other team, and by that I don't mean blue shirts, because it goes deeper than that, to the corporations themselves.
I smelled it from the start, which is why I never could don a red shirt and joyfully jump on the band wagon — even though I've been a longtime opponent of GMOs and pesticides, a longtime advocate of the environment and the underdog.
The movement quickly turned toxic, choosing to employ fear-based, combative tactics that were designed to polarize, alienate, misinform, inflame and ultimately defeat the bill or weaken its legal defensibility. I was thoroughly repelled, and many people crucial to building a broad-base movement — Hawaiian elders, kama`aina, middle-of-the-roaders, business leaders and others — have told me they felt repelled, too, even though we share concerns about the chem companies and their activities on this island.
With those folks — many of them akamai about pesticides and the political process — pushed to the side, it was easy for the infiltrators to grab the steering wheel. And to make sure they stayed out, anyone who dared question or criticize was branded a sell-out, in the pocket of the chem companies.
Certain politicians, too, have been undermining the intent of the bill, even as they claim to be champions for the people.
Councilman Gary Hooser brought in the GMO language — and with it, the more rabid anti-GMO activists — even though he was warned it would harm the bill. He continues to maintain — you can listen to him on HPR's The Conversation — that no environmental or health testing can occur without first having disclosure.
But as I noted in my interview on The Conversation, while I support disclosure, there's no reason to delay such tests because we do know what the companies are using. We have their restricted use pesticide records from the state. Yes, I know that is only a record of what they bought, but why would they buy it year after year if they aren't using it? And if Gary is using those same records to claim they're drenching the westside with 18 tons of pesticides annually, then why can't we also use those records to say, OK, let's start looking for that stuff?
Gary also has maintained there's an urgency to pass the bill because of health problems, including an increased rate of birth defects and rare tumors. Health fears have driven much of the debate, and they may well be real, given the toxic effects of pesticides. But why the reluctance to accumulate any real data? When I checked with the Department of Health, I learned no one has asked for a review of the state birth defects or tumor registries to see if Kauai does have higher rates, as often claimed. Is that because the review of the cancer registry — requested by one of our state legislators — showed Kauai's rate is actually lower than the statewide average?
And why, if human and environmental health, is supposedly the main driver behind this bill, did Gary argue yesterday against the resolution that would launch an Environmental and Public Health Impacts Study (EPHIS)? Wouldn't you want to get that study rolling if you felt the situation was urgent?
Why is Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura insisting the group that designs the EPHIS include community stakeholders — a requirement that will taint the process with subjectivity and needlessly delay it with internal wrangling — when a group of objective experts could easily be assembled to figure out how to plan such a study to produce some meaningful results?
As a result, the EPHIS resolution has been sent to committee where it could languish indefinitely. Yet there's been nary a peep from the reds. Why?
Why did JoAnn add language at the eleventh hour that further undermined the legality of the bill, such as prohibiting the cultivation of any crops in the buffer zone, which could be construed as a violation of the “right to farm” law? Why did she change the trigger for disclosure to using 15 pounds or five gallons of any single pesticide, when it had been stronger, trigged by a cumulative use?
Why did Gary, JoAnn and Councilman Tim Bynum, usually the transparency advocates on the Council, suddenly clam up and vote against releasing the county attorney's opinion? Despite the red herring claims that have been raised, there is nothing unusual about releasing opinions. What's more, nothing was revealed to the chem company attorneys that they don't already know, as evidenced by the Aug. 30 legal analysis of Bill 2491 that they sent to the county.
And finally, why did Chairman Jay Furfaro push the bill through that night, even though significant amendments were added in a back room session, even though the county attorney had pointed out flaws? Why not take the time to let people review the changed bill, amend it further to address possible legal challenges? What's the point of rushing it to the mayor, when careful crafting could have forestalled his veto?
We've witnessed an awful lot of drama, street theater, political pandering. We've witnessed a videotaped mob scene, physical threats against the mayor, metal scanners and security checks in the Council Chambers.
And yet here we are, quite a ways down the road, but still right back at the beginning, with nothing. Nothing except a weak, watered down bill that appears headed for the trash can and a tattered, shell-shocked community that will be loathe to go down this road again.
Exactly as planned.