Crowd comes out to support Ruggles

  • Nancy Cook Lauer/West Hawaii Today Lakea Trask holds up a sign stating, “We are not Americans,” while testifying Wednesday from Waimea by videoconference at a County Council meeting in Hilo.

HILO — “As a Hawaiian subject, I am a protected person. … This body illegally enacts United States laws in violation of the Hague and Geneva conventions, and as a victim of war crimes that stem from this unlawful legislation, I demand that this body immediately cease and desist.”

Not once, not twice, not three times, but at least 20 times, those words were uttered, along with a dozen sentences in between, as residents of every stripe, from all corners of the island, came to the County Council meeting Wednesday to support Puna Councilwoman Jen Ruggles in her stance questioning U.S. law in Hawaii.

Because public testimony is allowed only on items on the agenda, the crowd ostensibly was testifying in support of Bill 160, a change to the ethics code spelling out that county employees and officers must provide “accurate and factual” information to the public. Most testifiers didn’t address the merits of the bill, which later passed first reading on a 5-3 vote.

Only a very few in the crowded council chambers stood when the council and other members of the audience recited the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States flag. Although remaining unfailingly polite, all sat stolidly, staring straight ahead.

Ruggles was not at the meeting, having declared her intention to not vote or introduce bills until she gets a letter from corporation counsel saying she will not be committing war crimes in doing so. Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela last month sent Ruggles a letter assuring her she won’t violate international law by fulfilling her duties as a councilwoman, but Ruggles wants a more detailed letter.

“The testimony precisely demonstrates why it is diligent I be assured that I am not violating the rights of my constituents who may qualify as protected persons by legislating,” Ruggles said when contacted outside the meeting. “The testimony demonstrates why this is such an important question to be taken seriously, not just by Corporation Counsel Kamelamela, but every legislator in Hawaii.”

Kamelamela is on vacation and did not attend the meeting.

Council members didn’t discuss the testimony, but when questioned after the meeting, Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter said she understood the testifiers to be supporting Bill 160.

“The majority came to testify in support of Bill 160 and ended their testimony asking us to cease and desist from our council positions,” Poindexter said. “I will not abandon my district, especially in a time when we are recovering from natural disasters that impact the entire island’s economic welfare.”

Sovereignty activist Kale Gumapac said the letter was drafted by a group who wanted to present a unified voice to the council. Another 10 or so testifiers used their own words on the same topic, during two hours of testimony.

“We’re looking for the County Council to put a moratorium on all legislation they do until they get an opinion from corporation counsel that what they are doing is legal,” said Gumapac, praising Ruggles for getting the ball rolling. “She stood up and asked the question because the consequences of acting are serious and I don’t think they’re taking it seriously.”

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