In the space of just 34 days:
– On July 23, the Kauai County Council came to its senses and rejected a misbranded anti-GMO “charter amendment.”
– On Aug. 9, county voters decisively repudiated a slate of anti-GMO activists led by a mayoral candidate utterly unqualified to hold public office.
– On Monday of this week, a federal magistrate in Honolulu invalidated the anti-GMO flagship, ruling that Ordinance 960 — the infamous Bill 2491 — improperly pre-empted the state’s legal authority and cannot be enforced.
This string of refreshing defeats for a so-called movement that once fancied itself as the embodiment of political thought on Kauai makes it possible to go in a new direction that addresses honestly and meaningfully the controversies of genetically modified organisms or genetically engineered crops and potential risks related to pesticide use on the island.
If we embrace this opportunity, it’s an opportunity for everyone on Kauai to come together about two most critical issues. It won’t be easy. It is, after all, an election year, and one in which residents and voters should try to do what so often seems impossible on our island: speak with (more or less) one voice.
“Here are eight steps that could be taken, starting now, to move us all forward on the GMO issue on Kauai:”
The County Council, having read the decision by U.S. Magistrate Barry Kurren, should drop its defense of Ordinance 960/Bill 2491, thus saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs trying to defend a poorly drafted and conceptually misdirected piece of legislation.
The council should realize that, ironically, the legal position of all Hawaii counties would be strengthened — or, at least, not weakened — by pulling the plug on litigation to defend 960/2491 because the state pre-emption grounds on which the case was decided could complicate future attempts by counties to force action where the state has refused to act. Appeal might sustain a ruling that is the right thing in terms of blunting the anti-GMO frenzy, but the wrong thing in terms of the county’s long-term legal flexibility.
The council should repeal Ordinance 960.
The council should direct the county attorney to explore federal court litigation with the state to force it to do what Kurren’s ruling clearly identifies as the right thing, which is to use existing state and federal law to overcome any failures to adequately regulate pesticides on Kauai. This litigation would seek a consent decree in which the feds and the state agree to exercise their broad regulatory authority over pesticides.
The voters should recognize — if they don’t already — that the anti-GMO crowd lied to them. We should reject the deceptive focus on GMO agriculture offered up by opponents. The voters clearly understand that the GMO question on Kauai and worldwide — is a political, and not a scientific, one.
Voters will have another opportunity in November to express their views in the general election.
The County Council should realize that the county attorney has, twice now this year, offered up well-researched, well-reasoned legal opinions on how to approach the GMO political controversy. The council has ignored this advice once and been jerked back to reality by a federal judge as a consequence. The council, fortunately, accepted (albeit belatedly) the advice of the county counsel on the alleged “charter amendment” to illegally restrict GMO agriculture.
Finally, the people of Kauai should realize that much of what’s happened in the last 18 months of the GMO controversy has been driven not even by ideology, but by a cynical conspiracy to make the voting public believe that what has really, all along, been an effort to realize personal political gain was really about an issue of honest political philosophy. By that I mean the performance of the two Councilmembers, Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum, who nearly got away with selling the public the idea that passing a bill that allowed them to put another notch on their partisan pistols was more important than enacting law that would stand up in court and actually accomplish something.
To be sure, this prescription foresees continuation of a difficult political debate on our island. But it is a debate we must now take to its conclusion.
Allan Parachini, a former journalist and ACLU and Los Angeles Superior Court public affairs officer, and now a furniture maker, lives in Kilauea.