(BIVN) – State Senator Russell Ruderman, the Democrat serving district 2 (Puna), offered constituents a frank look at the 2017 state legislative session during his talk story on Tuesday.
Those gathered at the Pahoa community center were told about the petty, behind-the-scenes spats that led to the downfall of many bills in a session that many believe failed to deliver on key issues.
“The medical aid in dying and the rail tax were the two biggest issues going into the session, and they both didn’t get any progress at all,” Ruderman told the crowd. “So it was a very frustrating year in many ways. And in many ways it was a giant snafu. We ended up doing nothing about a lot of stuff for no good reason. The reason we did nothing wasn’t because of the subject matter, but because we were fighting among ourselves for pure political reasons.”
“It’s not comfortable to admit this to you guys, but I think you should know the truth,” Ruderman said.
Ruderman’s slate of Good Government bills, for example, gained little traction. “It’s almost as if they didn’t
want more participation,” the senator noted when discussing the mysterious death of bills that would have kick started all mail voting, which proponents say will increase voter turnout.
The Puna senator was particularly troubled by moves to kill certain bills – like SB 29, Pesticide Buffer Zones – without a committee vote.
“Those bills died in committee without that committee taking a vote on it,” Ruderman lamented. “And the reason I mention it is … I believe that as voters, you have the right to know where your legislators stand on the most controversial issues of the day. I don’t think that I have the right to hide from you when it comes time to vote on a tough issue. I think you should know where I stand on that. It makes me angry that the chair of a committee … would see a vote as a dangerous exposure for the members. They don’t want to expose their members to this controversy so they killed the bill without voting.”
Worst of all was the controversy surrounding the death of a bill that would have funded UH-Hilo College of Pharmacy’s research on rat lungworm disease. According to Ruderman:
“For to last two years, I tried to get funding for our rat lungworm lack at the UH-Hilo School of Pharmacy, who was doing … the groundbreaking work on rat lungworm in the United States. I didn’t get it passed the last couple years. This year, I had this great opportunity and I had another senator (Hilo Senator Kai Kahele) introduce it for me. The other senator is from Hilo he’s chair of the Higher Education Committee which controls the university. He’s in the majority and he’s from Hilo where the lab is…. So, this is a slam-dunk. I’m going to be smart this year; I’m going to get out of the way and let the guy who can pass this, pass this bill. And it was it was a genius strategy.
“And it didn’t work.
“Because in the end, which could not have been predicted, this senator was in a tiff with the money chair (Sen. Jill Tokuda) and that money chair punished that senator by killing everything she could of that senators’.
“People play politics like this all the time and there was all kinds of other things that they punished him for. I think playing that kind of game with this kind of issue is outrageous. There’s a life or death issue that harms our community and instead the money that should have gone to our lab went to the Department of Health, which didn’t ask for it, doesn’t have a plan to spend on vector control on Maui where they’ve been fighting this disease for a full two months, and so you know … that’s what happened in the end.
“It was even worse than that, because this chair lost her position. It was it was a big, knock-down, drag-out fight. Our senator from Hilo won, but there was a lot of collateral damage, including our rat lungworm funding.”
Rudmerman said he has committed myself to getting some funding for the lab.
During the meeting, Ruderman introduced the Puna residents to Kona / Ka’u State Senator Josh Green, who told the crowd about his aspirations for higher office (most likely lieutenant governor). Rudmeran and Green have been allies in the state senate.
“Josh was chair of (the senate health committee) for many, many years,” Ruderman said, “until a bit of a political upset a couple of years ago where both Josh and I lost a couple of points in the rankings. The reason that happened is because Josh and I are honest, bold, and not intimidated. So, sometimes we end up on the losing end of certain petty battles.”
“The battle’s over but the war’s not,” Ruderman smiled.