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Legislature needs to put our freedoms on its agenda

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The big news this week is that the Hawaii Legislature might reconvene in order to address the governor’s planned vetoes, especially of the state budget bill.

If it does come to pass, it would be appropriate if our legislators spent some of that time addressing the balance of powers and the emergency management statute that has ruled our lives for the past year.

After all, we’re about to celebrate Independence Day. What could be a more fitting tribute to America’s founding than to reexamine how life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness have fared under our ongoing state of emergency?

For some, that may be a controversial statement. It shouldn’t be. Reasonable minds can disagree on the best way to safeguard public health during a pandemic, or where the balance should lie when measuring personal liberty against the threat of widespread illness. However, it is still a discussion worth having.

One of the biggest disappointments of the past year has been a general unwillingness to engage in open debate about Hawaii’s state of emergency, rule by executive order and incursions on personal freedoms. No matter how you feel about the emergency orders and the actions of the governor and mayors, you can acknowledge that the COVID-19 lockdowns have raised serious questions about the power of the state. To refuse to engage with those questions is a rejection of our responsibility as citizens.

On Sunday, we will celebrate the founding of America. We will watch the fireworks, maybe go to a barbecue or picnic, and enjoy time with family. But we should not lose sight of what makes July Fourth special.

America’s birthday isn’t just any old national holiday. It’s the day we celebrate the start of a grand experiment in self-governance. A day when we pay homage to the fact that America was not created out of conquest or monarchical birthright, but from a shared conception of freedom.

We are a country because we believe in rights that come from a higher authority than king or parliament — inalienable rights that cannot be abridged by royal edict or legislative act.

We are a country because we recognize that political power comes from the consent of the people, of the governed. We are a country because we have made fundamental rights — such as free speech, freedom to worship and due process — part of the bedrock of our democracy. Liberty is our national identity.

Rumor has it that the governor will be lifting Hawaii’s remaining coronavirus restrictions soon. It is our shared hope that life will quickly return to “normal” after that happens. However, that does not mean that we should write off the past year as a strange governmental anomaly.

As the physical danger from COVID-19 recedes, I hope that we can finally have that much-needed civic debate about liberty, health, safety and freedom. We’ve learned some difficult lessons over the past year, but if we use them to make our state better, to improve the way we handle future emergencies, then we can be proud of our own contribution to the story of America.

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This commentary was Keli’i Akina’s weekly “President’s Corner” column for July 2, 2021. If you would like to have his columns emailed to you on a regular basis, please call 808-864-1776 or email info@grassrootinstitute.org.

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