Institute President Keli’i Akina rode again this week with “Perry & The Posse”on KSSK radio, on Wednesday, Aug. 11, 2021, and one of the big topics of discussion was the ongoing coronavirus lockdowns.
Interviewed by Michael W. Perry, Hawaii’s top-rated morning radio host, Akina acknowledged state officials have a role in protecting public health.
“But at the same time,’ he said, “we’ve got to balance that with the need for liberty and protecting our rights. In terms of the management of the lockdown, it’s like we’re taking two steps backward and one step forward at the same time. It’s been about 525 days since the first lockdown began, and that was supposed to have ended after about  days. It’s going on forever.”
Akina lauded that Gov. David Ige finally lifted his suspension of the state’s open-records law, but lamented that it took so long. He suggested that maybe now we can learn more about how — and by whom — the “emergency” has been managed.
He said that early during the lockdowns, the institute requested copies of the governor’s communications about the lockdowns.
“We didn’t get it. Our request was put on ice during that time. We had these suspended public transparency laws.” With the suspension lifted, he said, “it’s going to make our job a lot easier.,”
“But here’s the real problem,” he continued. “We still have not been able to figure out why certain measures are enacted, or why it is that you can walk along the sidewalks, but if you put your foot across onto the grass in the park, you’d be in violation of the law, and so forth. Who makes these decisions? What data is it based on? That simply is not out there, and we really need more transparency.”
To hear the full interview, which included updates about the institute’s campaigns to reform the Jones Act and the Passenger Vessel Services Act, click on the video. A complete transcript is provided below.
8-11-21 Keli‘i Akina interviewed by Michael Perry on KSSK 93.2 FM
Michael W. Perry: We love it when Dr. Akina is on the program, because Dr. Keli’i Akina runs the Grassroot Institute, which is a think tank. It may be the only place that actually thinks in the state of Hawaii, at times. We’re pretty sure of that. Dr. Akina is also on the OHA board, by the way. He is one of the brightest guys I know, and so we have to ask him a bunch of questions. There’s a lot going on right now.
First of all, Dr. Akina, first of all, thanks for coming on the show. We appreciate it. Tell us about the COVID lockdowns. Tell us about the new ones. What’s the update? How do you read this?
Keli’I Akina: Good morning to you, Michael, and to all the listeners. This is a tough issue because, on one hand, we absolutely respect and support the role of government in protecting public health. That’s absolutely paramount. But at the same time, we’ve got to balance that with the need for liberty and protecting our rights. In terms of the management of the lockdown, it’s like we’re taking two steps backward and one step forward at the same time, if you know what I mean. It’s really been about 525 days since the first lockdown began, and that was supposed to have ended after about  days. It’s going on forever.
You recall, Michael, we were talking about this a couple of weeks ago, how we moved, finally, into Tier 5. First of all, that was a big surprise to everybody because we were in Tier 4, and we discovered, wait, there’s more.
But now, we’re being told we’re not going back to Tier 4, but if you look at it carefully, a lot of the requirements of Tier 4 has been moved up to Tier 5. I don’t want to confuse anyone, but it really is confusing, and that’s part of the problem, the lack of transparency with all of this.
Perry: I’m glad you brought up transparency, and by the way, we urge people to do their own research about lockdowns, masks, all of that. It’s all out there. The masks are not a new thing. We’ve known about masks, what they do, and what they don’t do, for a long time. Lockdowns, the same thing.
You’re talking about transparency. I think it was a year and a half ago, the governor suspended our Open Records Law. I’m not sure why that happened. Maybe you can tell us, but the good news is, you guys have been really pushing for this like a pitbull group that you are. Last Thursday, I think, the governor lifted the suspension. Now, what does that mean for us?
Akina: First, let me describe what the government Open Records Law actually does, and what it says. It says that the public — that’s you, Mike, and me, including the media — has the right to look at government documents. Now, that’s an essential component of democracy. It helps shine a light on what government is doing behind the scenes.
Now, if you recall back in March of 2020 when the pandemic broke out, Hawaii became one of the only states to suspend its government transparency laws. Now, we want to give kudos to Gov. Ige. It did take him a while, but we think he did something right by restoring transparency law.
Perry: Did that make your job harder? You’re always trying to get documents and everything. I remember the education institute tried for a decade to try to get the budget out of the Department of Education, and they couldn’t. It’s the Department of Public Education, but we couldn’t get the public documents because they were private. Didn’t make any sense. Your job had to get a lot harder during all of this.
Akina: Oh absolutely. During the last year and a half, with suspended public transparency laws, it made it really hard to get information. Let me give you one example: The Grassroot Institute requested copies of the governor’s communication about something very simple. What was he telling his Department of Health, or what was he telling the tourism industry? What were these organizations, these agencies, saying back to the governor about how to handle the coronavirus crisis? But we didn’t get it. Our request was put on ice during that time. We had these suspended public transparency laws. It was a really tough deal.
We had to get together with a bunch of other fine organizations like Civil Beat Law Center as well as Common Cause Hawaii, and send a letter to Gov. Ige, requesting that the law be reinstated. That’s why I want to be fair. He’s finally reinstated it, so it’s going to make our job a lot easier, but here’s the real problem: We still have not been able to figure out why certain measures are enacted, or why it is that you can walk along the sidewalks, but if you put your foot across onto the grass in the park, you’d be in violation of the law, and so forth. Who makes these decisions? What data is it based on? That simply is not out there, and we really need more transparency.
Perry: Pretty sure that all of our politicians and bureaucrats are talking to other politicians and bureaucrats. Science left this whole thing a long time ago, around the time where you could traverse the beach to get to the water but not actually sit on a beach in the state of Hawaii. Remember those great days. Oh, boy.
Hey, moving on: The Jones Act and the Passenger Vessel Services Act — this is cruise ships and freight. This means something to every single person in the state of Hawaii. The Jones Act has been with us for a hundred and — how old is it, Keli’i?
Akina: It’s 100 years this year. It’s the century birthday. A lot of people know about the Jones Act because it handles cargo that goes between the United States ports, but they don’t know there’s a very similar act just as old called the PVSA, or the Passenger Vessel Services Act, that handles people in the same way as the Jones Act does.
Perry: That’s the one that has to do with cruise ships and everything. Keli’i was on the mainland. He was doing a debate with somebody, and the word that came out was that the person had to crawl under his desk afterwards or something. You mopped the floor with the person you were debating about the Jones Act because they came up with the same old excuses for it, and there are none, unfortunately. Go ahead. How did you win that debate?
Akina: That was a lot of fun, Michael. It was held in South Dakota, of all places, underneath Mount Rushmore, a national debate. We had the opportunity to face off on some of the great defenders of the Jones Act. These are fine people, but their arguments are old, and they’re easy to defeat.
I’ll give you two of them in particular. Number one, they were arguing that the Jones Act is essential for our national defense. We were able to show that that’s simply no longer the case. You just don’t do work the way we did at the end of World War I.
In addition to that, they argued that the Jones Act helped protect jobs of seafarers and shipbuilders, and so forth. All I did was trot out the data and show that there’s been a huge plummet in all these jobs, and the shutting down of shipbuilding centers and so forth since the Jones Act. We pointed out that there are a whole bunch of myths that are out there.
In fact, Michael, we’ve got a report produced by the Grassroot Institute called “The Five Myths of the Jones Act,” and that’s available at grassrootinstitute.org for free.
Perry: If you’re wondering why things cost so much in the state of Hawaii, read that and you’ll know. It’s so simple, grassrootinstitute.org. Keli’i, always great to talk to you. We like doing these long-form interviews because we learn a lot, and so does everybody listening. We appreciate it. Have a great day.
Akina: Wonderful to be with you and the Posse, Michael. Aloha.