Tsuji assigned House Ag Chairmanship

His assignment is a major example of the State House moving in the opposite direction from the Senate.

Will Caron

Biotech industry and Agribusinesses sector proponent Clift Tsuji has been named as the House Agriculture (AGR) committee chair, a major setback for those hoping that the appointment of liberal senators Russell Ruderman to the Senate Agriculture (AGL) committee chairmanship and Laura Thielen to the Water and Land committee chairmanship might lead to GMO and other Biotech industry regulations.

Tsuji, along with Calvin Say, was named “Biotech Legislator of the Year” in 2010 by the largest biotech trade group in the country, the Biotechnology Industry Organization while serving as the AGR chair then. This year, he replaces liberal Jessica Wooley, who was tapped by Governor Abercrombie to serve as Director of the Office of Environmental Quality Control after it looked like the biotech industry was going to aggressively campaign to prevent her reelection. Tsuji is so unpopular with anti-GMO and anti-biotech groups that the executive director of one such group, Babes Against Biotech, had set up a petition asking that Tsuji not be appointed to the chairmanship. The petition attracted more than 5,000 signatures.

First elected in 2004, Tsuji represents the 2rd District in the State House of Representatives, which includes the Hawaiʻi island communities of Keaukaha, parts of Hilo, Panaʻewa and Waiākea.

Tsuji’s appointment is a clear example of the the shift right in the lower house of the Hawaiʻi State Legislature that we predicted. House leadership and committee assignments experienced none of the liberalizing shake-up that Senate assignments did, with many of the powerful committee chairmanships staying with conservative legislators. On the contrary, the House—which had been pushed out of its comfort zone in many ways by the progressive-republican alliance—is snapping back into its conservative-leaning place. A place that heavily favors the Biotech industry.

Building gridlock into the Legislature will prevent any disruption of the Biotech companies’ plans or the Agribusiness Development Corporation model. If the Senate appoints small agriculture advocates such as Ruderman and Thielen to chairmanships, the House can block reform legislation they pass by appointing big agriculture advocates such as Tsuji to the corresponding House committees.

The chairmanships that were held by progressives last session were secured through an alliance with House republicans (Chris Lee and Cynthia Thielen on Energy is a good example). But with that alliance now over, progressive leadership positions are also weakened.

But as pressure continues to build and the demand of the public for protection from pesticides and for a re-focusing of Hawaii agriculture on small, food producing, sustainable farms grows, so to will the voices in the Legislature challenging the Biotech industry agenda being pushed by representatives such as Clift Tsuji.