HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Gov. David Ige's chief of staff used a traditional greeting Monday when he met members from a group of opponents against building a giant telescope near the summit of Mauna Kea.
Members of Mauna Kea Hui and Mauna Kea Ohana crammed into an elevator to ride to the top floor of the state Capitol to hand-deliver to the governor's office a thumb drive wrapped in red ribbon they said contains 53,000 signatures against building the Thirty Meter Telescope on a mountain held sacred by Native Hawaiians.
Ige last week announced the company building the telescope agreed to extend a construction moratorium. Opposition has been mounting since dozens of protesters were arrested at the construction site earlier this month.
Mike McCartney, the governor's chief of staff, and a man who appeared to be a security guard emerged from the office, greeting some of the members with forehead-to-forehead honi. The group also gave him 600 pages of comments.
"I'll make sure the governor gets them," he said. "I hope we can talk story after," he said using Hawaii slang for having a future discussion.
After McCartney went back into the office, group leader Kealoha Pisciotta said it was an encouraging gesture that he came out to greet them. McCartney is someone they trust, she said.
"It's a sign that he's thinking very seriously about what's going on," she said of the governor.
The group had called the governor's office to give them a heads-up they were on their way, she said.
Earlier, eight members of the group gathered on the steps of the Capitol near a statue of Queen Liliuokalani to hold a news conference, asking the governor to intervene to help drop charges against the 31 people who were arrested. Their arraignments are scheduled for April 28 and May 7, Pisciotta said.
"They're criminalizing our people for protecting our mountain," she said. The people arrested were protecting construction workers from desecrating the mountain, she said.
The group also called for the governor to rescind his appointment of Douglas Chin as state attorney general. The state Senate has already confirmed Chin's appointment. The group says Chin was managing partner of the law firm representing the University of Hawaii and the Thirty Meter Telescope in lawsuits involving the project.
As an alternative to removing Chin, they suggest appointing a deputy attorney general to work on the telescope issue.
A spokeswoman for the attorney general's office didn't immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.
Follow Jennifer Sinco Kelleher at http://www.twitter.com/JenHapa.