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Maui Fires Present a Huge Test for Hawaii’s Governor

Maui Fires Present a Huge Test for Hawaii’s Governor

In early 2020, with state health officials downplaying signs of the coming pandemic, Josh Green, who was then Hawaii’s lieutenant governor, went outside the political pecking order and called the White House himself to ask for a temporary ban on cruise ships, a linchpin of Hawaii’s economy.

The move by Mr. Green, an emergency-room physician, infuriated his colleagues and the governor’s office, but “no one would listen to me here,” he said in his Capitol office overlooking Honolulu last week.

Now the 53-year-old governor, a Democrat less than a year into his first term, is confronting the horrific wildfires on Maui that have killed at least 114 people and perhaps many more.

Thousands have been displaced. One of the world’s most scenic beach towns is now a toxic ruin. President Biden is arriving Monday to view the devastated landscape and hear from residents.

And after two mega-emergencies in fewer than four years in a state with a population smaller than Philadelphia’s, Mr. Green has some urgent thoughts about the range of catastrophes that are sweeping the globe and overwhelming institutions.

“I want the world to know that we have to prepare for this,” the governor said last week, his voice tense, his eyes red from exhaustion. “We absolutely have to solve these problems before they become crises.”

The firestorms in Hawaii are just the latest climate-fueled horror to challenge leaders around the country. Last year, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida confronted the most destructive Atlantic hurricane season on record. Gov. Gavin Newsom of California was only two days past his election when 85 people died in the Camp fire in 2018.

Violent floods have slammed New York and Vermont this summer. Blistering heat has plagued Arizona and Texas. The trauma and grief, followed by costly recoveries and lawsuits, have become staples of governance as climate change has amplified weather extremes.

“This will be the biggest crisis Hawaii has had to face since Pearl Harbor,” Colin D. Moore, a political scientist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said. Already fault lines have emerged in the Democrat-dominated power structure.

In a state where political decisions are often a balancing act among factions — from progressives to pro-development Democrats to powerful labor unions — some worry that the rush to rebuild will shred hard-won environmental and cultural protections. Others fear that the devastation will gut the economy, drive up already…

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