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Ruderman vows to work with Ha

Updated: 
March 28, 2014 - 12:05am

State Sen. Russell Ruderman hasn’t changed his opposition to genetically modified agriculture, but he has changed his view of Richard Ha.

Ruderman earlier this month sent an email urging recipients who share his “revulsion” over Ha’s renomination to the state Board of Agriculture to tell lawmakers to vote against it.

“If each senator gets 100 emails in opposition this will not fly,” the email said.

The Puna Democrat said he was concerned Ha would support biotech over organic agriculture. But, after offering Ha an apology for the email and speaking with him about the issue, Ruderman said he now supports his renomination.

“We left laughing and shaking hands,” he said of their meeting, “and vowing to work together” on areas of common ground, including food security and renewable energy.

On Thursday, the state Senate Committee on Agriculture voted unanimously in favor of granting Ha another four years on the board as Hawaii Island’s representative. His reappointment is dependent on a vote from the entire Senate.

Ha, who owns Hamakua Springs Country Farms, could not be reached for comment on his meeting with Ruderman.

But he said earlier he supports all forms of agriculture.

“Food security is the main issue,” Ha said. “GMOs is just one tool to accomplish that.”

For the committee hearing, the testimony came largely in Ha’s favor.

The 303 pages of submitted testimony included 20 opponents of his renomination.

Almost all of the opposing testifiers shared Ruderman’s initial concerns and said the board needs fewer GMO supporters.

Some called him an advocate for Monsanto and large-scale agriculture.

“Please remember your duty to the people over profit and block Mr. Ha’s nomination,” wrote Susan Bambara.

Some of the committee members said they felt Ha was being treated unfairly.

“It’s a little unfortunate in some of the testimony that if you even appear to support biotech you’re disqualified from serving,” said Sen. Ronald Kouchi, a Kauai Democrat and vice chairman of the committee. “It’s just painful to see the integrity of an individual dragged through the mud like that when all he’s trying to do is feed the people.”

Said Chairman Sen. Clarence Nishihara: “There’s no doubt that Richard Ha has been under unfair scrutiny.”

Those writing in support praised Ha as an advocate for all farmers and food sustainability.

“As a farmer and community leader, Richard understands the demands and needs of both the agricultural community and the Hawaii Island community,” wrote Mayor Billy Kenoi.

David Matsuura, an organic farmer, wrote in support.

“Richard is a great farmer and knows the needs of the farming community,” he said.

Nancy Cook Lauer contributed to this report.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.