As West Maui recovers from the devastating wildfires of a couple of months ago, residents, with some justification, are afraid of similar things happening to them. People whose homes burned down and are now living in hotels temporarily are worried that the hotels will kick them out in favor of paying tourists. People who worked in the visitor service industries don’t want to deal with tourists asking them about whether they were displaced and otherwise forcing them to relive the horrific wildfire day. (Can’t they just say to nosy or busybody tourists, “I’m sorry but I prefer not to talk about that”?) Maybe people are concerned that they won’t appreciate tourists who do dumb or disrespectful things like taking selfies in the burned-out shell of a car, or what used to be one, on Front Street.
As a result, local residents delivered a petition with some 14,000 signatures to Gov. Green urging him to bar tourists to the area for a while longer. They say it’s too soon to invite vacationers back while area residents are still traumatized and are in mourning.
One thing that we need to realize is that there is only so much our government is allowed to do.
As we have written about before, citizens of the United States have a constitutional right to travel. If locals can go to a certain area, residents of other states should be able to go there too. If the dirt is full of toxic chemicals and government needs to keep all people out, that’s acceptable because government is acting even-handedly. If the property involved is privately owned and the owner wants to kick folks off, that isn’t a problem either because the owner has a right to do that (especially if the person being kicked has defiled or damaged the property). But if it’s publicly owned property and locals can readily tread upon it, then tourists have to be allowed to do the same thing.
And, whether or not government is allowed to bar tourists on a discriminatory basis, is it even a good idea? Sure, some residents don’t want to deal with the outside world at this time and see tourists as invaders and trespassers. But what about other folks who want to open their businesses to feed their families? Should government be shoving their faces into the dirt and telling them that they need to starve until some others in the community are good and ready?
With a tragedy like the Lahaina fires, the persons involved have many choices to make. Quite a few of these are personal choices, which means you decide for yourself and not for others. In this situation government should not be there to take choices away without good reason.