A man who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.
-John Stuart Mill
I enjoy democracy immensely. It is incomparably idiotic, and hence incomparably amusing. Does it exalt dunderheads, cowards, trimmers, frauds, cads? Then the pain of seeing them go up is balanced and obliterated by the joy of seeing them come down.
-H. L. Mencken
Hell of an election we’ve got going this year. I mean, they usually suck like a Hoover Upright, but this year–man, this year’s ugly. You know it’s one for the history books when Ted Cruz–Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz, who’s generally loathed by a bipartisan majority of his Senate colleagues–comes out as a principled hero.
Thankfully we won’t have to deal with the presidential race until November (assuming the country still exists then–MauiTime makes no guarantees). But on Saturday, Aug. 13, Hawaii will hold its Primary Election, which will include a wide variety of national, state and county races.
For voters, the Primary offers far more choices than the narrow General Election ballot. Some of the candidates are known to us, and the voters, having run before; others are brand-new–taking their first steps when seeking to give back through public service.
This year, we tried something new. MauiTime emailed special questionnaires to every candidate for office appearing on Maui County ballots (with a couple exceptions–some candidates are just impossible to locate–and we also skipped the Office of Hawaiian Affairs races). We asked a range of questions, some personal, some issue-oriented. About two dozen candidates responded, and you can read their full, uncut questionnaires (some got a bit verbose because, well, they do that) at Mauitime.com/tag/know-your-candidate.
From those questionnaires and other sources (Hawaii campaign spending reports can be very instructive in these matters), we came up with the following endorsements, which reflect our usually impossible-to-characterize politics. We’ve also thrown in a mitigating factor for each endorsement, because hey, even we need to keep our options open.
There are 12 candidates spread across five separate political parties in this race, but we’re just going to keep this thing simple by saying that the incumbent, Democrat Brian Schatz, deserves reelection. None of the other candidates, regardless of party affiliation, even come close. First appointed by Governor Neil Abercrombie in the last days of 2012, following the death of Senator Daniel Inouye, Schatz went on to win a special election in 2014 to fill out the remainder of the term.
Considered one of the most liberal members of the Senate, Schatz has already racked up an impressive list of accomplishments, mostly in terms of environmental legislation. He voted against the proposed Keystone Pipeline, has called for immediate action on Rapid Ohia Death on the Big Island and has proposed a major expansion of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. He also introduced a bill that would require the Federal Aviation Administration to mandate minimum seat size standards for commercial airliners. That alone should guarantee him reelection!
MITIGATING FACTOR: Republican Karla (Bart) Gottschalk handed in one helluva candidate questionnaire. In response to our question about what should be done about climate change, for example, Gottschalk wrote, “Climate changes daily. It is a 12,000-year cycle between ice ages and we still have a few hundred years to go. More troubling is how are we going to deal with the black hole found recently in the Sun and its effects on our magnetosphere.” Just imagine what Gottschalk would say on the floor of the U.S. Senate!
U.S. CONGRESS District II
Shay Chan Hodges
We’ve long endorsed Democrat Tulsi Gabbard for this job, and for the most part we’ve been happy with her work as the Second District’s Congressional Representative. But lately we’ve become less than thrilled with the solidness of her support for same-sex marriage (the Hawaii Democratic Party LGBT Caucus has refused to support Gabbard for this reason) and her complete (and, to be honest, insulting) refusal to debate Shay Chan Hodges, her primary challenger–the latter of which is especially galling, since as a staunch Bernie Sanders ally and supporter, she criticized the Democratic National Committee for not scheduling more debates with Hillary Clinton.
As far as Chan Hodges is concerned, she’s an author and longtime Democratic Party activist (she even contributed an essay to MauiTime a few years ago). “As a parent, I manage the realities of satisfying basic human needs every day– which should certainly be a requirement for anyone who represents our citizens at any level of government,” Chan Hodges said in her MauiTime candidate questionnaire. “As a working parent, I provide both care and financial support for my kids and family. I LIVE the day-to-day issues and navigate the practical realities that working families in our state face when it comes to education, healthcare, housing, substance abuse, keeping our families safe, and of course, the economy.”
On the whole, we like Gabbard, but we love Chan Hodges, which is why we’re giving her the nod.
MITIGATING FACTOR: Gabbard has been a consistent voice against committing U.S. troops to fight more unwinnable wars, and that’s been a very good thing.
STATE SENATE District 4
Senator Gil Keith-Agaran is an attorney and one of the most intelligent and thoughtful members of the Hawaii state Senate. We don’t agree with him on everything, but you don’t have to read too many candidate questionnaires to realize that many of our lawmakers struggle with such concepts as the declarative sentence. Keith-Agaran does not have that problem.
In our questionnaire, we asked all candidates for the the event that best prepared them for public life. Here’s what Keith-Agaran wrote: “Nothing prepares you for public office except your own experiences growing up, living and working in your community and interacting with other people. I grew up in a Central Maui during the slow ending of the Plantation-era, attending both a small private elementary school (Doris Todd in Paia) and a large public high school (Maui High in Kahului). I had a sense that my parents and neighbors understood and valued community connectedness–that working for the collective good lifted up everyone. My neighbors knew who we were and cared about what we were doing enough to let our parents know if we were kolohe. I saw the connectedness in how my family celebrated big events–in a time before caterers, our family and neighbors gathered and prepared all the food, decorated the community clubhouse and often provided the music and entertainment for weddings, baby luaus, birthdays and funerals. It’s an upbringing that makes me less cynical and dismissive about public service and more contemplative about people’s motivations.”
Yeah, he gets our vote.
MITIGATING FACTOR: When we asked Senator Keith-Agaran–who has long been endorsed by the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO)–about that blasted exemption to the state’s open records law that prevents the release of the names of police officers who’ve been busted for misconduct, he had this to say: “Police officers, generally, should be treated under the same standards as other public employees with regard to personnel records, including disciplinary information. The Hawaii Supreme Court recently decided that the lower court should not have ignored the current statutory language and should balance the significant privacy interest of a suspended police officer against the public interest in disclosure of that suspended officer’s name.” It sounds great, but Senator Keith-Agaran also chairs the Senate Judiciary and Labor Committee, where many bills that proposed to overturn that exemption have died in recent years.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE District 8
Richard E. Abbett
Yeah, we’re going with the guy running against Speaker of the House Joe Souki, one of the most powerful officials in Hawaii. But at least in his MauiTime campaign questionnaire, Abbett said all the right things about bring new transparency and accountability to law enforcement statewide, the need to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15/hour and the necessity of getting big corporate interests out of politics. And that works for us. Especially given that Souki co-introduced House Bill 2501, a big giveaway bill that included a provision granting special hold-over permits for East Maui water to Alexander & Baldwin–despite the fact that they won’t be farming any more sugar after the end of this year. That bill was an outrageous giveaway to a big corporation that has long contributed big money to Souki’s campaign coffers.
MITIGATING FACTOR: The last time Abbett ran for office (2014–Hawaii County Council), he lost big-time, earning just 665 votes (the winner won more than 2,000).
STATE REPRESENTATIVE District 9
Incumbent Democrat Justin Woodson is running unopposed? Seriously? Last time around, former Maui County Mayor James “Kimo” Apana challenged him, and in all honesty we thought Woodson–then a rookie just completing his first appointed term of office–would lose badly. But nope, he dispatched Apana fairly easily–guess so easily that he scared off other challengers this time around. Still, it’s not enough for us to endorse Woodson, who’s solidly backed by builders and land developers and hasn’t done a whole lot in the Legislature in the first place. In fact, the biggest thing he’s done in the last year or so was co-introduce HB 2501, which he then voted for “with reservations.” What a wuss.
MITIGATING FACTOR: Woodson will win anyway.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE District 11
Though we’ve endorsed Ing in the past, we can’t do so this time around, because of the whole no-auto-insurance-bench-warrant matter (which you can read about in detail in this week’s Coconut Wireless column on page 5). Whether Ing was just sitting in his “undriveable” car when a cop pulled up and discovered he lacked auto insurance (as he insists) or he was driving when a cop pulled him over (as The Maui News reported) isn’t the point–that Ing let a citation for lacking auto insurance lapse, missed a court appearance and incurred a bench warrant is undeniable. Legislators are lawmakers, and we can’t have our lawmakers (in a part-time Legislature, to boot) making errors of judgment like that.
We also can’t endorse his opponent, Deidre Tegarden, because she would just be another pro-land development, pro-cop voice in the state House. Endorsed by everyone from Alexander & Baldwin to SHOPO, Tegarden is just more of the same. There are already dozens of Tegardens in both the House and the state Senate–we don’t need more.
MITIGATING FACTOR: Ing is a thoughtful, effective legislator who played a key role in getting Kihei High School construction started (they broke ground in January of this year). In early 2015, Ing also took a principled (and lonely) stand by agreeing with the U.S. Army’s plans to make big cuts in the numbers of troops it stations in Hawaii. Though nearly every public official in the state opposed the move because of the potential economic harm it could bring to Hawaii, Ing said it was the right thing to do: “This decision will be welcome,” he said on the House floor on Jan. 22, 2015. “It’s not about holding onto sunsetting industries and taking what we can from the federal government. It’s about home rule and self-determination.” In a state dominated by tourism and military spending, this stance shows real courage.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE District 12
Incumbent Democrat Kyle Yamashita is, once again, running for reelection. Since 2005, he’s represented the 12th District in the Hawaii state House. In all that time, we can’t think of anything great he’s done. Oh wait, here’s something: he co-introduced HB 2501, the big A&B water rights bill, then voted for it.
By contrast, Lawrence is a true citizen activist who understands the big business bias that plagues the Hawaii Democratic Party. Here’s what she told Honolulu Civil Beat, when they asked about her thoughts on the party: “The dominance of the Democratic Party is the result of years of growth and development and presenting platforms and policies which resonate with a vast majority of the people,” she told Civil Beat. “Unfortunately now we have too many Democrat legislators who actually operate and act like Republicans. I would like to see the Democratic Party hold members accountable to the platform. For instance in the platform it states, ‘Protect and preserve Hawaii’s environment.’ HB2501 was a prime example of our legislators not caring about East Maui watersheds, estuaries and stream eco-systems.”
MITIGATING FACTOR: To our knowledge, Yamashita never murdered anyone.
STATE REPRESENTATIVE District 13
Alex Haller is a sharp guy with considerable knowledge of business finance who deserves to be in some political office. We endorsed him in the 2014 Primary Election when he ran for Maui County Council against Mike White (he told us he ran because too few councilmembers seemed to understand land appraisal formulas, though he lost badly). And we’re happily endorsing him again, this time in his bid to unseat Rep. Lynn DeCoite, who’s representing East Maui, Lanai and Molokai since Rep. Mele Carroll’s passing.
One of the questions on our candidate questionnaire dealt with Haller’s views on special exemption for police officer misconduct records in the state’s open records law. Here’s Haller’s answer: “Transparency within any government or department is important because it builds trust amongst residents,” he said. “Police officers are held to a higher level of professionalism and they are very powerful and important members within our community. I do not think police officer misconduct records should be exempt from public disclosure because the public has a right to know if any abuse of power has occurred.” Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.
MITIGATING FACTOR: Rep. DeCoite voted against HB 2501.
MAUI COUNTY COUNCILMEMBER Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu
There are five people running for this seat, currently held by Mike Victorino, who’s prevented from running again by term limits. Let’s start with current County of Maui Managing Director Keith Regan. His views of political power are completely at odds with even basic notions of public service and accountability. “[O]ur primary goal above all else is to get the mayor re-elected,” Regan told then-Maui Film Commissioner Donenfeld in March 2013 (I’ve listened to the audio recording of the conversation). “Nothing else really matters because if the mayor is not re-elected none of us have jobs. Let’s be very frank. We’re all political. We’re very connected to the mayor. If he loses, we lose, our families lose, those who depend on us lose. I think you need to understand where we’re all coming from.” It’s views like that–people work for the mayor solely to get him reelected and preserve their cushy government jobs–that spurred the whole (and sadly defunct) County Manager proposal.
Former Maui County Councilmember (and chairperson) Dain Kane is also running. While not as shameless as Regan, Kane’s previous time on the council was notable only for the cozy relationship he had with big business and land developers. Kane also hasn’t done much since he left office a decade ago, beyond working as a government consultant and losing a couple elections.
Then there’s Shaka Movement activist Alika Atay is also running. Both he and former Maui County police officer and firefighter Joe Blackburn are nice guys who would probably make decent councilmembers, but Hana Steel is also in the race.
Steel, the county’s Recycling Coordinator, is what the Maui County Council needs. She’s tough, doesn’t back down and talks about important issues no one else even addresses, like the fact the county hasn’t adequately prepared for the needs of Maui’s aging population. She also spent two years on paid administrative leave after apparently filing an age discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (that complaint has also apparently been resolved and Steel returned to work in the last month or so), so understands the value of treating county employees right.
MITIGATING FACTOR: In his MauiTime questionnaire, Blackburn wrote something really heartfelt when we asked him what event in his life had prepared him for public office. “Responding as a Fire Rescue Captain to my own father-in-law (Kalua Kaiahua) having trouble breathing and passing away at our home,” Blackburn told us. “It taught me everyone you deal with is someone’s family, and the impact you have as paid public responder on the family. Seeing the relief in my brother-in-law’s eyes and my wife’s face as the engine company and then our rescue unit worked on dad, bought me to the realization of the impact of public services on the community. From that day on, I have tried to understand the impact government has on people.”
MAUI COUNTY COUNCILMEMBER South Maui
Don Couch AND Kelly King
This is a tough one–so tough, in fact, that we’re wimping out and taking the extraordinary step of endorsing both incumbent Don Couch and one of his challengers, Kelly King. We’ve always liked Couch, despite the fact that we don’t agree on everything. He’s a genuine guy, who takes his job on the council seriously. And while he not strictly “pro-development,” he’s also no slow-growther. In fact, when actual slow-growth activist Lucienne de Daie was named to the Board of Water Supply, Couch opposed her on the grounds that her being the Maui Tomorrow Foundation Board President and a member of the Sierra Club Hawaii Board represented a conflict of interest (as The Maui News pointed out in Mar. 19, 2016 story, both organizations have in the past filed suit against the County of Maui over environmental matters). Of course the whole thing was bogus–as de Naie pointed out, if something related to either organization ever comes up, she’ll just recuse herself–something that happens often in county boards and panels. De Naie ended up getting approved, because most of Couch colleagues agreed that she belonged on the Board of Water Supply.
As for King, she’s a clean energy and environmental advocate who, along with her husband Robert, founded Pacific Biodiesel back in 1995. In her MauiTime candidate questionnaire, King said she looked to former Maui County Councilmember Michelle Anderson–an outstanding public servant who preceded Couch–as her inspiration. “Michelle Anderson, because she is intelligent and knowledgeable, and she did her homework so that she came to meetings fully prepared,” King said. “Also, Michelle made decisions for the well being of Maui County rather than special interest groups.”
MITIGATING FACTOR: Go to YouTube and look up Jerome “Tiger” Metcalfe. Back in 2014 he recorded a candidate video for whatever office he ran for back then. It’s like an hour long but you only need to watch the first minute or two. Go ahead–you won’t be disappointed.
MAUI COUNTY COUNCILMEMBER Makawao-Haiku-Paia
First of, we’d just like to say that we don’t think Maui County Council chairperson Mike White is the worst public official in the county. A former state legislator and the current general manager of the Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel, White has from Day One on the Maui County Council helped out the Visitors Bureau far in excess of what was necessary–especially given his past ties to the organization and his current career. He also masterminded that ridiculous dust-up with Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa over the demolition of the old Wailuku Post Office–a bizarre and completely manufactured controversy that did no good.
Furtado, on the other hand, is an activist. She’s opposed the Haleakala solar telescope construction, Trans Pacific Partnership trade negotiations (which were held on Maui last summer) and sugar cane burning. While we don’t agree with all those positions, it would be very nice to replace pro-business White with someone far removed from the Chamber of Commerce sphere of influence.
MITIGATING FACTOR: Alan Kaufman, who’s also in the race, is a veterinarian, and they’re good people.
MAUI COUNTY COUNCILMEMBER Upcountry
Yuki Lei Kashiwa Sugimura
Seriously, this is probably the most difficult race out there to endorse. Napua Greig Nakasone is a Na Hoku-winning vocalist, but lacks political experience. Same with Stacey Moniz, the executive director of Women Helping Women. Eric Molina, an event planner at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, does have some political experience, but it’s from his getting appointed to various county boards, like the Mayor’s Arborist Committee and the Maui Block Grant Program.
That leaves longtime local Democratic Party activist Yuki Lei Sugimura, who’s worked as a Maui field representative for both U.S. Senators Daniel Akaka and Mazie Hirono. Currently the vice chairperson of the Maui Democratic Party, she’s also a member of the Hawaii Democratic Party’s Central Committee. She does a lot of community relations and event promotional work, and is very experienced in politics and political campaigns. So in terms of experience, we’ve got to go with Sugimura
MITIGATING FACTOR: Her campaign website (Yukileisugimura.com) has no information on her political views or stances on various local issues. That’s a problem that will hopefully be rectified as we get closer to the November General Election.
Research assistance by Ariel Rogers
Cover Design: Darris Hurst