State of the County Address and Native Hawaiian Bills

A Speechable Moment

He didn’t overcome a debilitating stutter or take on Hitler (or win a boatload of Oscars) but Mayor Alan Arakawa did deliver the most important speech of his belated second term last week.

Appropriately, Arakawa Version 2.0’s first State of the County address struck a somber tone. “Our government no longer has the money to be all things to all people,” the Mayor said. He talked about residents losing their homes because they couldn’t pay the mortgage. He talked about small businesses sinking into debt to stay afloat. He talked about crumbling infrastructure, and about how Mauians will soon be paying more for electricity, water and other essential services. He talked about the swelling cost of employee benefits and pensions.

He even threw a wet blanket on the much-trumpeted uptick in visitor arrivals, which he said is offset by deeply discounted room rates, which cut into hotels’ profits and reduce their ability and willingness to hire workers and juice the economy.

“So yes, things seem bleak for Maui County right now,” Arakawa said rather anticlimactically. “But it is always darkest before the dawn.”

The first bit of good news, for County employees at least, is that Arakawa wants to end furloughs, which he said “are not saving as much money as was once thought” because of the overtime expenditures needed to make up for lost productivity.

Echoing comments he made during the campaign, Arakawa pledged to streamline the permitting process and make it easier for businesses to open and expand.

He also promised to bring back Taste of Lahaina and Halloween on Front Street, two once-lucrative West side events that have languished or disappeared altogether. And he got behind a proposal currently floating on Oahu to build a permanent film studio on Maui.

On the environmental side, Arakawa said solar panels will soon be installed on County buildings and that this year will mark the launch of a curbside recycling service in Maui Meadows, with plans to expand countywide “as soon as possible.”

Finally he talked about water, his foundational issue. “I can give out water meters right now, but not in any sort of way that would be fair to all the people waiting on the Upcountry water meter list,” he said. Instead, he said the County will determine the cost of upgrading the system so that “we can figure out how to get water to people who need it, and in what amount.”

“Maui has the water,” he added. “Now we need the method.”

After that it was an Albert Einstein quote (“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for the future”) and a vow to make Maui “a prosperous place once again.” Whether Arakawa (or any public official) can do that is an open question—and one that will ultimately be answered with time, not speeches.

Recognition For Native Hawaiians?

If the Akaka Bill ever had its moment, it was when the Democrats controlled Congress and a Hawaii-born President sat in the White House. That moment has passed—for now at least—and the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act is no closer to passage than it was a decade ago.

Does that mean the idea of giving Native Hawaiians official recognition—and a seat at the table—is dead? Not necessarily. Two bills currently moving through the state legislature would establish a Native Hawaiian commission “to prepare, maintain and certify a roll of qualified Native Hawaiian constituents,” with the ultimate aim of forming a governing body that could negotiate with the state over issues like ceded lands.

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs offered tentative support for the bills, provided they don’t “diminish efforts to pursue and obtain federal recognition.”

Meanwhile, as with the Akaka bill, some opposition is coming from within the Native Hawaiian community. “The U.S. is an interloper, a usurper, a kidnapper, an occupier, a pirate,” wrote Leon Siu in testimony to the Senate Ways and Means Committee. “The proper remedy to the crime of piracy is to set the captured free; not to further subject them to deeper captivity under a ridiculous ‘indigenous’ governing entity.”

If that’s your stance, there isn’t much more to say.