For someone who just lost an election, Lucienne de Naie is remarkably energized. Only a few days after being soundly beaten by incumbent Bill Medeiros in the race for the East Maui County Council seat, the activist and state Sierra Club chair entered Maui Time’s office fresh off a Makena development meeting where, she said, developer Everett Dowling personally complimented her on a campaign well run—and told her she had him worried.
Dowling can rest easy for now. De Naie, and other progressive candidates like her, failed to crack the seemingly bulletproof glass ceiling of Maui’s entrenched political establishment. In an election that was supposed to be all about change, at the county and state level Mauians stuck with the status quo.
We asked de Naie for her take on the election and the future of Maui politics.
So what happened to change?
Voting for change is too simplistic. People don’t vote, generally, if they don’t know anything about a person; they tend to just leave that part of their ballot blank. My understanding is that a lot of the folks who came out to vote for president filled in the box for president and maybe voted for one of the council offices and one of state offices and just didn’t fill out that part of the ballot because they were not frequent voters, they did not know anything about the other candidates. We had 10,000 blank ballots in this Maui race. That’s huge. That tells you that there are people who don’t know anything about either candidate. How can you have change when 20 percent of those who are voting have no idea who would represent that change? So that’s the candidate’s job—to reach those people. We did what we could with a volunteer campaign team. We had an army of people—people [who put] up signs, people who made phone calls, people who came to events and passed out things at senior events, people who came out to sign wave. We had a lot of involvement. But still there were 10,000 people, at least, who hadn’t heard about it.
Talk a little bit about the campaign. If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?
I’d start earlier. But my situation is that I’m already involved in a lot of public service endeavors. I serve on nine boards and commissions. I serve on the General Plan Advisory Committee, for which this is the year where the rubber hits the road. Now, when this whole election cycle was beginning two years ago, I thought that GPAC would have completed its work by the end of 2007. That didn’t happen. Instead, we were just beginning. I had to make a command decision around April. People had been asking me to run, I had to make a decision: can I be on GPAC and run at the same time, and be at all these places and all these forums and everything and still have two or three GPAC meetings a week? These are, like, four or five-hour meetings. These are intense meetings with tons of reading and homework. Can I really do this? And that was my thought process. And so I didn’t really consider it in January. But about a hundred people said, “we’ll help you, we’ll help you—put your name in there, just give people a choice, all these Obama voters.” I went to the caucuses [earlier this year] and last time there had been 85 people, and now there were 1,200 people. So I made the decision: I will put my name in. Maybe I can’t run a full-on campaign like last time, but I’ll try to involve more people. And even if I can’t make it everywhere and do everything, at least people have a choice. If I had something to change, I would say, you know, decide two years out that this is what I want to do, start organizing a campaign team at that point, and just give the whole process more time, build up more relationships with people. It’s all about relationships with people. If you’re not born and raised here and you don’t automatically have thousands of family members you really have to go create those relationships.
So you wouldn’t change the tone of your campaign and focus on the more negative aspects of your opponent?
That’s not who I am. When you run you can only change so many things about yourself. There are all these movies about taking an honest, young, hardworking person and turning them into this cynical politician because that’s what you need to do to get elected. That’d be tough for me. I certainly don’t shy from telling the truth about things. I have to say I was very disturbed in the forums and things where [candidates] were openly attacking the other person. Like the senate campaign and the Lanai seat. I mean, my opponent doesn’t live in his district—but is that the issue? His family’s lived in Hana for generations. Who am I to say he can’t represent Hana based on the fact that he’s not living there right now? People advised me to [go on the attack]. My opponent never filed his campaign disclosure forms for two years. Several people said, “get on that, let people know.” I don’t know. Maybe if I’d had another person involved in my campaign who really just wanted to do that stuff, but most of the people involved in the campaign were folks that I’ve known through a long life of community service. I didn’t have anybody on the team that was there to be the bad cop, digging out the dirt and making it pubic. Maybe I should have. I’m really not in that political arena. I couldn’t tell you whether that would have made a big difference or not.
How do you reconcile your desire to get down to the issues with the more shallow aspects of a political campaign?
You need to let folks know that you’re a caring and accessible individual. The whole thrust of my campaign was that I’m qualified to serve, I have a record of action, you can see my record, I’ve been doing this for no pay and my commitment is sincere. Mahina Martin was at the injection well meeting [Thursday] night and she goes, “none of the newly elected candidates are here. They’re all so concerned about reusing reclaimed water; here’s you and Kai Nishiki.” Yup, there we were, testifying before the EPA.
What would it take for voters to eject some of the developer-friendly politicians from office?
In my heart of hearts, I think that a very thoughtful coalition of different community groups could work to get independent candidates in. I think that’s what worked for Jo Anne Johnson. She just worked so hard, she networked with so many different people, and is so genuine. I think what it’s going to take is a better-informed electorate, and who knows? Maybe a polarizing event. Maybe things will get to where they’re more obvious to folks. I think things need to come to a head. And I think there needs to be a better way for voters to get information. On the Mainland they use saturation—radio, TV, fliers. There probably weren’t many blank ballots for president.
What, if any, role do you think race played in your contest?
It was huge. I was not of an ethnic background that is easily trusted by the majority of people who vote here regularly. I’m very aware of it. I’ve always felt comfortable around people of all different backgrounds. I mean, [I’m] a Heinz 57 variety of all the European mixes. I don’t come from a Waspy elite background. I come from working class immigrants. I try to emphasize those values. My grandparents faced much the same things as many of the Filipino and Portuguese folks who came here. It’s all the same time. They all came over here in the early part of the century, with nothing, [hoping] that they would find opportunities. [They] had to take menial jobs. I have a pretty similar background to many of the people that are living here. I tried to emphasize that. My name is a disadvantage because it’s not a simple English language name like Johnson or Anderson or Couch.
How about perceptions about those who have lived here their entire lives as opposed to those who haven’t?
I think it’s a factor. I think people are concerned about that probably more so in the East Maui district. If I were running in South Maui or West Maui it’d be far less of an issue. But I don’t live there, so that’s not where I’m going to run. I’ve had people suggest everything—move some place else and not run for the East Maui seat. But I’m not running for a seat to get a seat. I’m running because I feel that this district deserves representation from someone who loves and cares for the land and the water. And I’ve proved [that I do] for 27 years. I may not have been born here, but being born some place doesn’t necessarily mean that you are going to fight for that place.
What can your supporters do to affect change even if they don’t have a candidate on the council who represents their interests?
Oh, that’s really simple. We’ve all seen all the campaign promises. They’re in print. Hold them accountable. If they told you they’re going to stand for the environment, make sure they [do]. If they told you that they will make sure we have energy choices for the future, ask them how they’re going to do that. If they say that they’re all for using our water wisely, then make sure they have the courage to restrict wasteful water use. Hold people accountable. I know it’s work. My self-assigned responsibility is to try to keep people informed about ways that they can make a difference. Most of the progress that we’ve ever had in this country has been caused by people who were not on the inside but who were pushing from the outside, and their ideas eventually were folded into the mainstream. I have no need to have an ego gratification. I only ran to be of service because so many people seemed to feel that I could bring skills to this office that were needed. If it could bring people hope [for me] to keep running, to keep getting those ideas out there, I think it’s worthwhile to do. And if there’s an army of people willing to join me, I’m willing to run. The only way I’m interested in running is if there’s that community force that wants to push forward and see someone who is independent and qualified and caring have their day and have their say, I’ll run.
So do you plan on running again?
I do. I’m going to keep my campaign committee active. Some very skilled people have come up in the last couple of days after the election wanting to be part of the team, [to help] raise money, raise awareness, offer strategies. So, I’m going to take all of these great people up on their offer. It’s a team effort; I’m a team person.
What will you do in the meantime? How will your advocacy take shape and what issues will you focus on?
I’m still tracking the same issues that I have for years. Building a new economy. Returning water to our streams. We’re making some progress in East Maui. We need to work with the reclaimed water from the sewage treatment plant. I really hope that after this visit with the EPA that we can find a funding solution to get the infrastructure we need to start phasing out the injection wells on the West Side. I’d like to see a gray water ordinance pass. I’d like to see incentives for renewable energy and really get it so that people can get their own independent systems up. I think that’s going to be necessary as we get into more uncertain times. I think Barack Obama’s going to be pushing for local energy independence. And that starts in your own home. If you can generate your own electricity at home, whether it’s your solar hot water, your solar electricity, your wind-generated electricity or some new method that we don’t even know about yet. I just think that government needs to be on the cutting edge of that. I’d also like to continue my work on land planning issues, tracking the General Plan. Our work on the GPAC will be completed at the end of February so we’ll be tracking that as it goes through the planning commission and the County Council over the next year. I’ve invested three years of my life and actually helped write a lot of the policy, the draft policy, that’s being presented to these bodies. I want to get in there and make sure that the ideas and concepts are put into action.
ABOUT CHANGE THIS ELECTION.
Why did Mauians stick with the status quo?
The reality is that central Maui, which is predominantly old school and local, elects our council in non-partisan races according to name recognition. Most of the new voters that made up the Obama wave may think of themselves as “change agents” but many don’t have a clue as to what that means on a local level. They are more often than not oblivious to who is running for what in their own backyard. This is unfortunate since, as the old pol Tip O’Neil once said, “all politics is local.”
I think there are many factors at play here. I think among the people who vote regularly there is one, a lack of real awareness of the issues affecting Maui county; and two, a fear of rocking the boat. The mainstream media has a good grip on keeping things status quo around here. They don’t print truly honest reports of how the current council members are doing. Good thing we have one independent paper! Those of us who show up to council meetings or watch them on Akaku and see how the council members are behaving are few and far between compared to the number of people who just read a version of it in the daily paper. [Then there is] this idea of rocking the boat. I say, get new blood in there. Maui is a boat that needs to be rocked. Sometimes it feels like a sinking ship when I think of our dependency on the outside world. We need real leaders that are willing to steer our boat toward energy and food independence. This constant development of our island our council has approved over the years is unsustainable. Another factor is how many of the local votes were left blank, probably due to many people coming out to elect the president who didn’t take time to get informed about local candidates. This is a big loss. I know it takes time to get informed and most Mauians are busy working, but there are a lot of respected organizations doing the homework and taking the time to interview the candidates for you like the ‘Ohana Coalition and the Sierra Club. Just make sure it is from trusted organizations that care about Maui’s future and not special interest groups such as developers who only care about money.
If you look at the precinct reports, there is a trend. In South Maui, West Maui and Upcountry, the blank votes jumps from 10 percent for the residency area Council race to 20-40 percent for other areas’ races. The precincts that have statistically consistent blank votes across races are in Central Maui where votes are historically strongly correlated with union support and specific precincts elsewhere that strongly correlate with union support. Election results show that national efforts to get union members and pensioners out to vote ended up being successful in buoying support for union-supported incumbents locally. New voters that supported change nationally either didn’t care locally or didn’t know the extent of their voting franchise.
I think that here in Hawaii we value tradition, honor and loyalty and that change can be scary. We like what is familiar to us. Our community would certainly benefit from some progressive ideas to expand our economy and gain greater independence through local energy and food production. Hopefully we can all work together to accomplish these goals.