PONTANILLA WANTS OLD JOB BACK
So apparently life in the mayor’s office isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. According to the Nov. 27 Maui News, former Maui County Council Member Joe Pontanilla wants his old job back. “I know the district very well,” he told the paper. “I can help Maui, Molokai and Lanai.”
This is, for anyone who looks at arcane political statistics like “election results” and the way in which campaigns get run in this county, a pretty astonishing development. And not just because Pontanilla hasn’t actually won a contested race since 2008.
For a decade, Pontanilla distinguished himself on the Maui County Council by never once doing anything even remotely distinguishing. But there he sat, reliably voting the way land developers like Alexander & Baldwin, Charlie Jencks and Stanford Carr (all campaign contributors) wanted him to vote. In fact, his seat was so safe that in 2010 no one at all stepped forward to challenge him.
Perhaps emboldened by the fact that 28,309 people in Maui County voted for him in that year (despite the fact that he was running unopposed), Pontanilla decided to take a shot at a state House seat in 2012. But being from Kahului, that meant the 9th District seat, which then was held by incumbent Gil Keith-Agaran, a popular Democrat who wasn’t prepared to go quietly.
It’s funny that Pontanilla forgot the most important rule of Maui County electoral politics: Incumbents rarely lose. Sure, Alan Arakawa lost his mayoral reelection bid back in 2006 to then-Council Member Charmaine Tavares, but for the most part, you’ve got to be a Sol Kaho‘ohalahala or a Wayne Nishiki–with a major scandal wrapped around your throat–before the voters turn on you.
Because Keith-Agaran and Pontanilla were both Democrats–and no Republican decided to contest the seat–the race was decided during the 2012 Primary election, when turnout was a lot lower than the General. Despite Pontanilla’s name-recognition (typically the most important factor in a race around here), voters chose to stay with Keith-Agaran, who won easily–2,282 votes to Pontanilla’s meager 1,583.
But like nature, politics abhors a vacuum. Pontanilla’s stepping away from the County Council’s Kahului residency seat opened a spot for Don Guzman, a young attorney who mobilized huge numbers of voters and overwhelmed his opponent, perennial candidate Alan Fukuyama, 23,459 votes to 14,929. Now Guzman is the incumbent, with name recognition that arguably rivals that of Pontanilla, who’s basically spent the last two years in a political tomb.
What makes more sense is for Pontanilla to take another shot at the 9th District state House seat. There, the incumbent is the very young Justin Woodson (who was appointed to the seat by Governor Neil Abercrombie after Keith-Agaran got himself appointed to the Hawaii State Senate after then-State Senator Shan Tsutsui got himself appointed to be state Lieutenant Governor after Abercrombie appointed then-Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to the U.S. Senate after Senator Daniel Inouye passed away). Woodson’s never run in a contested election (or any election) in his professional career, and given his recent vote against the legalization of same-sex marriage, is vulnerable to an attack from the left.
But Pontanilla would rather return to the County Council, which to be fair, is actually a more powerful position (it also provides work year-round, as opposed to the Legislature’s four months or so). And because that means really interesting Guzman-Pontanilla match-up, we salute his decision to run again.
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MORE INCUMBENTS VULNERABLE?
Wait, former Maui County Council Member Mike Molina–who’s also been filed away in Mayor Arakawa’s administration along with Pontanilla and former Council Member Danny Mateo–announced in the Nov. 30 Maui News that now he wants his old job back, too? That means taking on incumbent Mike White. And what’s this? Mateo is leaning heavily in favor of trying to knock out incumbent Stacy Crivello and return to his old Council seat as well?
Whoa. But yeah–there could very easily be three actual, real contested County Council races this year. And when you add to it the fact that White is already insinuating that Molina is just a Trojan Horse for the Arakawa Administration (which have been at war lately over a host of issues, including the demolition of the old Wailuku Post Office and the possible purchase of West Maui coastal land–the latter of which comes up for discussion at the County Council again on Friday, Dec. 6).
Of course, every candidate and incumbent listed above is friendly to Maui County’s political establishment, so even “contested” races won’t involve too much trash-talking or mud-slinging. But we can always hope.
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LC DROPS OBSCENITY HAMMER ON HAUI’S LIFE’S A BEACH
Since the glory days of Prohibition, the Maui County Department of Liquor Control has done a bang-up job busting bars and restaurants around the county for serving drunk customers and not carding minors. But even today, most people around the county probably have no idea that the LC also polices bands and musical acts that appear onstage at liquor licensees.
To be fair, it doesn’t happen very often, but it’s going down today (Thursday, Dec. 5) at the LC’s headquarters in the David K. Trask , Jr. Building in Wailuku. There, at about 9am this morning, Howard Grunes–the owner of Haui’s Life’s A Beach in Kihei–was scheduled to plead no contest to one charge of violating the county’s Liquor Rules governing entertainment obscenity.
Here’s how the LC meeting agenda puts it:
“On February 16, 2013 at approximately 12:50am, HAUI INC. dba HAUI’S LIFE’S A BEACH, a dispenser general licensee, did permit obscene language, songs, or entertainment, contrary to Section 08-101-23(c) of the Rules of the Liquor Commission, County of Maui.”
Grunes told me he wouldn’t comment for this story until after the hearing takes place. But according to the MauiTime‘s issue that ran the week of Feb. 14 this year, a Portland Reggae band called Monk was scheduled to appear at Life’s A Beach on the night in question.
Oh, and if you find yourself wondering why the county department charged with enforcing rules governing the sale and dispensing of alcohol would in any way give a damn about song lyrics, don’t feel bad. Remember, this is the same agency that prohibits establishments from allowing people to dance outside specially designated dancing zones.