For us political junkies, the late summer of an even-numbered year is a magical time. Our airwaves, email and inboxes get jammed with misleading, often shameless propaganda. Battalions of volunteers line roadsides to wave colorful but still bland signs at passing motorists. And, for the true believers, forums pop up at community centers around the island, where earnest residents can sit on metal folding chairs while someone at the front of the room speaks platitudes about “sustainability” and “commitment.”
Yes, it’s an election year, and that means you’re holding the first of two special issues we’ll run this year dedicated to the big vote. The first issue, this one, contains our endorsements for the upcoming Aug. 9 Hawaii Primary Election. Now if you’re looking for consistency or some kind of political coherence, forget it. We’re handing out endorsements based on our own sense of what it takes for effective, honest public service.
Hey, the Primary Election is the fun one. Because there are so many candidates, we get to vote our hopes and aspirations for a different Maui. There will be plenty of time to vote for the lesser of two evils and all that in November–but this week, it’s all about our dreams.
Now we’re not going to go through each ticket and endorse someone from each party for each race. We did that a couple years ago, and to be honest, it’s silly. For instance, a few weeks ago the Honolulu Star-Advertiser endorsed both Democrat Neil Abercrombie and Republican James “Duke” Aiona for governor. Each man is advocating wildly different things, but the Star-Advertiser thinks they’re both great.
We believe this is confusing to readers, and will henceforth just pick one person for each office from all the available candidates. Of course, it’s up to readers to sort out which party’s ballot they want to vote on (remember: each voter can only vote one party line, so make it a good one).
* * *
In February, the eminently respected National Journal ranked U.S. Senator Brian Schatz, D–Hawaii, the most liberal in the U.S. Senate. This is fine with us. Appointed by Governor Neil Abercrombie in the final days of 2012 following the death of Senator Daniel Inouye, Schatz has since then sponsored or co-sponsored more than 400 bills, including a few that mandate employers provide birth control coverage in their health plans, asks the Centers for Disease Control to research firearms safety and raises federal minimum wage to $10.10/an hour. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, one of Schatz’s two Democratic challengers (the other is crooner Brian Evans), is an outstanding legislator with a fine record of public service, but her argument that Inouye chose her as his successor is irrelevant–at least in theory, the state constitution mandated that Abercrombie choose Inouye’s successor, and now the voters get their chance to approve or disprove that choice.
US Representative (2nd District)
Gabbard is a woman, war veteran, surfer and a Hindu–groups that are very under-represented in the U.S. House of Representatives. But that’s not why we’re endorsing her for reelection. She’s smart, capable and has put forward a ton of good bills. She’s very progressive on social and environmental issues, but also pro-military (not surprising, given that she’s also a captain in the Hawaii National Guard). She’s also been a leading voice for reform of the U.S. Veterans Affairs department, which has been a shambles for years in terms of getting vets adequate and timely health care.
Somehow, it’s become the alternative thing to do to back Neil Abercrombie for a second term as Governor of Hawaii. His calling the Legislature into Special Session last year to vote up or down on same sex marriage was refreshing. Sure, he doesn’t understand the state’s financial disclosure laws and botched the whole Hawaii Health Connector health insurance thing, but on balance we’re happy with him. State Senator David Ige doesn’t seem to disagree with Abercrombie on big social and environmental issues (they sadly also agree that legalizing marijuana is a bad idea), and his biggest advantage in the race is that he’s not Abercrombie, who’s suffering from miserable poll numbers. But Ige does have former Governors George Ariyoshi and Ben Cayetano backing him, along with the Hawaii State Teachers Association. Is that enough to dump Abercrombie? We don’t think so.
The Lieutenant Governor acts as an “assistant chief executive,” serves as governor when the real governor leaves the state and handles such pressing matters as overseeing the “granting of legal name changes” and “Processing documents that convey state lands inter-departmentally.” In layman’s terms, all of that translates into “pretty much do nothing.” And since he took over the job in late 2012, Maui boy/former Senate Majority Leader Shan Tsutsui has been outstanding in the role of Lt. Gov. He’s also preferable to all eight of his challengers–especially state Senator Clayton Hee, D–Kaneohe, who is very liberal on social issues but downright reactionary concerning journalists. Hee also filed false personal disclosure statements (first reported by blogger Ian Lind) from 2008 to 2011, and that makes Hee such an appalling choice for high office.
State Senator (5th District)
Gil Keith-Agaran has one of the Hawaii Legislature’s most impressive resumes. A partner with the Wailuku law firm Takitani, Agaran and Jorgensen, he’s also a former state Department of Labor & Industrial Relations Director, Board of Land & Natural Resources Chairman, Maui County Public Works Director and state House member. Today he’s a state Senator, a job Governor Abercrombie appointed him to in late 2012. His politics are mainstream liberal (pro union, minimum wage, social issues, environment) but he’s also one of the few local officials in the entire state who understands social media and is active and engaging on Twitter (his handle his @Gil4sd5).
State Senator (6th District)
Roz Baker is an extremely capable and effective legislator–the money she’s helped secure for a new Kihei high school is proof of that. But she’s also a bit too friendly to corporate interests, and in the interest of shaking things up, we’re backing her opponent in the Primary. Amato has made corporate contributions and support her key issue in the race, and it’s refreshing. In fairness, we’ve known Terez Amato for some years, and even edited her writing back in 2007 when she wrote a MauiTime cover story on why the county should just leave unpermitted transient vacation rentals alone. And if she can go through that and still consider us friends, then she can clearly survive in the state Legislature.
Yeah, here you have incumbent Democrat Justin Woodson (appointed by Governor Neil Abercrombie in early 2013) defending his seat in his first election ever against former Maui Maui County Mayor James “Kimo” Apana, who is also a Democrat. Woodson’s biggest vote so far in the House has been against Abercrombie’s same sex marriage legalization bill, while Apana previously distinguished himself in office (1999 to 2003) as BFF to Maui’s land developers. You guys are on your own with this one. Oh, and since these two guys are the only ones in the race, whoever wins the Primary wins the seat.
Rep. Kaniela Ing is still pretty new to the state Legislative. His big push during the most recent session was a bill that would ban smoking on all public beaches in Hawaii. While we’d certainly like to see that, the bill is basically unenforceable (the House Water and Land Committee deferred it in February). That being said, Ing’s social and environmental priorities are great, and his youth (he’s not quite 26) is a welcome addition to the state House of Representatives.
Barbara J. Haliniak
Like the 9th District House race, there are just two Democrats in the race, so whoever wins on Aug. 9 takes it all. But unlike the 9th District, the 13th is a tough one to run in, requiring candidates to travel between East Maui, Lanai and Molokai. That being said, we’ve had a lot of problems with Democrat Mele Carroll in the past (her notorious inability to get campaign finance statements filed with the state seems to be under control at present) but her 15-minute denunciation of last year’s bill legalizing same-sex marriage was embarrassing, both for its self-righteousness and its misreading of Hawaii history. It’s time for someone new in the seat, which is why we’re backing Barbara Haliniak, a longtime small business owner and community leader on Molokai.
Maui County Mayor
It’s not that incumbent Alan Arakawa has been a bad mayor (though the management of the county’s Parks Department has been a disaster and the U.S. District Court in Honolulu recently ruled that the county’s been violating the Clean Water Act for years by injecting treated wastewater into the ground in West Maui). It’s just that when people say they want more “normal folks” to run for office, Paltin is exactly who they’re talking about. Her combination of work experience and environmental focus puts her above Arakawa’s other challengers (that would be Beau Hawkes, Alana Kay, Orion Kopelman and Nelson Waikiki). She’s been a Maui County Lifeguard since 2001. She’s an HGEA steward. She’s a longtime Save Honolua activist who’s served as the organization’s president/executive director since 2009. She even spent a couple years working as a server at the old Outback Steakhouse in Kahana. She’s done all that while also being married and raising a couple kids. So while Paltin hasn’t held elected office before, we’re guessing that being Maui County Mayor would actually make her life a bit easier.
County Council (East Maui)
What you have here are three old guys, all of whom are nice and conscientious and experienced, running for the same office. Bob Carroll’s had the job forever, and both John Blumer-Buell and Nikhilananda have run for some sort of office forever. In the interest of fairness, we think one of the other old guys should have a go at it. We’re giving the nod to Blumer-Buell this time because, well, he’s got a wealth of Maui history locked up in his cranial attic, and we’d love for him to open it up now and then during committee meetings so that everyone can see how none of us are really learning anything about how to make things work on Maui.
County Council (West Maui)
First elected in 2010, Elle Cochran is one of the founders of the Save Honolua Coalition. She believes in smart growth, GMO labeling, renewable energy, solid waste recycling and environmental preservation. At a time when it seems that the vast majority of the County Council believes that commercial and residential land development is county’s highest priority, it’s nice that Cochran’s there to provide an alternative.
County Council (South Maui)
We haven’t agreed with everything Don Couch has done in office since getting elected in 2010. For instance, we think the Maui Island Plan was a stronger, more detailed and overall better document before it went through the Maui County Council Planning Committee (which Couch chairs) early this year. But on balance, we’ve happy Couch is on the County Council. He’s a straight shooter who will listen to every side of an issue. While mostly pro-development, his vote two years ago against Maui Land & Pineapple Company’s request to take 150 acres of Lipoa Point out of preservation still resonates with us as a strong, brave act.
County Council (Makawao-Haiku-Paia)
In a hotly contested four-way race that pits incumbent/Maui Visitors Bureau pal Mike White against former Councilman Mike Molina, leave it to us to endorse the most unknown candidate (Henry Kahula Jr., the fourth candidate, has previously and unsuccessfully run for state office). Haller’s young, from Maui, works as a landscaper and got a degree in business finance from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He says he entered the race after he discovered–during the Maui County Council’s recent discussions over Mayor Alan Arakawa’s proposed land buy in Launiupoko–that County Council members really didn’t seem to understand the differences between various land appraisal formulas. That’s good enough for us.
OHA Trustee–No Island Residency Required
Mililani Trask / John D. Waihee / Hina Wong-Kalu
There are 16 people in this race, and you can vote for up to three candidates. Given that these are historic times for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs–the question of establishing a government-to-government relationship between the kanaka people and the U.S. government is incredibly controversial and timely right now–we think it’s more important than ever to pay special attention to this race. Though we’re offering our three choices, we urge you to research all of the candidates before making your selection. That being said, we like Trask–an attorney and former OHA Trustee–for being so outspoken, incumbent Waihee for his experience and Wong-Kalu–a transgender kumu hula who’s the subject of the documentary film Kumu Hina–for her courage.