Social media is where broken hearts are shared. Immediately after Councilmember Tasha Kama changed her committee vote – a known swing vote – to approve Mayor Mike Victorino’s embattled appointment for Corporation Counsel, Patrick Wong, the nastiness began. The most hurtful comments came in the form of name calling. Others leveled unsubstantiated allegations of nepotism. But of the more than 100 comments on a single Facebook post, most were disappointed, expressing frustration with Kama’s change of heart.
Councilmember Tasha Kama’s Feb. 22 vote against the disapproval of the holdover Corporation Counsel and top lawyer for the county was a sign – a sign that Kama has her own sovereign voice on the council. While endorsements from progressive groups like Maui’s ‘Ohana Coalition, which go as far back as 2002, may signal an ideological allegiance, that base of support is only part of the story of her success as a candidate.
Tasha campaigned hard, receiving tremendous campaign support from Maui’s progressive community, Shaka, Pono Network, and SAFE as she ran on a platform endorsed by Maui’s Sierra Club and MauiTime. Kama received MauiTime’s endorsement in our Aug. 2 Primary Election edition which included a photo of her on the cover along with five other “Mana Wahine” candidates. MauiTime editor Axel Beers interviewed Kama for MauiTime’s Walk Story candidate video series. In our Nov. 1 General Election edition, we also endorsed Kama.
Last year, Kama defeated termed-out Mayor Alan Arakawa by nearly 11,000 votes. Kahului’s Kama vs. Arakawa race had the highest voter turnout of all nine council seats. Of Maui County’s 50,650 votes in 2018, only 4,400 people left the Kahului race’s boxes blank. Translation: Maui voters overwhelmingly wanted Arakawa out of office.
As Nov. 6’s election results became clear, many who voted wanted to believe Maui finally had a council that would put our people first and not succumb to the old boy ways.
But Kama is clearly her own boss. She’s been on boards and commissions for housing, special education, and Hawaiian sovereignty for decades. Tasha has been active all this time. Although new to the council, she’s not new to local government and decision-making, as her dynamic vote shows. She sided with her fellow “Vote All 9” ‘Ohana Coalition councilmembers in the disapproval of three other directors last week, but with Wong she “flipped” and changed her vote to side with the ever powerful establishment.
Although Wong’s retention affects me personally (disclosure: I’m currently a litigant against Maui County stemming from an unlawful arrest and the county’s subsequent appeal to the Hawai‘i Supreme Court ruling in my favor), I can’t fault her. I don’t agree with her decision, but it was her decision, not mine. If I want other decisions, I can run for council, vote for a different candidate in two years, or express myself constructively.
I ask myself and others in the angry mob that are challenged by Kama’s decision: Do you really want to hate on someone you loved just a few weeks ago? Have you considered just how difficult this decision could have been for her?
When MauiTime editor Axel Beers asked Councilmember Kama why she changed her vote on Wong, she replied, “Because he came to my office and helped explain what it is that he does and the body politic. One of the things I didn’t like the first time around was when he was defending the county, it’s like he was fighting against my own people, the people in our county.”
Kama added that she took away from the meeting how “when one person files a lawsuit, then it’s the county that [Wong] has to protect against this one person.”
Kama received a ton of votes. Votes from all over Maui County and from the people – people that voted, people that wanted to see different policy from Arakawa. MauiTime endorsed Kama on a platform opposite of Arakawa, and Kama arguably capitalized on voters’ growing distaste for Arakawa. To continue Arakawa’s policy seems out of line with the people – the people that voted for her, at least.
But this continues to beg the questions of who her supporters are, how well voters know Kama’s politics, and how to best communicate any disappointment with her decisions.
While her 2018 message aligned neatly with Maui’s progressives and she seemingly gladly accepted their support, Kama didn’t have the option to refuse or coordinate assistance from the super PAC SAFE and its ‘Ohana Coalition. Granted, she also didn’t publicly speak out against what many call dark money, and if there was a misstep, this is one place where clarification on support would have been helpful: If Tasha didn’t align with her supporters, it would have been fair for her to speak out on points where disagreements are possible.
But at this point, what we have is an independent councilmember more likely to swing the council than some who’d voted for an ‘Ohana Coalition majority had hoped. Whether she’s rightfully flexin’ and has a good sense of her support base, or is scorning an important part of her constituency, time will tell.
Cover design by Darris Hurst