Oh, joy, it’s time for another General Election. In Hawaii, this is a special kind of treat. Voters only got to see a new campaign finance report this week, after what seemed like months of candidate and political action committee (PAC) spending and fund-raising without any reporting whatsoever. Voters also have to contend with a bunch of state constitutional amendments and even a few Maui County charter amendments–one of which is by far so controversial it’s threatening to tear the county apart. The GMO ballot measure is so important that we sent reporter Axel Beers to dig deep into the arguments, pro and con, and try to make sense of it all.
And, as usual, the act of voting itself too often seems reduced to the evil of two lessers. Sorry, candidates, but we really can’t get excited about any of you. We look at your platforms and see the same vague platitudes, year in and year out. We look over your campaign finance statements, and see many of the same names: unions, developers, builders, land-owners. Those who don’t cash checks from the island’s establishment often lack experience–legal, political and administrative.
Most of the time, as you’ll see, we’re able to look past enough flaws to settle on a nomination. But in a few races, even we couldn’t bring ourselves to back even one candidate. For those instances, you have our sincere apologies.
One of the most liberal members of the U.S. Senate, Brian Schatz barely beat Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa in the Democratic Primary. We gave the nod to Schatz, but honestly, would have been happy with either (Republican Cam Cavasso and Libertarian Michael Kokoski are also in the race). Schatz’s environmentalist leanings are both prescient and brave–though it’s going to be a tough fight for him to get anything done if the Republicans take the Senate, as most pundits are predicting. But irrespective of that, Schatz’s political benefactor–Governor Neil Abercrombie–got himself tossed out in the Primary Election. That makes Schatz a fascinating case study: what will he do now that he’s his own man, politically?
Democrat Tulsi Gabbard is going places. She’s progressive–socially and environmentally–as well as an Iraq War veteran and current captain in the Hawaii National Guard. Outspoken on the issue of Veterans Administration reform, she’s a young, intelligent and capable legislator who deserves at least another term in office (her opponents are Republican Kawika Crowley and Libertarian Joe Kent).
David Ige/Shan Tsutsui
Wow. Six months ago we couldn’t pick Democrat David Ige out of a police lineup, and now he’s the party’s choice to be governor. Truth be told, he’s not that much different from Abercrombie, and we liked Abercrombie. He’s a humble guy who worked for many years as an electrical engineer. As for Shan Tsutsui, the former Senate President (and Maui Senator) is over-qualified for the job of Lieutenant Governor.
State Sen, District 5
A lawyer and former department head at county and state level, Democrat Keith-Agaran is one of the smartest and most all-around experienced legislators in Hawaii. Republican Joe Kamaka seems like a nice guy with some intriguing ideas (like free meals for all K-12 students, though the catch is that kids who don’t go to school would be subject to arrest), but we like Keith-Agaran better.
State Sen, District 6
Though she (like most Democrats in this state) is pretty cozy the big landowners and corporations that run Hawaii, Democrat Roz Baker is also one of the more liberal members of the state Senate. Though we backed her opponent Terez Amato in the Democratic Primary, we have no problem transferring our endorsement to Baker. She’s certainly preferable to her opponents, Republican Jared Dubois and Libertarian Bronson Kaahui.
State Representative, District 8
Incumbent Joe Souki, who is also Speaker of the House, has been a state Representative since 1982. He’s also a chemical industry lobbyist, which isn’t the best side job to have when running a state legislature. That being said, he’s liberal in the classic New Deal, pro-union kind of way, and did a great deal to make sure same-sex marriage passed the House last year and even put forth a bill that (had it passed) would have legalized marijuana. He’s also a far better choice than Republican Cranston Kapoi, who opposes both pot legalization and same-sex marriage.
State Representative, District 10
We like McKelvey. Pretty much always have. Though marijuana legalization didn’t go anywhere during the 2014 legislative session, McKelvey did co-sponsor a bill that would have studied its effects on the state. He’s friendly, intelligent and seems to genuinely enjoy being a law-maker. His opponent is Republican Chayne Marten.
State Representative, District 11
Democrat Kaniela Ing is young (still in his 20s), enthusiastic and smart. Like most Maui Democrats, he’s very liberal. The Republicans didn’t even bother contesting the seat, but former Hawaii Libertarian newsletter editor Pat Brock did step up to run. Still, we liked Ing in the Primary Election and see no reason to modify that endorsement now.
State Representative, District 12
Does Democrat Kyle Yamashita do anything in office besides fight for the interests of big corporations and labor unions? He votes the party line on big issues. Like many of his colleagues, he doesn’t care for the state’s Open Meetings law (which forces public officials to do official business in public where members of the public can watch and participate)–earlier this year, he introduced a bill that would have lifted key sunshine restrictions on the county councils throughout the state. Republican Richard Pohle, Yamashita’s opponent, seems more Libertarian. He wants to bring the Superferry back, institute axis deer hunting “safaris” and (somehow) make Maui even more friendly to tourists.
OHA Maui Resident Trustee
A former executive director of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, Wendt has a strong and eloquent voice that needs to be in the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. “There is great suffering in our communities,” she told Honolulu Civil Beat back in July. “[O]ngoing displacement from ancestral lands through adverse possession by large corporations; desecration of sacred places, including burial sites by developers; inability to access traditional places of subsistence gathering and cultural significance; wholesale appropriation and diversion of public trust resources, including water needed for taro farming, gathering and replenishing near-shore reef fish; economic, social, educational, and health disparities.” All of Hawaii needs voices like that in positions of authority.
OHA At-Large Trustee
Mililani Trask, John D. Waihee
You can vote for up to three on this one, but we’re stopping at two. Trask is an outspoken attorney and former OHA trustee. Waihee’s an incumbent and one of the more experienced OHA trustees.
Paltin is a long-time Save Honolua activist (president of the organization since 2009) and a County lifeguard since 2001. She’s never held elected office, and while the office of mayor isn’t generally a good place to learn, we’re willing to overlook that in her case. While on balance, Alan Arakawa has been an effective and capable mayor, he has made a few missteps (like allowing mismanagement of the county’s Parks Department to go on way, way too long). The recent U.S. District Court ruling that the county has been violating the federal Clean Water Act for years by injected treated wastewater into the ground at West Maui is also a black mark on his record. And, yes, we’re appalled that Maui County Prosecuting Attorney J.D. Kim–an Arakawa appointee–is still trying to put MauiTime Publisher Tommy Russo in prison for attempting to photograph police officers on a public street. That’s an appalling abuse of power–one that we believe reflects very badly on the current administration.
Councilmember (East Maui)
A longtime Green Party activist who lives in Huelo, Nikhilananda didn’t get our endorsement in the Primary Election (that went to John Blumer-Buell, who came in third). Incumbent Bob Carroll is a nice guy but he’s yet another voice for the establishment on the council. We need more people on the council who question the county’s pro-agri-business, pro-tourism industry bent, which is something Nikhilananda will definitely do.
Councilmember (West Maui)
One of the Save Honolua founders, Cochran is the strongest advocate for environmental preservation on the Maui County Council. When you start thinking about tens of thousands of dollars worth of advertisements and support her opponent Ka‘ala Buenconsejo is getting from pro-development Super PACs (including one run by John White of Pacific Resource Partners, a campaign firm that actually had to apologize to Ben Cayetano for its sleazy tactics during the 2012 Honolulu mayor’s race), Cochran’s opposition to big projects like the development of Olowalu Town becomes more vital than ever.
Mike Victorino (more famously known as the father of Boston Red Sox outfielder Shane Victorino) isn’t a bad councilmember. He’s just like nearly every other councilmember. Friendly to A&B, the ILWU and various other unions and land developers. When people on Maui complain about traffic or pollution seeping into the ocean or the prospect of a thousand homes going up in Olowalu, it’s because well-meaning councilmembers like Victorino keep voting to support things like that. While we doubt Blackburn would do much different in terms of land development, we do know that he’s an honorable man. It’s also good to inject new blood into the system now and then.
Guzman, an experienced attorney, hasn’t done anything really dumb in the last few years (that whole thing about whether he notarized Neldon Mamuad’s mayoral candidacy papers on County time was a bunch of nothing), so why not give the guy another term. He’s also a lot younger than his colleagues, and certainly his opponent Joe Pontanilla, who used to hold the seat.
Councilmember (South Maui)
Like we said during the Primary Election, Couch has long been friendlier to developers than slow-growth activists. But still, we like him. He’s fair and listens to all sides. There’s nothing wrong with John Fitzpatrick–indeed, we’d be happy if he were on the council. Fitzpatrick opposes the development of Olowalu, something Couch supports. But we just happen to think Couch is a good guy to have on the council.
Councilmember (Makawao Haiku-Paia)
Pro-development Molina held this seat for a decade, and when term limits sent him home, we admit to being happy about it. But since then, his successor–Mike White–has proven even worse. We knew White–the general manager of the Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel–would support the island’s tourism industry when he got in office, but we had no idea how much of a tool he’d end up becoming. Add to it the fact that Molina’s years in the wilderness have moderated his stance on land development–even winning over the Sierra Club’s Maui chapter–and we had no problem choosing a candidate in this race.
And though we’d like to see more from Bruch than just anti-GMO politicking (her top campaign issue), she’s young and anti-establishment. We need more of these people in positions of authority, not less. Also, incumbent Gladys Baisa is too friendly to big land developers for our tastes.
Seriously, is there no one on Lanai who will run against Riki Hokama? Not a single person there who disagrees with him on even a minor issue? Sad. Just sad.
Stacy Helm Crivello
Same here with Crivello running unopposed, but in this case we’re okay with her.
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STATE CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
Relating to Disclosure of Judicial Nominees
What, the Legislature couldn’t simply pass a law requiring this disclosure? Oh well. Though we’re loathe to amend the state Constitution for small stuff like this, mandating the disclosure of judicial nominees is important enough for even us to approve.
Relating To Agricultural Enterprises
If this passes, the state would be able to issue special purpose revenue bonds “to assist agricultural enterprises on any type of land, rather than only important agricultural lands.” We’re naturally suspicious of bond measures–especially ones that carry the “special purpose” designation.
Relating to State Justices and Judges
This raises the mandatory retirement age for state justices and judges from 70 to 80. While we normally hate limits like this, we find ourselves drawn to the words of the late Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Edward Nakamura, who retired at 66 after just one term. “I am not so vain as to think a younger person could not do better than I,” he said. Judging is like heart surgery–holding the job until the bitter end is not be the best professional course.
Relating to Early Childhood education
This allows the appropriation of public funds “for the support or benefit of private early childhood education programs.” Though the amendment specifically prohibits such programs from discriminating on “race, religion, sex or ancestry,” it still sounds an awful lot like a school voucher system. Do we really need to be channeling money away from our already suffering public schools to private ones? No.
Relating to Dams and reservoirs
This measure would allow the state to issue more special purpose revenue bonds, this time to “offer loans to qualifying dam and reservoir owners to improve their facilities to protect public safety.” See “Relating to Agricultural Enterprises” above.
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COUNTY CHARTER AMENDMENTS
Affordable Housing Fund
If this passes, this charter amendment would extend (through fiscal year 2021) the current requirement that two percent of certified real property tax revenues go into an “affordable housing fund.” Given the current housing market on Maui, “persons of very low to gap income” need all the help they can get.
This amendment would raise the current maximum penalty for violating the county’s charter, ordinances and rules from $1,000 or a year’s imprisonment to $25,000 or a year’s imprisonment or both. Sounds a lot like a quick revenue generator for the county. Pass.
Genetically Engineered Organisms
This is the most difficult ballot endorsement we’ve ever had to do. To side with Monsanto–a giant corporation that, along with Dow, spent nearly $8 million opposing this initiative (a tiny portion of which went to yours truly, in the form of an ad in this week’s edition) and is just another example of a big Mainland interest controlling a substantial swath of the island–seems anathema to the paper’s founding principles. And yet, here we are. Believe us, we’d like nothing more than to dismantle corporations like Monsanto. Their size and power represent everything that’s wrong with capitalism. But ballot measures based on junk science and ignorance aren’t the way to do it. After a few decades of rigorous scientific analyses, we can say that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are safe for human consumption. As for the argument that GMO production uses pesticides that are harmful to the environment and humanity–that’s a side issue. If you want to ban certain pesticides (and research has concluded that they are indeed poisoning our near-shore reefs) then craft a ballot measure that does that. Attacking genetically engineered food isn’t the way to go.