As the executive branch of Maui County, the mayor’s duties include appointing heads of departments and selecting individuals for integral county positions. The mayor guides the county, preparing a budget of almost $800 million that begins council negotiations, and the mayor keeps the county on track, ensuring that the budget is carried out by local government. Needless to say, it’s an important job. After the Primary Election on August 11, two of the candidates below will remain in the running and appear on the November 6 General Election ballot. One of them will be the next mayor. The opportunity to select a mayor comes only once every four years – don’t waste it. Get out and vote!
What are your priorities?
Housing. The homeless issue is huge here so I think that all goes hand in hand along with good-paying jobs – having good careers and professions that are high paying. I say it over and over: I’m really tired of hearing my classmates, my family members, just people in general, saying they can’t afford to live here anymore. That to me is extremely sad. So that is something key for me to want to grab a hold of and and figure out. There’s huge dynamics of why that’s occurring, but the illegal short term rental issue and trying to get the affordability back into the hands of our people to be able to stay and live here, raise their families here.
How would you allocate the budget?
There’s a lot of things in [the budget] that I think are needlessly put in, and I’m talking multi millions of dollars worth of things. In particular, the Kihei grit removal project. I fought really hard to explain why that is not needed and it kept recurring and coming back around, and it’s in there. That’s $6.5 million that should not be, for starters, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s like every year I have to reinsert monies into trying to get recycling to continue. I chair for Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee and there are a lot of things that aren’t that sexy – sewer, wastewater, landfills, recycling – but they’re important to everybody, and those are the things that need to be focused on a whole lot more. I mean our wastewater, the injection well issue, are detrimental to the health of our oceans and our reefs.
I just had a talk story with Craig Downs, the scientist who has done all the research and found out we have the most highly impaired waters in the world. From Honolua where I live all the way down to Makena, the reefs are dying. They’re saying in 25 years they can be gone. We’re at that tipping point. If we do not do something now, immediately, then that’s like our culture is gone! Needless to say our economy of tourism. That’s another key point. We need to jump in and make sure that we take care of all the leakage that it’s occurring, reuse our wastewater – our treated wastewater – and take care of all the runoff and figure out the drainage systems. The list goes on and on, but in the end it is to protect our environment, preserve our culture, have open and honest government, and to have economic viability and stability. Those are the four pillars of happiness in any country and nation, as Tom Vendetti shared with me when he did the documentary on Bhutan, and I think those are very worthy goals to strive for and I’m looking to achieve.
Why are you running for Mayor?
I want to run for mayor to make sure that our future generations are taken care of. I’ve always been one to believe in a balanced approach, that everybody has common goals: we all want to live and flourish in a clean environment, we want to have affordable housing, we want to have adequate infrastructure, as well as jobs and open space. These are all our common goals, common goals which we all need to be able to balance with prosperity and economics. I always feel that I have the track record in trying to find the balance and working with anybody, on any issue, with any group, anywhere in Maui County for the betterment of the entire community.
What are some of your accomplishments on the Council?
The first legislation I ever did as a freshman councilmember was the ban on smoking in our parks. That was very unique for me and it was special because I worked with our youth. It all generated from a campaign called “Butts Off Our Beaches” and this was a collective effort by all the high schools that went out and collected all these cigarette butts and collectively did data entry on them. Then I worked on legislation with them. We had a conference: I taught them that basically this is how we should be drafting and organizing how to change the laws in our County. So for me it was a gift to say, look, you don’t have to sit back. If you can learn how to operate the system, anything is possible. We passed that legislation in 43 days, which was the fastest legislation I’ve ever had in my six year career and it was all because of the effort of working with the youth and collectively working with our council members and my colleagues. That was one of my memorable legislations. I have many others.
The purchase of Hamakualoa, which was the open space. I’ve also had the privilege of drafting out and helping pass the special Improvement District which is an ability for a business sector or a neighborhood to earmark a percentage of their taxes for what they want as a priority. These are things that that can be done as a community and as well as safeguarding their future investments in their properties. It’s never been utilized, that’s the problem. It’s there; it’s legislation that’s key in making sure that the community gets what they want.
As a council and as a government sometimes we don’t know what the priorities are. We think we do but it’s it’s really the people that that live in that neighborhood that have the heart and pace of what what they truly need. That legislation was good economically and for safeguarding those who have an interest in their neighborhood. There are other many other legislations but those are a couple that I can think of off the bat.
What did you learn from your time on the Council?
First of all, look at the big picture. There’s a lot to be looked at. There’s impacts that you have to understand, and when you do something in one community it has an impact in another community. When you’re looking at the overall good of the people, that’s something that has to be paramount and first and foremost in your mind.
To collaborate to work with different groups, different entities, to make sure that whatever we produce benefits the people of Maui County. So if anything, I have a real good understanding of working with business, citizenry, nonprofits, the public sector, state and federal governments, to make sure that we can maximize whatever dollars are available to do whatever we need to do
in Maui County. It’s very important to understand that that we’re an island we’re very self-reliant but yet we have outside forces that help us and we must continue to support and to bring in whatever support we can get to make Maui no ka ‘oi.
What are your priorities?
Housing would be the number one. That has been the biggest challenge Maui people are having right now. Working people cannot afford rentals, cannot afford to buy, so we have to really look at the whole enforcement part of our code and as well as building new units so our people can continue – especially our working people – to live here, work here, and raise their families here.
Secondly the infrastructure. We have an aging infrastructure problem. Wailuku Town, many of the sewer lines, water lines are 40 and 50 years old and so it’s very important that we upgrade, as soon as possible, these systems so that we won’t be like Oahu with water main breaks and sewer spills. These are things that we want to avoid. Even Kahului: The first increment of Kahului is now 70 years old and was built back in the early ‘60s. So it’s very important to work hard and make sure that this is upgraded and prevent any environmental damage to our ‘aina.
What makes you the best candidate for mayor?
I believe for me what sets me apart from my opponents is my administrative business experience, as well as my years of experience in this community in all sectors such as the nonprofits, such as the private sector. I have worked both with the state and county as well as the federal government’s agencies, so these are areas that I have ties to. I have the ability to collaborate with, and more importantly to know how to navigate, the system to make sure we maximize the dollars we can bring in to Maui County.
What’s your background?
I moved to Maui in 2004 as a building contractor and have since then had an opportunity to be involved in a number of different developments across not only here in Maui but also in the United States that were to meet a housing shortage. Building brought me here. I’ve been out of that business for a number of years. I really got out of it because I got sick of the way it was being done. I didn’t have my heart in it anymore, building inflated value houses for, a lot of times, people that didn’t live here and didn’t have a lot of concern for the island here. So I guess it was a little bit of civil disobedience. I got out of the business in order to try and change the business.
What is your vision?
We have so many different issues that we face everywhere. Nearly everywhere we look it seems like it’s another problem. Those are all symptoms of an underlying cause and so if I were to fight for changing or bringing about solutions, I would need a focus on the root of the issue and the cause of it. The cause is the system itself. The structural system has been set up by special interest groups that continue to this day to make money off of the common people. We’ve been divided through ignorance. We’ve been divided and we’ve been confused. So what is the pathway out of ignorance: knowledge. I like to think that we the people have the power. What is that power? That power is knowledge. We’ve created an app called “We” that connects the community… we want whoever is involved in that conversation to walk away from that feeling fulfilled, and that will increase one’s power.
What do you think about the changes happening on Maui?
It’s gone from a farm, with sugarcane and pineapple, to a busy little tourism-based island, which is OK, but now they want to develop it. Now the sugarcane [lands] are all exposed and empty, and they want to develop Maui. They want to pave it over and that’s wrong. That’s backwards. We have to start planting food is what we have to start doing. We have to start growing food for our own people and you know we have to slow down. If we keep going fast we’re gonna have a big, huge trainwreck and that’s not good for anybody, even the tourists because they’re not going to want to come here if Maui gets more developed. I mean it’s like shooting yourself in the foot – it’s ridiculous.
What are you some of your ideas to slow down growth?
Well stop developing. Really. Seriously: Stop developing, at least for a little while so we can just rethink things. Why aren’t we growing our own food? Have you been to the store lately? Check the prices of anything: It’s all expensive. We should have the ability to actually subsidize a whole bunch of different vegetables and other crops. The sugar company used to say that it costs them $10 million a year to grow all that sugar. Well now Maui has a budget of like $800 million. $10 million – that’s nothing. So we could take $10 million, subsidize the land, the rent, the water, the labor, and we could have farm stands all of our Maui and we could eat for free. Seriously, it’s this close to reality but if we keep developing we’re never going to see that part. And free food is kind of cool, you know.
What is your background?
I wrote this book called “Creating Mauitopia”. Utopian communities have never existed on this planet with the number of people we have. We have 165,000 people approximately. They’ve existed in several thousand people but never with 165,000 people. I think it’d be really cool if Maui became Mauitopia. Maui is kind of an isolated place, being in the middle of Pacific, so that’s an advantage. Having lived here for 25 years, it’s an amazing place. I mean that Aloha Spirit is so great, and we all get along, and we all know about helping each other, and yet we still have issues and we’re still not Mauitopia.
What are your priorities?
The first issue has to be making sure that the government is efficient because you all pay our taxes but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you get efficient government. So that one goal is to make it efficient. The second goal I have is to make sure that we get money out of politics. The people that are in politics – again it’s nothing’s bad about any of them, they’re good people, however they’re all kind of part of a system that is bought – when they get into office they’re pretty much beholden to the people who gave them the money. One of my campaign promises is I am not raising any money for my campaign and therefore I will not be able beholden. I spent $13,000 of my own money last election, but this election I committed to only spending up to $1,000 and I’ve only spent $500 so far.
How are you different from the other mayoral candidates?
I’m a regular person. I have the same issues as people have here. I’m not in for acquiring power for me and my friends. I am here to represent the people and I want to make something good for all of us.
What is your vision?
I was researching and I came across the status of the State of Hawai‘i and the fraudulent annexation that happened a century ago and that really hurt me to realize that as an American I am also responsible for that, because this illegal occupation is still going on. Hawaiian culture is kind of suppressed so we can qualify it as a cultural genocide. I’m really sensitive about that and I don’t want just to criticize things. I want to come up with solutions that can actually work for everyone involved: for the U.S., for the natives, and to bring us better quality of life: for us and for our kids.
I’ve been to a lot of meetings and I got frustrated a lot because it seems like nobody can really move forward because the foundation is not right. We can’t build something until the wrongdoings of the past are repaired.
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Cover design by Darris Hurst