A part of me resists national news. Since becoming domineered by the forces of Trumpism, the news cycle has become a sequence of palace intrigue and gaffes, sprinkled with flavors of authoritarianism, incompetence, racism, and xenophobia. It’s exhausting to keep up with.
But there’s good news for those of us opposed to the racist and authoritarian impulses of Trumpism: Democrats did well. While 10 races remain undecided, Democrats walk away with 225 seats [As I post this, the number has risen to 228] to the Republican’s 200. Republicans still control the Senate, but with the House of Representatives run by the majority Democrats there’s hope that the Trump-brand presidency will meet roadblocks on its path to make America the 1800s again, and that the administration (and Trump himself) will be held accountable for its actions.
Trump, with the instinct (or desperation) of a man who’s spent a lifetime leveraging wealth and power, saw the writing on the wall when Democrats took control of the House and thus leadership of all House committees. The day after the election, Attorney General Jeff Sessions was ousted and Matthew Whitaker installed as acting attorney general. Whitaker, it’s noted, has argued that special counsel Robert Mueller was close to crossing a red line in his investigation of Trump’s finances. Whether Sessions’ permanent replacement will be Whitaker or someone else, it’s likely that the Trump administration will select an attorney general more aggressively sympathetic to Trump’s view of the rule of law: He’s above it, and his enemies are under it. Get the popcorn (and maybe whatever your choice of self-medication is), the next couple of years are gonna be a spectacle.
That said, one candidate who has polled successfully and has taken election races steadily across the country over recent years continued to make advances Tuesday night: good ol’ pakalolo. Yup, Mary Jane won big Tuesday night, picking up recreational legalization in Michigan and legalization for medical use in Utah and Missouri. That makes a total of 33 states with medical cannabis laws, and 10 with legalized recreational use of the schedule I drug.
So, despite the fatiguing and head-spinning environment that is national politics, there were some victories, but it is clear that tremendous work exists at the state and local levels if we’re to ensure an equitable and prosperous future.
Hawai‘i voters did their part resisting the Trump agenda, electing David Ige for a second term as governor and saying no to the charismatic and community-focused Andria Tupola. For her faults which include reiterating job and housing-creator rhetoric to protect the interests of the wealthy, deflecting comments regarding Trump’s treatment of the press, and record of voting against bills that protect the right of women-in-crisis to information, Tupola played to Ige’s weaknesses in a way that hopefully highlights his shortcomings as points to address in his new term.
Tupola’s strategy to engage rural voters and listen to concerns is something we would like to see more of from candidates and state officials, and in days leading up to the election many posts came online from Native Hawaiians weighing the costs and benefits of voting for Tupola, who vocally opposed the Thirty Meter Telescope. The issue of public relations, leadership, and Native Hawaiian rights are not known as Ige’s strengths, but here is one area that we hope Ige will step up to ensure that the indigenous people of this place are included in any decision making regarding a sacred place.
In state races for Maui seats there were no significant changes. State senators Roz Baker and J. Kalani English will continue to work at the state legislature, while state representatives Angus McKelvey, Lynn DeCoite, Kyle Yamashita, and Justin Woodson also return for another term. Troy Hashimoto and Tina Wildberger will round out Maui’s team-elect, replacing Joe Souki and Kaniela Ing, respectively. Overall, it is a good team, and one we hope will continue to work with Governor Ige in the fight for smart protections for the environment, sustainability, local food production, dedicated funding for teachers, and legalization of recreational and industrial cannabis.
Mike Victorino won the mayor’s race as projected by many who saw his name recognition, campaign funding, and network insurmountable for challenger Elle Cochran. This was a blow to what has become known as the ‘Ohana Coalition, the slate of candidates backed by the Sustainable Action Fund for the Environment and identified for their prioritization of environmental issues and smart growth.
But Maui’s big news came out of the other nine county races. The historic election resulted in the first female-majority Maui County Council and a shift in the body’s political balance. Five of the nine ‘Ohana candidates for council won their races, giving the group a majority of the County Council. Of the group, Kelly King, Tamara Paltin, Shane Sinenci, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, and Tasha Kama won their races. The remaining four seats will be filled by Yuki Lei Sugimura, Alice Lee, Mike Molina, and Riki Hokama.
The new majority is likely to have a significant impact on local politics for the two years to come, starting with the selection of the council chair in January. It’s this process that made Mike White such an imposing figure on the council over the last two years, cementing the “gang of five” that was seen as generally establishment and pro-development. Now, the ‘Ohana candidates will form the majority and likely cast the deciding vote for council chair, a decision which will guide council agendas and decision making for the next two years (“Scary,” Councilmember Sugimura opined on KAOI radio during election night).
Kelly King, the only ‘Ohana candidate with experience as a councilmember, is seen as the likeliest successor to Mike White, a welcome change to those who are interested in smart growth and policies that ensure the preservation of Maui’s environment.
“My priorities are getting this collaboration to happen between these major corporations or developers that come into our community and try to push these projects on without talking to the immediate community surrounding where their projects are going,” King told me regarding her focus for the new term. “The community needs smart growth. Yes, affordable housing is important, but it needs to be planned in a smart way and it needs to be presented to the community in a way that the community sees it as a benefit and not a burden.”
King pointed to the $80 million Wailuku Civic Complex project, which recently was appropriated $40 million, and the County’s interest in purchasing parts of Wailuku Water Company as large items she would like to revisit if appointed chair. She added that it feels like the projects are being jammed through when they warrant longer and more thoughtful discussion under the future council.
For the most part, King said, her “priority as chair is transparency and participation of all parties across the stakeholder groups.”
“I’d also like to see more professionalism and have the directors of the departments be people who are educated and experienced in the areas they are supposed to have oversight over, and also have a spirit of customer service so they know that they’re there to serve the community and not vice versa,” King told me. “Overall, most people that I know don’t feel like we have that right now with the current administration.”
Indeed, one of the other surprises of the night was Alan Arakawa’s trouncing at the hands of opponent Tasha Kama, a result that many saw as a referendum on Arakawa’s management and actions as mayor over the last eight years. Facing a loss, Arakawa was found by a KITV news reporter at Mike Victorino’s election night party, where he unloaded on candidate Elle Cochran, calling her an “idiot” on statewide TV in a disgraceful moment of tactlessness. The comment made Alice Lee’s calls for civility on the county council, harkening back to the good old days, seem laughable.
But in a couple of months, Arakawa will enter retirement (unless selected for a county position) and those ugly comments will be behind us. A new council and a new mayor will lie ahead for Maui County, a future of smart growth and mana wahine. And with the pressures of a egomaniacal wannabe-strongman at the helm of our country, this is a welcome change and check on the forces of development and commodification that are squeezing this island and its people and culture. This is a change that could not come any sooner.