Primary elections are fun. They give voters choices and are a relief from having to pick between the lesser of two evils. Who knows who will show up in the open field for an attempt to take a crack at public service? A “water peace pipe” builder, community organizers, and nonprofit and business executives all found their way into the races this year. Even “symbolic” candidates, who mysteriously appear in the running to push a single idea or perspective, have a role to play in primary season. They can share a vision (however fringe it may be) or shift mainstream candidates stances as their views become a part of discussion and debate.
This year, with the belief that getting to know all candidates is a good thing, MauiTime embarked on a new project: Walk Story. We invited all candidates to meet us on Market Street in Wailuku Town and go for a short walk, where we could talk story about their backgrounds and priorities. All Walk Stories were recorded in one take, and gave us a unique view into the candidates as people, which we used along with other sources and ongoing, in-office discussions to determine our endorsements for political office.
There are a lot of issues facing Maui and Hawai‘i these days, as interests of development, culture, natural resources, and quality of life constantly quarrel for balance. In this climate, we based our endorsements on our belief in these candidates’ vision and ability to chart the right course into the future. Hopefully our endorsements will help you make an informed decision in the voting booth.
You know what they say: “No vote, no grumble.”
For our endorsement, this race is between Elle Cochran and Don Guzman. Victorino, while being the candidate you’d probably most like to show up at your kid’s baseball game, has said things like, “I take money from everybody,” which is concerning to anyone who considers that money comes with strings attached. As far as we can tell, Mike’s vision is simply to bring in as much money as possible to Maui – and it shows, if you look at his campaign financing and the amount of funds coming from off-island.
We want an alternative to sprawling development and business as usual, and we believe that Elle Cochran is the most vocal and committed proponent towards advancing the causes of cultural preservation and environmental legislation. Guzman, while undoubtedly a skilled legislator with well-thought ideas that we appreciate, positions himself as compromising during a time when the needs of our community and environment require a strong conviction. Elle Cochran is clear-voiced in prioritizing preservation of cultural resources (like iwi kupuna in the Central Maui Inland Sand), managing the costs of the tourism industry, growing affordable housing for residents, and caring for the ‘aina. Our greatest reservation is that we have yet to see her leadership and administrative ability in an executive position such as the mayor’s. However, because we believe in her vision for Maui and the importance of keeping culture, nature, and tourism management at the front of the political conversation, our vote goes to Elle Cochran for mayor.
Tasha Kama, who is running against Mayor Alan Arakawa, is in a tough race. Arakawa has served for multiple terms as both a councilmember and mayor, and has decades of name recognition behind him. This, in part, is why our endorsement goes to Kama: We think it’s time for a change.
Arakawa has collected his share of criticism over the years he has been in office, but some things stand out in recent history that are strikes against him: his support and allocation of $40 million this year as the first half of a Wailuku Civic Center (he first proposed $80 million), reports that he has not worked well with other councilmembers, and clumsy, top-down management (like the countywide email purge, the demolition of the old Wailuku Post Office Building, and the movement of “sacred rocks” in Iao Valley, to name a few).
Kama, on the other hand, presents herself as a humble servant who has experience in multiple roles as a community organizer. She prioritizes the need to bring parties to the table and talk story about issues to find a solution, and recognizes the need for the council to listen to each other, the people, and relevant experts. We need representatives who will listen to the community to ensure they have a voice on the council, and we have hope in Kama’s ability to do this.
Trinette Furtado is an activist and a fresh voice running on a platform of putting people before politics. While Mike Molina deserves credit for introducing the plastic bag ban years ago, Trinette has shown that she has been looking at the larger picture and thought about ways to enact change during her time working for Councilmember Alika Atay. She has boldly discussed taking steps to incentivize developers while holding them accountable, addressing the burdens of growing tourism, and using taxes to ensure that the costs of visitors don’t unfairly damage the quality of life for residents.
Furtado has also elaborated on the need to examine the budget carefully to ensure that there isn’t any duplicate or wasteful spending, and that government resources are spent wisely. In his interview, Mike Molina himself admitted to us that he’s not the best with numbers and backed off from making a statement about whether he would support tiered property tax rates in a progressive manner (like Arakawa proposed, where median properties would see no changes, lower priced would see reductions, properties priced greater than $1.5 million would see increases). Scrapping this source of income cost the county $331 million. We want representatives who will boldly support the community, so we endorse Trinette Furtado.
This is another race that comes down to vision. By our measure, Stacy Crivello, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez’s opponent and the incumbent for this seat, has done a fine job as a councilmember. However, in discussing the county, we believe that Keani has the intelligence, skill, and vision to advocate for smart and positive ordinances in Maui County. Crivello, on the other hand, said that the budget was balanced “awesomely” – something we disagree with.
Keani has worked with the Hawaii Center for Food Safety, Councilmember Elle Cochran, and State Rep. Jarrett Keohokalole. She’s studied environmental law, Native Hawaiian Law, and business administration, so we believe in her ability to legislate and work within the council framework. Further, Rawlins-Fernandez highlights issues that matter. In her Walk Story, Keani talked about bringing video chat to working, isolated, and immobile people to encourage their engagement in local government. She also brought attention to the need to preserve the subsistence economy on Moloka‘i. These are both conversations we’d love to have, and Keani is a candidate that we’d love to hear more from.
Councilmember (West Maui)
Paltin is a longtime activist and Maui County lifeguard. She took her love for Maui, the ocean, and the environment and applied it to a community cause, The Save Honolua Coalition. Her passion took her from an average county worker, to someone who questioned how decisions were made, to a community member actively participating and testifying in County Council meetings. Now she is running for office to champion the cause of “preserving the land and making it healthy.” These kinds of inspiring stories of everyday people stepping up to make a difference, prioritizing the health of the land over corporate development, are what we want in our County Council.
U.S. Representative, Dist. II
Sherry Alu Campagna
While we support many of the incumbent Representative Tulsi Gabbard’s views regarding issues such as campaign finance reform, reigning in U.S. interventionism, criminal justice reform, and rescheduling cannabis, we find her refusal to debate in a public forum indefensible, especially when you consider that she strongly advocated for more debates between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during 2015-2016. Hawai‘i outside urban Oahu and Honolulu (aka Congressional District II) has long been concerned with ensuring that they have a voice in government, and we deserve a representative that is accountable to the people and unafraid to take live, unscreened questions.
Sherry Alu Campagna has demonstrated herself to be capable, with a background and reputation that should not be written off. She is an environmental scientist and a progressive serving as a commissioner on the Hawai‘i Commission on the Status of Women. She has reaffirmed her commitment to representing the people of Congressional District II without the ulterior motives for political gain that are attributed to Rep. Gabbard for regularly taking the limelight on issues not generally within the realm of a U.S. Rep. Ultimately, we believe that Campagna would continue to advance progressive goals within the U.S. House of Representatives while being more accountable and responsive to the people she represents.
We like David Ige’s policy. He supports a living wage, brought air conditioning to schools, gave us medical cannabis dispensaries, signed a chlorpyrifos and oxybenzone ban into law last year, and his “Sustainable Hawai‘i Initiative” is the kind of thinking that puts Hawai‘i on the map as a leader in environmental stewardship. However, the role of governor is not just about policy. It is also about leadership.
We remember the terror we endured on Jan. 13 after emergency alerts told us a ballistic missile was headed towards the islands. Ige knew the alert was a false alarm two minutes after it went out, but it took him 17 minutes to clear up the mistake on Twitter. It took another six minutes for an update to post on Facebook, and the correction on the emergency broadcast system appeared 38 minutes after the mistake. When officials finally appeared on TV, Ige was absent and the response from the Hawai‘i Emergency Management Agency showed a lack of accountability that was later revealed to be prevalent in the department.
The mismanagement of this mistake is egregious, and in our interview Ige indicated that he still depends on staff to manage his Twitter account. This all makes us question the governor’s ability as an executive to act swiftly in emergencies to keep residents safe. We also question his leadership when it comes to other issues, like the constantly ballooning cost of Honolulu Rail (that Maui’s Transient Accommodations Tax funds help pay for) and a need to bring parties to the table to actively seek solutions regarding the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea.
As state senate president, Hanabusa worked on the Hawai‘i Clean Energy Initiative, which set the goal for 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, and in her role as congresswoman she has a record of advocating for the environment and public lands. While we will watch her militarism closely, we believe that she will be able to continue the progressive work of Governor Ige, while being a strong leader that works to restore public trust in government.
Kim Coco Iwamoto
As far as we can tell, the office of the Lieutenant Governor is largely symbolic and what the individual in office makes of it. Kim Coco Iwamoto is running on a platform of social justice that is greatly needed at a time when the culture of the federal government marginalizes minority groups. Iwamoto has demonstrated that she prioritizes applying progressive solutions to the causes of living wages, affordable housing, education, and the environment. Significantly, she is willing to say definitively that “one job should be enough” and that pre-K through graduate school education should be publicly funded.
We have reservations about the long political careers and establishment backgrounds of both frontrunning Democratic governor candidates, and we believe that Kim Coco will be the best balance as Lt. Governor to ensure that bold progressive ideals and social justice remain in the conversation and are extended to the public as solutions worth fighting for.
If, for some reason, you are still voting Republican after all that has transpired since the 2016 election, we’ll give you our two cents: Tupola is a better option than John Carroll. While her use of “housing creator” right-wing rhetoric to protect wealthy mainland interests are enough to steer us away from the Republican ballot, we think she would do better work for the community than John Carroll. Carroll’s ideas in a recent Civil Beat interview would cause a $3.24 billion loss in revenue which he declines to explain. We need less of this kind of magical thinking in government. Tupola, at least, has a strong record of service that she has done in recent years as a state rep. She affirms that she would go against the party and that her identification as a Republican is about less government and greater community autonomy, which we can understand, at least in theory.
State Senator, Dist. 6 (South and West Maui)
In 2016, Roz Baker received Honolulu Civil Beat’s unflattering distinction of being listed as one of the top 10 candidates who received the most contributions from lobbyists. We have concerns about Baker’s time in office and links between her legislation and financial support she has received from Alexander & Baldwin and the agrochemical seed industry.
While the historic chlorpyrifos ban passed this year, it was stripped of a number of provisions that would have required notification of spraying (not just disclosure) and buffer zones for sensitive areas in addition to schools. These amendments which weakened the bill, like other attempts at GMO labeling and regulation, can be traced to Baker’s Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health. Further, in 2016, Roz voted yes on a bill to permit A&B to continue to divert water from East Maui streams.
For these reasons, we think it is time to endorse someone new for this office like Terez Amato. Amato has long advocated for transparency and accountability in politics, opposing backroom decision-making and corporate lobbying influence. She is consistent in her message to prioritize health, environment, and true representation at the legislature – priorities we share.
State Senator, Dist. 7 (Hana, East and Upcountry Maui, Moloka‘i, Lana‘i, Kaho‘olawe)
J. Kalani English
English is an experienced legislator who currently serves as senate majority leader. It’s significant that Maui retains an experienced politician at the legislature in a leadership position who has a strong understanding of the culture of the district he represents. His legislative record is solid, showing continued efforts to address kupuna care, education, and climate change. His challenger, Michael Tengan, is someone we would like to see more in the future, but presently we don’t think he has the experience and background that warrant ousting an incumbent who we see as a consistent and effective legislator.
State Representative, Dist. 8 (Kahakuloa, Waihe‘e, Waiehu, Puuohala, Wailuku, Waikapu)
We like all the candidates we walked story with, Hashimoto, Hughey, and Wagner, but Justin Hughey came across as the most focused candidate to aggressively push issues that we think are of tremendous importance. Hashimoto is a young, energetic appointee, but we worry that as Joe Souki’s replacement and longtime political insider he represents politics as usual. Mary Wagner proposes good policy, but we are not as convinced that her background with MPD and Maui County’s IT department give her the perspective we hope to see in a state rep.
Hughey, on the other hand, speaks from the background of a working class teacher, HSTA union officer, and recipient of a Na Hale O Maui affordable home. We appreciate that in his interview he was able to specifically indicate the need for dedicated funding streams to ensure that our keiki receive quality education, and bravely discussed taxing luxury investment homes to offset the burdens on residents. Hughey also addressed the teacher shortage by emphasizing a need to retain, train, and provide opportunities for locals who want to teach. Education and opportunities for youth are vital for our future, and we value this opportunity to put a teacher like Justin in the house.
State Representative, Dist. 9 (Kahului, Pu‘unene, Old Sand Hills, Maui Lani)
Between Batangan and Justin Woodson (who did not respond to requests for an interview), we endorse Batangan. Kauanoe is a thoughtful and experienced candidate with ties to the community that we hope will make him an effective representative for District 9. Woodson is an appointee who has not done enough to show conviction in a vision (aside from taking a stand to oppose same-sex marriage back in 2013), despite years of being in the legislature. We would like to see more effective representation and legislation, and think a vote for Batangan moves Maui in this direction.
State Representative, Dist. 11 (Kihei, Wailea, Makena)
The race for Kaniela Ing’s seat pits Tina Wildberger against longtime political player Don Couch and newcomer Lee Myrick. We like both Couch and Myrick, but again it comes down to our perception of strength of conviction in a vision that we believe in. In our interviews, Tina Wildberger showed the greatest grasp of political trends and the possibilities to address these within a local context.
Wildberger has a background including fighting for clean air, providing a $15 minimum wage in her small business, and community organizing that gives us an idea of the types of legislation she would work on in the legislature. Tina identifies as a progressive democratic socialist, a political group gaining members in the U.S. who believe that the richest country in the world should be able to provide for the basic needs of its people. At this point in history, we believe that we need more representatives with these values.
State Representative, Dist. 12 (Spreckelsville, Pukalani, Makawao, Kula, Keokea, Ulupalakua, Kahului)
Since sign-waving technique did not factor into our endorsements, we back Tiare Lawrence. Lawrence has strong community support and ties that show she would bring effective representation to the people of her district. She has worked hard to stand up to corporate special interests, fighting consistently to ensure that pesticide regulation gets passed to protect our keiki. Her opponent, incumbent Kyle Yamashita (who did not respond to a request for an interview), has been in the house since 2005 for a lackluster career as a representative, where he notably co-introduced HB 2501, the bill to permit A&B to divert East Maui water.
In her Walk Story, Lawrence said, “We need to get some of those lands back into the hands of the public so that we can create these new sustainable economic opportunities for the people of Maui.” We agree.
State Representative, Dist. 13 (Ha‘iku, Hana, Kaupo, Kipahulu, Nahiku, Pa‘ia, Kaho‘olawe, Lana‘i, Moloka‘i, Molokini)
Lynn DeCoite is running against John-Bull English, a political newcomer who has earned publicity for his upcycled campaign signs. We love the aesthetic, but don’t see enough of a reason in his background or vision to upset the incumbent Lynn DeCoite. DeCoite is a smart representative with ties to the community who has consistently supported education, local agricultural production, funding to her district, and cannabis legalization. We would like to see her continue this work.
Early voting is available until August 9. Primary Election Day will be on August 11 from 7am to 6pm. Visit elections.hawaii.gov to learn more.