Keokea resident Todd Craine took over as chairman of the Maui County Democratic Party in May. Though Craine has considerable party experience on Maui, he’s still very much a rookie chairman. And as usual, his party is in perpetual conflict—progressives and environmentalists on one side, labor unions and land developers on the other. On Aug. 19, Craine stopped by the MauiTime office to chat about local politics, the 2012 election and the work required to get even his own party faithful organized.
MAUITIME: So you’ve been chairing the county Democratic Party since May. What’s your biggest goal?
TODD CRAINE: Organization. It’s a really sleepy off-season. We need to get organized. At the executive committee meeting last week things were so bad I finally said that grass roots members can just stay home and yell into a fan.
MT: Why is this so difficult?
CRAINE: A lot of people are unhappy with what’s going on. There are a lot of different factions in the party. Maybe we all didn’t get what we wanted from Barack Obama or Neil Abercrombie. I understand the economy is pretty ravaged. Every governor in the nation has a rough job now. I wouldn’t give Abercrombie’s job to a monkey on a rock.
MT: The Republican Party has its squabbles, too.
CRAINE: I think that the alternatives to Barack in the Republican Party are frightening. They are also very organized. It’s time for us to get organized.
MT: Why do the Republicans scare you?
CRAINE: The Tea Party is holding Republicans, and the nation, hostage. They’re tearing it all down. There are over a thousand right-to-work [anti-organized labor] pieces of legislation right now nationwide. They have a vendetta against Barack Obama. There’s no intention to compromise. they showed us during the fight over the debt ceiling: they are willing to drive us right over a cliff with their crazy principles. I don’t see any form of compromise. It’s a lynching. They want to see him destroyed, and they want to kill his health plan.
MT: So how do you combat that?
CRAINE: One of my hot buttons is voter registration. I especially want more Native Hawaiians.
That’s traditionally a demographic held by the Republican Party in Hawaii.
MT: How do you change that?
CRAINE: We need to be championing the cause of Native Hawaiians.We need to support the recognition of Native Hawaiians. But I’m not certain how to engage Native Hawaiians, how to get them to come into the process. Maybe when they get self determination this will happen, but they need to get involved.
MT: Speaking of getting involved, there’s long been a schism between labor and environmentalists, both in terms of the Democratic Party as a whole and the organization here on Maui. Now you’re a union guy yourself—a waiter, in fact. How’s it going?
CRAINE: I need to see party unity. When I came in there was a sense of a rift between unions and progressives. I made it clear to the union guys that we need to come together. I told them to save their heat for the big fight. I’m an ILWU [International Longshore and Warehouse Union] guy who came out of a green place. I came out of Humboldt County, California. I consider myself a fairly liberal guy, but I was brought up to support labor unions. I’m also just finishing up work to start teaching special ed. I have a personal interest in improving public education. I personally believe NCLB [No Child Left Behind] should be repealed. It’s an unfunded mandate. And I just saw last week that Hawaii scored rather highly in math, but lower in reading and writing.
MT: That’s all a tall order.
CRAINE: It’s clear we need to support Neil [Abercrombie]’s New Day Plan, and that means Big Wind, too. It’s clear we need to get off Big Oil. It’s been predicted by Goldman Sachs that oil will soon go for $200 a barrel. But even if they get Big Wind [an extensive network of windmills] off the ground, we’re still behind schedule.
MT: None of this sounds easy. Ever feel like you’re in over your head?
CRAINE: We hold events that cost $500, $1,000 a seat. I can’t afford that—I’m a teacher now! But if I was waiting tables a few years ago at the Grand Wailea and now I’m the Democratic Party Chair, then anyone has a future and a voice and can get involved in politics.