Change: we all seem to want it, but election results often reveal that the opposite is true. In some cases it’s the elected officials who, forgetful of campaign love poems, change little more than their business card inscriptions once in office. Then again, sometimes it’s the voters who, fearing the unknown, embrace the status quo regardless of how much it hurts them.
This year’s election will cut through the flashy, buzz word-laden banners and show us whether we have the guts to embrace real change. And you don’t have to look further than the local ballot to find candidates who shatter the mold.
East Maui County Council seat contender Lucienne DeNaie is one such candidate.
Currently chairperson of the Hawaii state chapter of the Sierra Club, De Naie’s background varies greatly from that of a typical political candidate. Unlike politicians who are groomed to hold office, DeNaie is seeking office from the other direction: activism.
“I’m just a grass roots person. I’m the typical citizen who isn’t satisfied with the level of service that government is [giving us],” DeNaie said. “An activist cuts through the B.S.”
DeNaie ran for the same seat in 2006, but came up 324 votes short in the four-candidate primary for this non-partisan seat. This year there she won’t be on the primary ballot, but instead will go straight through to face incumbent Bill Medeiros in November.
While DeNaie is relatively new to the election side of things, she is a veteran when it comes to Maui County politics. She has offered her expertise and incredible attention to detail on a variety of environmental issues on Maui, especially those pertaining to planning.
“I’ve been in court on water issues for the last ten years or so through various groups that I’m involved with,” she said. “I, for one, have paid attention to some of our municipal facilities, like our wastewater plants and our water treatment plants…things that people don’t think about.”
She said she pointed out a developer’s apparent attempt to set aside “protected” land that was already barred from development to a councilmember at a recent community meeting.
“Some of the decisions that are made by the council, they are not given the complete information; they are given the convenient version that benefits some who can make a lot of money,” DeNaie said. “You get good government when people get in there, are willing to listen to people, and are willing to dig out the facts and not just take the easy answers.”
DeNaie’s biggest challenge in winning the East Maui seat might be the fact that, unlike her opponent, she wasn’t born on Maui. Yet she has lived on-island full time for 23 years and has been a vocal advocate for environmental conservation, cultural preservation and other kanaka maoli values.
“I might have to work harder because I’m not from here to learn about some of the things that a person who was born and raised here may know about,” said DeNaie. “On the other hand, when is it bad to have a public servant want to work harder to hear from you?”
Having worked with the Sierra Club on getting the state to pass legislation pertaining to renewable energy, DeNaie said her familiarity with alternative energy would be key in the coming years, as Maui attempts to wean itself off of imported fuels.
“When someone comes up and talks about…net metering or leasing rooftops for solar energy, I’m going to know what they’re talking about,” she said.
The coming years may be challenging, she said, but with the right people asking the right questions, anything can be achieved.
“It’s really an exciting time ahead,” DeNaie said of the coming shift toward sustainability. “It’s scary when things get shaky, and when the old system doesn’t work as the status quo, there’s your chance to really bring in the new and create opportunities that didn’t exist before.”
DeNaie sees economic opportunity as a major issue for her district and said that she believes green tech jobs can help fill some of the holes in the local job market.
“We’re going to need some tech solutions and we’re going to need some social engineering,” DeNaie said. “We need to retrain folks for the job market that clean, green energy jobs could create.”
The relationship between environment and economy seems to play heavily into DeNaie’s politics, but she says her environmental advocacy won’t keep her from listening to all sides of an issue.
“As a person who is setting policy and creating laws…I like to listen to both sides,” she said. “I like to look at what the merit is to both sides.” MTW