Maui County elections, despite having eliminated political party designations for county positions, remain sharply divided by political ideologies.
Arguably more so now, just with different labels.
Today, the political lines are drawn between the Maui Ohana and Hui O Maui Citizens for Change coalitions. Upstarts versus old guard. Environmentalists versus development. The more things change on Maui, the more they don’t.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the battles that have been raging in the Letters to the Editor sections of The Maui News.
Long-time Hana resident Joe Pacheco, who might be looked at as “a good ole boy,” wrote recently, “Local folks need to stop listening to Mark Sheehan, the Ohana coalition and Maui Tomorrow.
“Do the opposite of what he says! Don’t vote for any Ohana candidates. Vote opposite!
“I’m voting for everyone running against their council candidates. Make sure you vote for Tom Cook, Rick Nava, Claire Carroll, Alberta deJetley, Stacy Crivello, Tasha Kama, Yuki Lei Sugimura and Alice Lee,” Pacheco urged.
“The Ohana candidates kill housing projects! They take funds and give them to their organic friends! They don’t want the hotels to open up because that way tourism dies and we all have to live on a hippie commune!”
Political will has been changing dramatically, though. Half of the council candidates considered establishment took a beating during the last election two years ago. Although long-time councilman Mike Victorino won his mayoral race against Ohana candidate Elle Cochran, Ohana candidates Keani Rawlins-Fernandez won Molokai, Shane Sinenci won East Maui, Tamara Paltin won Lahaina, Tasha Kama won Kahului and Kelly King won Kihei.
This time around, the Ohana incumbents are joined by Gabe Johnson, who narrowly lost last time to well-known Riki Hokama of Lanai, who termed out this time around. He’ll face deJetley.
Mike Molina, a veteran councilmember who dropped out of contention last election, has joined up with the Ohana to vie for Makawao-Haiku-Paia and Carol Lee Kamekona is now in contention with Kama, who joined the other faction.
Incumbent Alice Lee was uncontested for Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu, as was incumbent Yuku Lei Sugimura for Pukalani-Kula-Ulupalakua.
The current alignment had its beginnings with the successful GMO moratorium voter initiative in 2014. Candidates who would become aligned with Ohana for the 2016 races, were then identified as Vote YES, according to John Fitzpatrick, who lost his race in 2014 to incumbent Don Couch for the South Maui council seat.
Although Fitzpatrick has not run since, he has remained politically active and has campaigned for several Ohana candidates. Of his defeat in his election debut, the Maui Waena Intermediate seventh grade teacher and University of Hawaii Maui lecturer said, “It’s so hard going against entrenchment.”
A self-described progressive, Fitzpatrick said an attitude such as that of Joe Pacheco “is just so sad.”
“He won’t see what my generation will see,” he said.
With no preventative measures, sea levels will continue to rise, and reefs will continue to die, Fitzpatrick lamented. And he has some academic credentials to make that statement. With a master of science degree from University of Hawaii Manoa, he has taught oceanography, environmental ecology and marine biology.
“It reminds me of The Lorax,” he mused. “They just keeping chopping on the tree until it’s just a stump.”
While the Ohana candidates can be described as environmentalists, Fitzpatrick maintained that his colleagues are not anti-growth, anti-development. “In fact, truly affordable housing is badly needed; for teachers, firefighters, police, nurses – the working class.”
“But whatever is approved must not affect the environment.”
He contributed a letter to the editor, too.
“Please continue to vote for the next generation of leaders in Hawai’i and not go back to the councils of the past that promised affordable housing but failed to deliver,” Fitzpatrick wrote.
Affordable housing is an issue embraced by the Hui O Maui candidates as well. According to a flyer for the coalition, “We need a county council that supports affordable housing projects by reducing regulations that delay permitting and land use approvals, removing barriers to developing needed infrastructure and introducing incentives for developers to build long-term rentals and for-sale units for our residents.”
The last election gave the Ohana coalition the clout needed to assume leadership of the County Council. Kelly King, the council member representing Kihei, became council chair.
However, after somewhat bitter internecine backbiting within the council, The Maui News reported in December, “Council Member Kelly King said Friday that she will step down as chairwoman of the council to lead a new committee on climate change.”
The story went on to note, “A change in leadership midway through a council term is unprecedented, according to longtime politicians and members of the media.”
One of those “longtime politicians,” Alice Lee, would assume the council chair.
Alan Arakawa, former mayor (2002, 2011 and 2014) and council member (1994, 1996 and 2000), said of the Hui O Maui candidates, “Institutional memory is very important.”
Arakawa explained that most of them have been here long enough to know why many of the policies and laws were enacted in the first place. “They know what the discussions were.”
The former mayor believes that the Hui candidates, who are more fiscally conservative, have more of the mindset that is necessary if the county is to recover economically from the loss of tourism brought about by the pandemic.
Arakawa predicted that the county would “probably lose 25% or more of our income base.” If his prediction is accurate, the council will need to keep a tight lid on the budget. The incumbents have demonstrated that they are willing to spend only what the county can afford.
He said affordable housing is a priority for the Hui candidates as well. The former mayor pointed out that Hui candidates have included in their platform reducing regulations that boost costs via unnecessary delays.
Long-time residency on Maui provides Hui O Maui candidates the knowledge to act practically and vote the community’s best interests, he said. Issues such as environmental protection are important to them, but tempered with what will work in the long run.
“To me, the difference is reality versus rhetoric.”
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