My first term in office is nearing the end, and as I look back at the wide range of topics that were discussed, voted on and adopted, I consider these first two years to have been very productive to say the least.
In the last two years, I have gone on numerous site inspections of public and private facilities countywide to see how they work and where our budget funding would best be utilized, as well as many nonprofit organizations to see how our taxpayers' dollars are put to work and to better understand the challenges that surround Maui County citizens. Each and every one of these tours has given me firsthand knowledge for making informed decisions and have helped me to prioritize and focus my efforts.
In my Infrastructure Management Committee, we continued the water recycling and conservation movement; completed a bill relating to development on steep terrain, putting some protection in place to prevent negligent development while taking into consideration existing properties and human lives down-slope; reversed the traffic flow on Luakini Street; and kept focus with the curbside recycling pilot program. We had the much-anticipated groundbreaking for the new skate park in West Maui, where I was proud to be with my fellow colleagues showing our support of a legal place to skateboard for our younger generation.
In the past two budget sessions, I was able to support a lot of positive funding decisions for West Maui. During the first budget session of this term, I proposed that money be set aside to upgrade and expand our county's reclaimed water infrastructure to aid in the phasing out of injection wells. This budget session, West Maui received the highest amount of funding for capital improvement projects (by district) with a total of $23.9 million, with much focus going towards much-needed West Maui sewer improvements, to our recycled water system expansion and for water supply source improvements.
Other important appropriations included contributing to the land acquisition of Lipoa Point, Honolua; securing a grant for the land acquisition of .217 acres in Honolua; allocating funding for Lahaina Watershed flood control and Lower Honoapiilani Road improvements; creating three new firefighter positions for West Maui; improving lighting for our parks and fields; putting money towards affordable housing projects in West Maui, water supply source improvements and much-needed bus stops and shelters countywide; and funding for Kahana Canoe Club to facilitate and organize the Maui Nui Canoe Race (which is sure to bring international attention to Maui, Molokai and Lanai).
I was also able to meet with several community groups regarding important issues for West Maui and worked closely with the administration towards better improving some pertinent concerns for our residents.
Now, election season is upon us. While we all watch the presidential and vice presidential debates with peaked interest, it is critical to recognize that our local political races are equally important. The decisions that are made right here at home affect your day-to-day lives and shape the Maui County that you know and love.
It is up to the voters of Maui County to place the correct leaders in office that will represent the values and needs of their community-at-large, rather than the special interest groups and lobbyists that seem to influence the local politics of today.
I have heard the argument many times that voting does not matter and that community voices are not considered or heard, regardless of whom is in office. This mindset could not be further from the truth.
Maui County residents that decide against voting are hurting more than just themselves; they take away from the many voices that would stand with them, if only they had the opportunity. By forfeiting your voice from the discussion, you create a self-fulfilling prophecy: if you do not vote, you do not have a say. That is the reality.
I was recently interviewed by CNN.com for a story they are running on voter turnout in Hawaii. I was already aware that Hawaii as a state is at the bottom of the nationwide voter turnout ranking. In the final primary election returns, it showed that approximately 42 percent of the state's registered voters cast ballots. (That is 290,653 out of 687,500 registered voters.)
Sadly, in the same election, Maui County's numbers were the lowest in the state with a 30.6 percent turnout (25,702 out of 84,042 registered voters). I was most shocked to hear that West Maui had the lowest voter turnout for Maui County and has one of the lowest voter turnout rates in the country with only 12.9 percent of registered voters casting ballots. (That is 1,696 out of 13,254 registered voters.)
When I was asked why I think that is, I was hard-pressed to come up with a reason. Voters now have the option to register to vote with permanent absentee ballots (which allows the ballot to be sent directly to and from private residences) and to vote at their dining room tables, in the comfort of their homes. What was once considered a hassle to some has now been made quite manageable and user-friendly.
Turnout figures do show that absentee voting has become more popular. A little less than half of all ballots (48.7 percent) were cast before Election Day in the 2012 Primary Election.
I really hope that Maui County - and West Maui in particular - recognize how important your voice really is and that your involvement matters even more. I urge you all to register to vote and cast your ballot on Election Day on Nov. 6, 2012.