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Elle Cochran wants to bring Hawaiian values to County Council

By Staff | Jul 30, 2009


WEST MAUI — On the Fourth of July, riding astride on the Democratic Party’s float in the Makawao Parade, Elle Cochran launched her campaign for the West Maui seat on the Maui County Council.

Facing the term limit, incumbent Councilwoman Jo Anne Johnson must vacate the seat next year.

Growing up on Maui, Cochran — a Native Hawaiian with English, Okinawan and Spanish ancestry — feels compelled to put her boundless energy into social and political action.

“I’m hoping to bring the Hawaiian value system into the decision-making process. Having recently come from Uncle Ed’s funeral (kupuna Ed Lindsey), the words he used — aloha, malama — come to mind. I think our decision-makers forget,” she said.

She feels that affordable housing, water and the economy are the most pressing issues Maui residents face.

“What do we need? We need food, shelter and clothing,” Cochran explained.

“It is a sin to me that we have people going hungry every day… that we have homeless schoolchildren here who are picked up by the side of the road or dropped off under a tree… This isn’t an answer. They need a place to go to get help, get back on their feet again. They need shelter… education, healthcare. No one should have to go hungry.”

As a leader for the Save Honolua Coalition and Maui Unite, and active member of FACE (Faith Action for Community Equity) and DIRE: Don’t Inject, Redirect, which seeks increased reclamation of treated wastewater at county sewage treatment plants, Cochran knows that following the issues and speaking at meetings has limited impact.

“Being involved with these nonprofit groups is not enough. I can only run around helping non-profits to some extent, because I am only one person. I want to be involved with the overarching issues… there is only so much testifying you can do. It is not enough to be part of these dozens of groups that are working so hard. I hope to be at a level where I can create positive solutions to these problems,” she explained.

Cochran feels Maui is too reliant on tourism and must improve self-sustainability.

“We rely too much on the outside. We have the means and resources here. We need to prioritize how we utilize these resources for food crops, sustainable energy,” she explained.

Cochran believes wider, less expensive access to land and water is key to pursuing affordable housing, community gardens and other needs. She would also like to see diversified organic farms like Kapalua Farms established on a much larger scale.

She feels the County Council too often acts to support special interests, not residents.

“Why can’t they appropriate money to help the community, instead of aiding the special interests, the offshore investing groups? That’s where the problem lies. The people who want to call Maui home can’t afford to live here,” Cochran commented.

“I definitely want to hear everybody’s ideas — corporate and the farmer next door. The question has got to be, ‘What is going to benefit the most people?’ ”

Since its decisions impact Maui and the island’s future, Cochran believes the council should be held accountable.

“Everyone wants jobs, but what kind of jobs are we creating? We want to create jobs that are not hurting our cultural resources, damaging our reefs with runoff. I think the County Council has to be accountable. Where is the water coming from? Is it coming from one part of the island and adversely affecting the other side? We need to look at the broader issues and see who gets approval for what,” she said.

The “Show Me the Water Bill” for developers proposing projects, eventual ban on supermarket plastic bags and earmarking funds to preserve Honolua Bay are among the council’s recent achievements, Cochran noted.

Seeing the success of the Save Honolua Coalition (a group Cochran spearheaded) in preserving the beloved bay and surrounding area from development, kupuna Gordon Cockett invited Cochran to join the board of directors for Maui Unite.

The organization strives to unite community groups to improve Maui for all residents, promote sustainable growth and support a “green economy.” Its slogan is HEA: hope, educate and action.

Cochran and Maui Unite discuss issues on a show on Akaku: Maui Community Television. Visit www.Akaku.org for details.

“Maui Unite wants to work together with other organizations, such as FACE… and the government,” she added.

Similar to Maui Unite, FACE is a group of 26 different churches, temples, synagogues, social service providers, union groups and environmental groups.

“That’s the beauty of this group (FACE),” she said. “We can all come from different backgrounds, different walks of life, but when we sit together, we put our heads together to solve the same issues. Right now the focus issue is affordable housing.”

FACE has also opened Cochran’s eyes to the issues of immigration and discrimination, and they are working on solutions with Mayor Charmaine Tavares.

“Immigration is an issue which never before touched my life… especially in West Maui, the Hispanics, who were in Catholic Church groups, and are thereby part of FACE, are facing discrimination; they are wrongfully mistreated,” she commented.

“I’ve been told they have been thrown together with illegal immigrants when they don’t have their papers with them, separated from their wives, their kids, shipped to Oahu and treated as guilty until proven innocent,” she continued.

“FACE sent me to Washington, D.C… I hand-delivered a letter addressed to President Obama regarding comprehensive immigration reform, signed by 50-plus clergy and bishops. I felt very privileged to do this kind of advocacy, as the letter was subsequently given to all members of Congress.”

Cochran, 44, is a part-time worker in the visitor industry. She and her husband, Wayne, live in Honolua Valley. For information on her campaign, visit www.ElectElle.com.

Elle grew up in Lahaina and remembers how different it was then. Neighborhoods were connected and safe.

“Being born and raised here, you want to malama… the land and the people. It is ingrained in you. I want to make decisions that are pono,” she concluded.