West Maui council candidates meet voters at community forum
LAHAINA — There were no surprises or fireworks between the candidates as more than 50 interested voters turned out for the West Maui Taxpayers Association’s Candidates’ Night on Aug. 15 at the Maui Theatre.
Residents gathered on a warm Sunday evening to hear from five of the seven candidates running for the West Maui council seat being vacated by Jo Anne Johnson, who has reached her term limits under the Maui County Charter.
The candidates who attended the forum were Eve Clute, Elle Cochran, Zeke Kalua, Ke‘eaumoku Kapu and Paul Laub. Su Campos and Alan Fukuyama did not attend.
The evening began at 4:30 p.m. with an opportunity for candidates to talk one-on-one with attendees in a meet and greet format. Following these informal chats, the candidates participated in an hour-long forum presentation.
Each candidate was given ten minutes to talk, followed by questions from the audience. Alaka‘i Paleka of radio station KPOA moderated the forum and gently-but-firmly kept it all moving along.
First up was Eve Clute. She began with her view that the big issue on Maui is jobs. There would be little disagreement on this from most of the other candidates.
Clute also wants to “take that smell away” from West Maui’s sewage treatment plant. She supports improving the treatment of wastewater, and commented that the use of injection wells causes infections and makes people sick when the wastewater reaches the ocean.
Clute was cautious when responding to a question from the audience about her views on speeding up the permit process at the county.
She asked, “Do you really want all those permits to go through?” Clute added that she supports Maui jobs for Maui workers.
Cochran took her place on the stage and began by saying that she hopes for better voter turnout this year, as well as more new voters taking part in the process.
She told the audience that she wants to stop the process of people having to leave Maui to find work elsewhere.
“We can become the role model to the world,” Cochran said. “Look back to the way it used to be and add to it our modern technology.”
Cochran supports urban growth boundaries and the Smart Growth principles that she sees in the proposed Maui General Plan now before the County Council.
“I don’t want to see development wall-to-wall,” she said. Her emphasis on housing is to build affordable rentals and workforce housing.
She spoke in favor of district voting but wanted to look at how it would be done. She doesn’t think it’s fair to combine Molokai with Maui.
In his campaign literature, Zeke Kalua likes to refer to his strength and to his experience. He delivered that same message at the forum, referring to his experience working in the administration of former Mayor Alan Arakawa and to his ability to interact with the County Council on various issues affecting West Maui.
Kalua supports the West Maui Hospital and Medical Center and sees it as part of a larger effort to diversify Maui’s economy. In his view, the hospital would first support construction jobs and then contribute to jobs outside of the visitor industry.
He supports an increase in mass transit for Maui but does not want to see a large increase in bus fares.
Questions from the audience covered the length of council terms and a six-year mayoral term of office. Kalua supports council terms going from two to four years and agrees with a six-year, one-term limit for the mayor.
In response to a question about changing the way Maui calculates property taxes to guarantee a set rate each year, and to have homes reappraised only after a sale, Kalua said, “It sounds a lot like California’s Proposition 13, and we don’t have a population base large enough. It would be difficult to incorporate.”
Ke‘eaumoku Kapu walked from his chair to the center of the Maui Theatre stage and delivered a strong message to the mostly middle-aged audience.
“The character of Lahaina is in jeopardy,” he told them. “We need advisors who can advise for the people and not for corporations. It’s genocidal for me and for the people of Hawaii.”
“Deceit is being represented by the current council,” he said. “Each member has a separate agenda.”
If elected, Kapu said he would “bring spiritual cleansing back into our lives and incorporate more traditional values into our lives.”
Looking to the future and younger generations, Kapu told the audience that the environment and ocean are suffering, and if we don’t fix problems right away — including current county polices impacting land and water — “it will affect your kids and my kids.”
The forum’s final candidate presentation was from businessman Paul Laub, who has made over-regulation of Maui businesses a key issue in his campaign. Laub views this policy as having a direct and negative effect on the ability of Maui businesses — including home-based businesses — to create needed jobs in a down economy.
He cited specific ideas and policies that he supports as a candidate, including generating power from the methane gas burned off at the Central Maui Landfill; taking still useful items out of the refuse stream, such as rugs and furniture, and selling them to the public; banning fishing in areas until fish stocks have recovered; and prohibiting the taking of fish for aquariums.
Supporting a strong diversified economy with a role for home-based businesses, Laub said, “We want our kids here, we want our grand kids here — that’s what we are all about.”
Paleka ended the evening on a positive note by asking each candidate to tell her what is right with Maui.
The responses ranged from strong support for Maui Economic Opportunity (MEO) to services for the elderly, disabled and youth.
A big winner was community involvement and the democratic process on Maui. The candidates present at the forum endorsed that process by offering their views for voters in the days and weeks ahead.