County Council candidate profile: Don Couch
Kihei residents Don Couch, Wayne Nishiki (incumbent) and Norman Vares are running for the South Maui seat on the Maui County Council.
To inform voters before the Sept. 18 Primary Election, the Lahaina News and Maui Weekly sent questionnaires to council and mayoral candidates.
Couch’s responses are listed below. Vares did not reply.
Don Couch, 54
OCCUPATION: Information Technology Manager
EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND: Long Beach Community College, Boise State University
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Former chair of the Maui County Board of Ethics; former president (current treasurer) of The Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui; board member of Kihei Community Association; board vice-chair of Akaku: Maui Community Television; board member of Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development Council
POLITICAL EXPERIENCE: Former executive assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa; former deputy director of Maui County Planning Department
WHY ARE YOU RUNNING?
I am running because our community needs leadership that does not come attached to a preconceived agenda. We need leadership that comes at our problems with an open mind and common sense. We need leadership that recognizes that our community is hurting, and the number one priority of many voters is a paycheck, making the mortgage payment and putting food on the table. I am running because I have spent 20 years in service to our community, as a volunteer as the chairman of the County Board of Ethics; as a public official, as executive assistant to Mayor Arakawa and as deputy planning director; and as a media commentator on public access television and radio. I know the issues, think I know some of the answers, but I am open to hear from all points of view before I make my mind up.
HOW CAN MAUI COUNTY DIVERSIFY ITS ECONOMY,
SUPPORT SMALL BUSINESSES AND CREATE JOBS?
Diversification has been the Holy Grail for every Maui politician for the last 60 years. Tourism was a diversification move. So was high-tech. Agriculture has slipped so badly that it is no longer one of our chief economic drivers. We need to work to restore its role in our economy. But before we can restore agriculture, build affordable homes or create diversified jobs for our kids, we first must develop new water sources. While conservation is a good thing in and of itself, conservation will not allow us to meet the need that our projected future growth will require. We need to bite the bullet and invest in new water sources. As for small business, government simply needs to get out of the way. We have too many rules that have nothing to do with health and safety. We have zoning inspectors closing down inoffensive barbers who cut hair at home. That has to stop.
WHAT ARE THE THREE KEY ISSUES IN THE 2010 ELECTIONS,
AND HOW WOULD YOU ATTACK THEM?
Job One is finding and developing new water sources. Attached to that is the restoration of our economy and getting people back to work. That requires a change in philosophy: government should exist to serve the community, including small businesses, and not the other way around. Government must recognize that without business, there are no jobs. And I am running because the voters want to have an open government — one where the doors are open and they are invited in — and where the South Maui council member will meet with everyone, not just his select friends.
WHY SHOULD VOTERS CHOOSE YOU?
If you listen to the incumbent council member and me talk about “issues,” we will sound remarkably alike: water and jobs. The difference is one of approach and style. He has refused to meet with members of the public he disagrees with. He comes with a preconceived anti-growth, stop-development-at-all-costs agenda. I believe in balance. We must defend our fragile, unique environment. But we also have to have an economy — people have to work. I believe in common sense. When we are losing small businesses by the drove, we can’t be also persecuting them with inane, poorly written rules that seem designed to make them fail. And I believe in being sober and honest about this work. I will not lie to you. I will hear your point, even if we do not agree. And I will tell you honestly why I don’t agree with you, if it comes to that. I also promise to abide by the County Code of Ethics and not hide critical facts. Conversely, I think the voters should understand that Mr. Nishiki did lie to them about his relationship with big developers in the last election. That, too, is an important fact. I am running in large part to give the voters a choice. With Mr. Nishiki, they get a crafty politician with questionable morals. His flag flies upside down because he only sees the negatives. My flag flies right side up, because I see what a great community we already have, and what a great base we have to build an even better community. I have the utmost respect for the other competitor for this seat, Mr. Vares. He is an honest and capable citizen. The main difference between us is that I know this job. I can hit the ground running.
WHAT ARE THE TOP PRIORITIES IN YOUR DISTRICT?
South Maui’s top issue is the same as the rest of the island: water supply. We must find new water sources, and where possible and economically practical, we must also learn how to use our treated wastewater to create a new water source. The Kihei community has been begging for the facilities to make it a truly walkable, bike-able community for the last 20 years, and Maui County has steadfastly ignored those pleas. Now there is abundant evidence that a walkable community is a healthier community. The community has had the vision and the county the blinders. As the South Maui council member, I will see that the Kihei Greenway is finally initiated and built, even if we have to use county funds to do it. A third South Maui issue has to be protecting our reefs. As a waterman, I know that our reefs are fundamental to our way of life. We must protect them, but before we act, we must have strong scientific evidence to justify the actions we choose. Lastly, because this item deals with the concept of “districts,” I will firmly support restructuring our council election system to allow for single-member districts. Why should the residents of a community — like what happened to South Maui in the last election — have a representative selected for them, against their will, by voters outside of the district? In a representative democracy that is just wrong, and I will support the efforts to correct that.