Candidates share views as campaigns run down to the wire
LAHAINA — Only days remain before the final votes are cast and the results tallied in what may be an election that brings new faces to the forefront of government, or leaves familiar names in place to govern with increasing challenges and reduced revenues.
Seeking to provide voters living in West Maui with a final opportunity to see and hear the candidates, the West Maui Taxpayers Association held a Candidates’ Night last week Thursday night at Lahaina Civic Center.
The event competed with political events on Lanai and Molokai, and several candidates were missing in Lahaina as a result. Only candidates — and not their representatives — were given the opportunity to speak and answer a series of questions asked by moderator Zeke Kalua of WMTA.
The evening began promptly at 5 p.m. after a complimentary dinner of kalua pork, chow fun and rice provided by Honolua Store and a spicy tuna nacho donated by Sansei Seafood Restaurant & Sushi Bar in Kapalua.
Leading off the list of candidates and offices was Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona (R), who, along with former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), is running for governor. Abercrombie was unable to attend the forum.
Aiona was asked if he supports a hospital in West Maui, his views on more state funding for area projects, what he could do to help complete the Lahaina Bypass road, and if he favored an elected or appointed school board.
Aiona said he supports the West Maui Hospital & Medical Center and called for reform in the Certificate of Need approval process, with more local input early in the review of proposed projects.
When it comes to county revenue, Aiona declared, “I will not touch the TAT (transient accommodations taxes) taxes at all.” He added that counties would continue to get their fair share, and if more money becomes available, more funding would go to the counties.
Aiona supports completing the bypass, noting, “This administration got it through.”
Lt. Gov. Aiona endorsed a Board of Education appointed by the governor, while wanting to “move the needle” more in the direction of greater local control over the schools.
In response to a question from the audience, Aiona expressed his opposition to House Bill 444, the Civil Unions Bill, saying it mirrors same-sex marriage. He called for a referendum vote by the electorate to decide if marriage should be defined in Hawaii as being between a man and a woman only.
The race between Ramon Madden (R) and Rep. Angus McKelvey (D) for the West Maui Tenth District State House seat led to sparring between the candidates over infrastructure development, the Lahaina Bypass and support for a West Maui hospital.
Madden charged that too many West Maui infrastructure decisions are being made on Oahu and not at the local level. He called for more “home rule solutions,” questioning if the community needs something like a six-lane highway when it does not have enough sidewalks.
McKelvey countered by describing the process of securing funds for West Maui as a team effort of the entire Maui delegation to the State House and Senate, with local elected officials deciding on projects to be funded. This process has led to $100 million for West Maui state projects since 2006, he said.
Madden attacked McKelvey’s proposed Highway Road and Modernization Plan, saying it would increase taxes, fees and the gasoline tax.
McKelvey said the plan would ensure the completion of West Maui road projects and provide emergency road access when Honoapiilani Highway is closed. He also said that when it comes to revenue, he “… fought for you to keep the TAT and keep the state from taking it away from us.”
The third set of candidates brought experienced competitors Mayor Charmaine Tavares and former Mayor Alan Arakawa to the front of the room. Asked similar questions by the moderator, both used their time to repeat campaign themes.
Tavares disputed Arakawa’s contention that the county budget ballooned under her administration. She said she cut the county budget by $27 million this year, and the spending plan has dropped every year for the past three years.
Arakawa disagreed, and after reading off the budget totals for the period in question, he suggested that audience members go to the county website, review the budget information and decide for themselves.
Other differences emerged between the candidates when it came to county control and management of the island’s water supply and how to pay for upgrades to the county’s aging wastewater and sewage treatment facilities.
Tavares opposes paying for repairs by using funds raised through the sale of bonds. She prefers to use the fees generated by users of the system.
Arakawa said that the fees should be used to pay for the operating expenses of the system, and that major upgrades, such as those necessary to eliminate injection wells — which both candidates support — could be accomplished through the county’s borrowing power.
On the issue of water, Arakawa said that water is a public trust and the county should control all water resources. “Millions of gallons of water are controlled by private interests,” he said.
Tavares agreed that water is a public trust and pointed out that any use of water by a private organization must be approved by the State Water Commission.
Tavares told the audience that Maui County is recovering faster than any other county in the state, and that she “had stayed the course” during one of the worst economic downturns in memory.
Arakawa countered by saying that the county has endured “self-inflicted wounds” caused by polices of the Tavares administration, including the closure of bed and breakfast inns on Maui.
The next hot race to come before the audience was the contest for the West Maui County Council seat between Elle Cochran and Alan Fukuyama. It was followed by the South Maui Council contest between Don Couch and Wayne Nishiki. Couch was the only candidate to appear, with Nishiki on Molokai for the evening.
Both Cochran and Fukuyama expressed support for the tourism industry that generates over 70 percent of Maui County’s economic activity. Cochran called for new types of tourism, including expanded international sports activities, energy conferences and eco-tourism.
Discussing infrastructure needs, Fukuyama favors partnerships with developers to improve infrastructure alongside development, saying, “The county and state cannot do it alone.”
Cochran referred to the Maui County General Plan now proceeding to eventual adoption by the County Council, saying she wants to take a “big picture look.” Questions include what is Maui’s carrying capacity, she said, and “How are we going to upgrade and fix what we have now?”
Couch laid out a unique solution for ending the use of injection wells: “Build pumps, powered by solar panels and windmills, to pump the water up the hill and use it to water the coffee and to keep the hills green. That takes it out of the injection wells.”
He added that development and subsequent infrastructure needs should follow the General Plan as the law in Maui County.
Additional candidates at the forum included challenger Lisa Gapero and incumbent Mike Victorino for the Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu County Council seat, incumbent Bill (Kauakea) Mederios for the East Maui seat and Board of Education contenders Leona Rocha-Wilson and R. Ray Hart.
Gapero called for “new blood, new skills and a new perspective.”
Victorino responded by saying, “I have been innovative and used common sense to take care of the people of Maui County.”
Mederios — with his opponent, former Councilman Bob Carroll on Molokai — used the opportunity to speak about his accomplishments while on the council, including funding to establish a dialysis treatment facility in Hana.
As the chairs at the Civic Center were being put away, and campaign literature was being packed up, only one thing remained clear — now, it’s all up to the voters.