LAHAINA - Wanting to serve as a "true representative of the community, of the people," Ka'ala Buenconsejo is running for the West Maui seat on the County Council.
He will battle two-term incumbent Elle Cochran and Frederick "Rick" Nava, who was profiled in the July 17 Lahaina News, in the Aug. 9 primary.
The two candidates that receive the most votes will advance to the Nov. 4 general election.
Buenconsejo said he's not tied to an issue or organization. He wants to be a "true majority voice" and work on community priorities.
The Lahaina resident said housing, Maui's high cost of living, jobs and infrastructure are the key issues in this year's election season, along with the well-publicized proposal to ban the cultivation of genetically engineered (GE) seed crops that will appear on the general election ballot.
He noted that most of the issues stated above have been concerns for decades. Progress is often stalled in Maui County because people are unwilling to compromise instead of working together.
Officials in the county administration and council need to hear both sides of an issue or problem, then look for solutions.
Buenconsejo is happy voters will decide the emotionally charged genetically modified organism (GMO) issue, "but they need to understand what they are voting on."
He is still learning about GMOs, but Buenconsejo said he supports local farmers and Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.
He would like to see GMOs and pesticides separated and discussed individually.
In his first run for office, Buenconsejo is finding that some voters don't understand the nonpartisan, county-wide system for electing County Council members. Some have told him that they only vote for the candidates in their home district.
He would like to see better voter education on the system and races.
"What I'm hearing the most is, 'I don't vote for West Maui,' " Buenconsejo said. He suspects that many blank votes come from confused voters.
Due to name recognition and popularity with residents, incumbents are rarely unseated.
"It's an uphill battle for us," said Buenconsejo, speaking about himself and Nava.
To get his name out in Maui County, Buenconsejo has visited Molokai and Lanai, spoke at senior centers and civic clubs, attended events, gone door to door, sent out a mailer and promoted his campaign on social media.
As someone new to campaigning, Buenconsejo, 40, is surprised at what it takes to run for office.
He works a full-time job as director of marketing for Na Hoaloha Ekolu (Old Lahaina Luau, Aloha Mixed Plate, Star Noodle and Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop); helps his wife, Doreen, take care of their three young children; and is devoting 8-10 hours a day to his campaign in the days leading up to the primary.
Admittedly "new to the circle of politics," Buenconsejo is pleased by the support and endorsements he has received, including the Hawaii Government Employees Association, UPW Hawaii Local 646, Hawaii Carpenters Union, AFL-CIO, Hawaii Laborers Union, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, SHOPO Hawaii and Realtors Association of Maui.
"I feel this shows my commitment to fight for the working people in securing jobs, fighting for fair wages, benefits, job creations and protecting current rights and benefits," he said.
The Maui Timeshare Ohana PAC has placed ads and sent mailers on his behalf, although Buenconsejo has nothing to do with them.
He has received contributions from seniors, kupuna and business leaders.
Buenconsejo is inspired by their confidence in him. He said he wants to work hard on his campaign "to win for them."
"I want the community to be the voice in what we see going forward," Buenconsejo said. "We need to ask, 'What do we really want? What's best for us?' "
"Let's make the county make the decisions - not have an individual or group dictate them to us."
Additional goals include heightening pride of Maui among residents and visitors, and restoring Moku'ula.
"If given the opportunity to serve on the council, I will fight to see that Moku'ula gets the attention and funding needed to restore this historic sight. The vision set forth for Moku'ula would show our keiki and visitors a better understanding of how our ancestors lived in a sustainable community," he said.
Win or lose, the experience "has opened doors and my eyes to a political future," he noted.
Buenconsejo grew up on Maui and graduated from Baldwin High School in 1991. He earned an Associate of Arts Degree in Liberal Studies at Maui Community College and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
For more information on his campaign, visit www.kaalabuenconsejo.com or look for Ka'ala Buenconsejo on Facebook.