For someone who just lost an election, Lucienne de Naie is remarkably energized. Only a few days after being soundly beaten by incumbent Bill Medeiros in the race for the East Maui County Council seat, the activist and state Sierra Club chair entered Maui Timeís office fresh off a Makena development meeting where, she said, developer Everett Dowling personally complimented her on a campaign well runóand told her she had him worried.
Dowling can rest easy for now. De Naie, and other progressive candidates like her, failed to crack the seemingly bulletproof glass ceiling of Mauiís entrenched political establishment. In an election that was supposed to be all about change, at the county and state level Mauians stuck with the status quo.
We asked de Naie for her take on the election and the future of Maui politics.
So what happened to change?
Voting for change is too simplistic. People donít vote, generally, if they donít know anything about a person; they tend to just leave that part of their ballot blank. My understanding is that a lot of the folks who came out to vote for president filled in the box for president and maybe voted for one of the council offices and one of state offices and just didnít fill out that part of the ballot because they were not frequent voters, they did not know anything about the other candidates. We had 10,000 blank ballots in this Maui race. Thatís huge. That tells you that there are people who donít know anything about either candidate. How can you have change when 20 percent of those who are voting have no idea who would represent that change? So thatís the candidateís jobóto reach those people. We did what we could with a volunteer campaign team. We had an army of peopleópeople [who put] up signs, people who made phone calls, people who came to events and passed out things at senior events, people who came out to sign wave. We had a lot of involvement. But still there were 10,000 people, at least, who hadnít heard about it.†
Talk a little bit about the campaign. If you could do it over again, what would you do differently?
Iíd start earlier. But my situation is that Iím already involved in a lot of public service endeavors. I serve on nine boards and commissions. I serve on the General Plan Advisory Committee, for which this is the year where the rubber hits the road. Now, when this whole election cycle was beginning two years ago, I thought that GPAC would have completed its work by the end of 2007. That didnít happen. Instead, we were just beginning. I had to make a command decision around April. People had been asking me to run, I had to make a decision: can I be on GPAC and run at the same time, and be at all these places and all these forums and everything and still have two or three GPAC meetings a week? These are, like, four or five-hour meetings. These are intense meetings with tons of reading and homework. Can I really do this? And that was my thought process. And so I didnít really consider it in January. But about a hundred people said, ďweíll help you, weíll help youóput your name in there, just give people a choice, all these Obama voters.Ē I went to the caucuses [earlier this year] and last time there had been 85 people, and now there were 1,200 people. So I made the decision: I will put my name in. Maybe I canít run a full-on campaign like last time, but Iíll try to involve more people. And even if I canít make it everywhere and do everything, at least people have a choice. If I had something to change, I would say, you know, decide two years out that this is what I want to do, start organizing a campaign team at that point, and just give the whole process more time, build up more relationships with people. Itís all about relationships with people. If youíre not born and raised here and you donít automatically have thousands of family members you really have to go create those relationships.
So you wouldnít change the tone of your campaign and focus on the more negative aspects of your opponent?
Thatís not who I am. When you run you can only change so many things about yourself. There are all these movies about taking an honest, young, hardworking person and turning them into this cynical politician because thatís what you need to do to get elected. Thatíd be tough for me. I certainly donít shy from telling the truth about things. I have to say I was very disturbed in the forums and things where [candidates] were openly attacking the other person. Like the senate campaign and the Lanai seat. I mean, my opponent doesnít live in his districtóbut is that the issue? His familyís lived in Hana for generations. Who am I to say he canít represent Hana based on the fact that heís not living there right now? People advised me to [go on the attack]. My opponent never filed his campaign disclosure forms for two years. Several people said, ďget on that, let people know.Ē I donít know. Maybe if Iíd had another person involved in my campaign who really just wanted to do that stuff, but most of the people involved in the campaign were folks that Iíve known through a long life of community service. I didnít have anybody on the team that was there to be the bad cop, digging out the dirt and making it pubic. Maybe I should have. Iím really not in that political arena. I couldnít tell you whether that would have made a big difference or not.†
How do you reconcile your desire to get down to the issues with the more shallow aspects of a political campaign?
You need to let folks know that youíre a caring and accessible individual. The whole thrust of my campaign was that Iím qualified to serve, I have a record of action,† you can see my record, Iíve been doing this for no pay and my commitment is sincere. Mahina Martin was at the injection well meeting [Thursday] night and she goes, ďnone of the newly elected candidates are here. Theyíre all so concerned about reusing reclaimed water; hereís you and Kai Nishiki.Ē Yup, there we were, testifying before the EPA.†
What would it take for voters to eject some of the developer-friendly politicians from office?
In my heart† of hearts, I think that a very thoughtful coalition of different community groups† could work to get independent candidates in. I think thatís what worked for Jo Anne Johnson. She just worked so hard, she networked with so many different people, and is so genuine. I think what itís going to take is a better-informed electorate, and who knows? Maybe a polarizing event. Maybe things will get to where theyíre more obvious to folks. I think things need to come to a head. And I think there needs to be a better way for voters to get information. On the Mainland they use saturationóradio, TV, fliers. There probably werenít many blank ballots for president.†
What, if any, role do you think race played in your contest?
It was huge. I was not of an ethnic background that is easily trusted by the majority of people who vote here regularly. Iím very aware of it. Iíve always felt comfortable around people of all different backgrounds. I mean,† [Iím] a Heinz 57 variety of all the European mixes. I donít come from a Waspy elite background. I come from working class immigrants. I try to emphasize those values. My grandparents faced much the same things as many of the Filipino and Portuguese folks who came here. Itís all the same time. They all came over here in the early part of the century, with nothing, [hoping] that they would find opportunities. [They] had to take menial jobs. I have a pretty similar background to many of the people that are living here. I tried to emphasize that. My name is a disadvantage because itís not a simple English language name like Johnson or Anderson or Couch.
How about perceptions about those who have lived here their entire lives as opposed to those who havenít?
I think itís a factor. I think people are concerned about that probably more so in the East Maui district. If I were running in South Maui or West Maui itíd be far less of an issue. But I donít live there, so thatís not where Iím going to run. Iíve had people suggest everythingómove some place else and not run for the East Maui seat. But Iím not running for a seat to get a seat. Iím running because I feel that this district deserves representation from someone who loves and cares for the land and the water. And Iíve proved [that I do] for 27 years. I may not have been born here, but being born some place doesnít necessarily mean that you are going to fight for that place.†
What can your supporters do to affect change even if they donít have a candidate on the council who represents their interests?
Oh, thatís really simple. Weíve all seen all the campaign promises. Theyíre in print. Hold them accountable. If they told you theyíre going to stand for the environment, make sure they [do]. If they told you that they will make sure we have energy choices for the future, ask them how theyíre going to do that. If they say that theyíre all for using our water wisely, then make sure they have the courage to restrict wasteful water use. Hold people accountable. I know itís work. My self-assigned responsibility is to try to keep people informed about ways that they can make a difference. Most of the progress that weíve ever had in this country has been caused by people who were not on the inside but who were pushing from the outside, and their ideas eventually were folded into the mainstream. I have no need to have an ego gratification. I only ran to be of service because so many people seemed to feel that I could bring skills to this office that were needed. If it could bring people hope [for me] to keep running, to keep getting those ideas out there, I think itís worthwhile to do. And if thereís an army of people willing to join me, Iím willing to run. The only way Iím interested in running is if thereís that community force that wants to push forward and see someone who is independent and qualified and caring have their day and have their say, Iíll run.†
So do you plan on running again?
I do. Iím going to keep my campaign committee active. Some very skilled people have come up in the last couple of days after the election wanting to be part of the team, [to help] raise money, raise awareness, offer strategies. So, Iím going to take all of these great people up on their offer. Itís a team effort; Iím a team person.†
What will you do in the meantime? How will your advocacy take shape and what issues will you focus on?
Iím still tracking the same issues that I have for years. Building a new economy. Returning water to our streams. Weíre making some progress in East Maui. We need to work with the reclaimed water from the sewage treatment plant. I really hope that after this visit with the EPA that we can find a funding solution to get the infrastructure we need to start phasing out the injection wells on the West Side. Iíd like to see a gray water ordinance pass. Iíd like to see incentives for renewable energy and really get it so that people can get their own independent systems up. I think thatís going to be necessary as we get into more uncertain times. I think Barack Obamaís going to be pushing for local energy independence. And that starts in your own home. If you can generate your own electricity at home, whether itís your solar hot water, your solar electricity, your wind-generated electricity or some new method that we donít even know about yet. I just think that government needs to be on the cutting edge of that. Iíd also like to continue my work† on land planning issues, tracking the General Plan. Our work on the GPAC will be completed at the end of February so weíll be tracking that as it goes through the planning commission and the County Council over the next year. Iíve invested three years of my life and actually helped write a lot of the policy, the draft policy, thatís being presented to these bodies. I want to get in there and make sure that the ideas and concepts are put into action.
THERE WAS SO MUCH TALK
ABOUT CHANGE THIS ELECTION.
Why did Mauians stick with the status quo?
The reality is that central Maui, which is predominantly old school and local, elects our council in non-partisan races according to name recognition. Most of the new voters that made up the Obama wave may think of themselves as ďchange agentsĒ but many donít have a clue as to what that means on a local level. They are more often than not oblivious to who is running for what in their own backyard. This is unfortunate since, as the old pol Tip OíNeil once said, ďall politics is local.Ē
- Jay April, President of Akaku
I think there are many factors at play here. I think among the people who vote regularly there is one, a lack of real awareness of the issues affecting Maui county; and two, a fear of rocking the boat. The mainstream media has a good grip on keeping things status quo around here. They donít print truly honest reports of how the current council members are doing. Good thing we have one independent paper! Those of us who show up to council meetings or watch them on Akaku and see how the council members are behaving are few and far between compared to the number of people who just read a version of it in the daily paper. [Then there is] this idea of rocking the boat. I say, get new blood in there. Maui is a boat that needs to be rocked. Sometimes it feels like a sinking ship when I think of our dependency on the outside world. We need real leaders that are willing to steer our boat toward energy and food independence. This constant development of our island our council has approved over the years is unsustainable. Another factor is how many of the local votes were left blank, probably due to many people coming out to elect the president who didnít take time to get informed about local candidates. This is a big loss. I know it takes time to get informed and most Mauians are busy working, but there are a lot of respected organizations doing the homework and taking the time to interview the candidates for you like the ĎOhana Coalition and the Sierra Club. Just make sure it is from trusted organizations that care about Mauiís future and not special interest groups such as developers who only care about money.
- Angelika Hoffman, community organizer
If you look at the precinct reports, there is a trend. In South Maui, West Maui and Upcountry, the blank votes jumps from 10 percent for the residency area Council race to 20-40 percent for other areasí races. The precincts that have statistically consistent blank votes across races are in Central Maui where votes are historically strongly correlated with union support and specific precincts elsewhere that strongly correlate with union support. Election results show that national efforts to get union members and pensioners out to vote ended up being successful in buoying support for union-supported incumbents locally. New voters that supported change nationally either didnít care locally or didnít know the extent of their voting franchise.
- Lance Collins, attorney
I think that here in Hawaii we value tradition, honor and loyalty and that change can be scary. We like what is familiar to us. Our community would certainly benefit from some progressive ideas to expand our economy and gain greater independence through local energy and food production. Hopefully we can all work together to accomplish these goals.
- Kai Nishiki, County Council candidate