The environment is the economy" is a refrain frequently heard in this year's campaigns. In the 2014 Primary Election, environmental issues are in the spotlight more than ever before. A genetically modified organism (GMO) moratorium initiative has qualified for the November ballot and a variety of first-time candidates whose campaigns focus on environmental issues have entered local races, including Tamara Paltin, John Fitzpatrick, and Courtney Bruch.
Another first-time candidate with a serious environmental agenda is Terez Amato. See the Maui Weekly's coverage, "South-and West Maui Come Alive for Hot Primary Race," in its June 19-25 issue online by searching for the keyword "Amato" at www.mauiweekly.com.
Tamara Paltin Candidate for Mayor
Tamara Paltin, 36, is one of five candidates running for mayor of Maui County against incumbent Alan Arakawa. She is a longtime employee of the County of Maui, where she has worked as ocean safety officer since 2001. Paltin has been an HGEA Union Steward in Unit 3 since 2008; she is now the treasurer, secretary and steward of the newly created Unit 14.
Paltin has been involved with the Save Honolua Coalition since its inception in 2007, and served as the executive director/president for the past five years.
"Through the process of forming a nonprofit, working with county and state agencies, as well as politicians, becoming involved in the general plan process and mobilizing community testimony, I have learned a lot about how government works-and sometimes doesn't work-not only as an employee, but also as a citizen participant," she said.
She is also concerned about the general plan process, injection wells and water quality.
As for environmental issues in general, she finds it "puzzling that people with a passion aren't taken more seriously. As a person who has testified frequently before government officials," she observed, "listening and acting on what you hear are two completely different things. Sometimes I wonder if I'm not totally wasting my time."
Paltin believes "We need leadership for the 21st century that is community based and community driven."
She also thinks that as we transition from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age, "we cannot continue business as usual." She stressed the need to apply modern technology to local government.
Paltin said she chose to run for mayor rather than County Council because she's interested in better management rather than legislation. She seeks a more open and collaborative leadership style and effective use of all our resources.
"There is no reason to keep doing things the way they've always been done with so much advancement in technology," she said.
Though she's worked for the county through four administrations, she noted that "the concerns of the frontline workers who are most familiar with day the day-to-day operations are rarely heard." She termed it "a really frustrating working environment that changes course each time a new administration comes in."
"My goal is not to be a politician," she said. "It is to listen to the front line and to listen to the citizens and act on their behalf. There are about 150,000 people living in Maui County. The majority of candidates (for county office) win with 22,000 to 26,000 votes. That is approximately 15 percent of the population. That 15 percent is who the current politicians have catered to. I would like to reach out to the majority of residents who have not voted yet and are not happy with the status quo."
Paltin was born on O'ahu and raised on the Island of Hawai'i. She is a wife and mother. The family lives in Napili. The candidate earned a bachelor of science degree from Northern Arizona University in 1998 with a major in mathematics and education.
Regarding campaign funds, "I'd like to hit $5,000, but $10,000 would be better," she said. So far she's raised about $2,000. She has one endorsement from the Sierra Club.
Paltin said that "the excitement and high stakes generated by this election are just what we need to improve participation."
John Fitzpatrick Candidate for South Maui County Council Seat
Khei resident John "Fitz" Fitzpatrick, 32, is running for the South Maui County Council seat held by incumbent Don Couch.
Fitzpatrick grew up in Makawao and later attended St. Anthony Schools. He earned a bachelor of science degree in marine biology from University of Hawai'i at Manoa and went on to receive a master's degree in zoology. He presently teaches oceanography and environmental ecology at the University of Hawai'i Maui College (UHMC).
Though he has only lived in Khei about two years, the candidate said he spent "practically every weekend" in the area while he was growing up.
Fitzpatrick sees Maui's marine environment, especially the preservation of the Olowalu reef, as a key issue. He opposes development at Olowalu because he feels that the proposal to build up to 1,700 homes in that area will harm the reef. But, he noted, the council, including incumbent Couch, voted to "change the zoning from Agriculture to Urban in the adoption of the Maui Island Plan."
He characterized Couch as "a good person, but he doesn't have an environmental perspective."
Fitzpatrick, like some of the other environmental activists running this year, supports incumbent Councilmember Elle Cochran (West Maui). Earlier this year, she introduced GMO and pesticide disclosure legislation. That measure drew substantial opposition, and has been returned for revisions.
But Fitzpatrick had only praise for Cochran's environmental stance, and was critical of the council's other eight members, saying, "This is a huge issue. You would have thought their reaction would have been: 'Let's help her make this bill work;' but none of them did. They sat there and watched her get burnt."
As for agribusiness giant Monsanto, Fitzpatrick commented, "I don't see Monsanto as 'transparent.' We are not able to get answers from them."
He also sees the cost of living on Maui as a campaign issue, pointing out that although he holds an advanced degree, he's still working more than one job to make ends meet. Since 2005, he has been the captain of Paragon II, a sailing catamaran, and also works seasonally as a kayak guide.
He described the experience of filing to run for public office as "a huge commitment. I felt like I was getting married. I could feel my heart was beating rapidly."
For him, one of the most enjoyable events of the primary campaign was the Makawao Paniolo Parade. He and a group of family, friends and former students participated riding in a borrowed Chevy Volt. "It was a very positive spirit."
Fitzpatrick said he looks on the campaign as "a learning experience." If he doesn't win, he said, "I will stay involved and try again next time."
The candidate said he hopes to address "the big issues," adding, "Although people say they are too big to tackle or not really in the jurisdiction of the council, if we really want them to be addressed, they will be addressed."
So far, the candidate has raised about $2,300. His goal is an estimated $15,000 "to help us be more competitive."
Courtney Bruch Candidate Upcountry County Council Seat
Kula resident Courtney Bruch, 42, is running for the Upcountry County Council seat presently held by Council Chair Gladys Baisa. Bruch (pronounced "brook") was born in Colorado and grew up in Georgia. She has been a Maui resident for the past 13 years. She identified herself as an "environmental advocate," and was until recently director of GMO Free Maui, an umbrella nonprofit organization. Bruch is single. She is a self-employed graphic designer with a bachelor of fine arts degree from the University of Georgia at Athens. She is also a licensed healthcare provider as a massage therapist.
In recent years, she's been a very visible and active presence at marches, rallies and events targeting environmental concerns.
"Many people have asked me to run," she said. "I think that's because I bring a fresh approach with no ties to developer interests. I'm not part of old-school Maui politics. I feel that I can win."
Bruch said, "I'm pushing to expand awareness of environmental issues and human rights. Clean air, clean water, clean food-in my opinion, those are all basic human rights."
Additional issues that interest her include affordable housing and homelessness.
She supports a moratorium to suspend GMO operations here "until proven safe"-an issue that will also be on the November ballot.
With regard to Monsanto's activities, she felt that "the real need is to be truly transparent, to tell people what they're doing when they're spraying and what they're using. So far, it's a big mystery."
"Monsanto," she said, "has quite a reputation around the world. Some of their products have been banned in many parts of the world. Also, many countries require them to label their GMO foods."
The candidate said that it's her impression that Monsanto is "hiding," noting that even the location of their facility is not well marked.
"People don't normally hide the good things they're doing," she added.
Bruch is also a strong supporter of incumbent West Maui Councilmember Cochran, who has been an advocate for environmental issues in the County Council.
"Elle will come in first in primary and first in the general, too," she predicted.
As for herself, the candidate said, "It's time to get into a governmental position; time to create change; time to take back our government."
So far, she has found the process of campaigning "inspiring" and feels as if she is "learning a lot." She enjoyed participating in the Makawao Paniolo Parade, "making the connection with the people from all walks of life and the kindly response they gave us as we passed by."
If she doesn't win, she said she "will continue serving the community and start preparing for the next election."
"I'm here to serve for a healthy future, supportive of sustainability and excited about new leadership," she said.
Because there are only two candidates in the race neither name will appear on primary ballot, and Bruch will face Baisa in the November 2014 General Election.
She has so far raised about $700, and estimates she will spend $30,000 to $150,000 in the course of the campaign.