Mainland SuperPACs & Old Guard Try to Stop Important Charter Amendments Offshore money floods Maui to stoke fears and thwart people-powered Democracy

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Banners urging Vote NO on all Maui County Charter Amendments are proliferating around Maui, while an off-island Super PAC is also disseminating more fear during this trying pandemic imploring support for the conservative old guard that has ruled Maui politics.

The dubious Vote NO campaign has ramped up scare tactics alleging that 7 new amendments on the November 3 ballot will curtail the Mayor’s power, hand over control to an “outside” entity, cause financial hardship, impose unnecessary term limits, and inhibit agricultural production on Maui.

This blanket rejection of all amendments cites cost issues even though some amendments would have zero economic impact.

“In reality, four of the seven charter proposals have nothing to do with money, but everything to do with creating opportunities for new innovative leadership,” says Councilmember Kelly King. “Changes in term limits, charter appointees and legal processes would reduce corruption.”

As if democracy itself was threatened a NO mailer fosters panic – falsely asserting DON’T VOTE YOUR RIGHTS AWAY. It’s promoted by a mysterious entity with the longwinded title – Vote No on County Charter Amendments Hui O Maui We Can’t Afford It.

“The negative information on the proposed Charter Amendments that has been blasted across our radio waves and sent to our homes is pure propaganda,” warns King. “As a long-time Maui resident, community advocate and local business owner, I want to set the record straight.

“We are used to seeing dark money play a role in national politics; for example, multi-national corporations lobbying against environmental solutions, which came to our doorstep with the chemical companies who testified against the polystyrene ban and petroleum companies joining forces with our administration against settling the Lahaina injection well lawsuit. This unfortunately is the same thing. The faceless Political Action Committee (PAC) backed by a recently formed 501(c)4 called Hui O Maui is funded by people and organizations that do not want to relinquish their hold on Maui County. It’s about the power and money they perceive they will lose if these charter amendments pass, whereas the campaign to “vote yes on all charter amendments” is organized by a grassroots effort of Mauians who have nothing personal to gain.

“The slogan of the fraudulent “Vote No on Charter Amendments – We Can’t Afford It!” campaign couldn’t be further from the truth. The fact is we cannot afford to squander this opportunity to improve our government. These charter amendments tackle positive systemic change. They focus on good governance and transparency while creating a new success model for our growing population. Affordable housing, food security and taking politics out of county management are foundations that need to be set in place for all of us to thrive.”

Sowing the seeds of fear, Upcountry Councilmember Yuki Lei Sugimura warned in a contentious Maui News’ Viewpoint: “Quite frankly for the sake of humanity and survival of our neighbors, focus should be on getting our community through this pandemic. This is not the time for charter amendments.”

Who knew that the “sake of humanity” was at stake on Maui?

A former aide to Mayor Alan Arakawa, Dave DeLeon, pushed the panic button astonishingly asserting that the “proposals amount to an attempted “coup d’etat” on the council’s part.” As if it was time to man the barricades against a violent overthrow.

Even Arakawa waded in, launching a direct attack – “Enough with the crazy spending!” he fumed, urging folks to “vote against the Ohana Coalition candidates.”

Building on coronavirus anxiety these toxic propaganda campaigns are motivated by the fear, that just like in the last election, Maui’s developer/corporate establishment will lose more control to a progressive axis more interested in protecting the environment, creating affordable housing, advocating for regenerative agriculture and smart growth, encouraging economic diversity, and fostering government transparency.

Why else would Mayor Michael Victorino complain in a County press release that the proposals would drastically inflate the cost of government “while Maui’s economy has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Hijacking pandemic angst, the Nevada-based Hui O Maui Citizens For Change is flooding local media with pro-old guard ads, describing candidates Alberta deJetley, Stacy Crivello, Claire Kamalu Carroll, Tom Cook, Rick Nava, and Tasha Kama, as “innovative community leaders who will help us build a better Maui.” The Super PAC also supports Alice Lee and Yuki Lei Sugimura.

“Innovative” for Nevada’s Hui O Maui translates as “reducing regulations” and “removing barriers to needed infrastructure,” along with pushing tourism.

This suspicious PAC has initially tossed $100,000 into the election race. The funding includes $60,000 to Oahu company CommPac, which is described as Hawaii’s leading communications company, offering public relations, marketing and crisis management. Another big chunk, $20,000, went to the Pacific Media Group which owns Maui Now, and radio stations KPOA, DaJam, 99.9Kiss, K-Country Maui, and Hi92. And $5,000 went to Hochman Hawaii Publishing, which owns KONI-FM, while $10,000 went to the Post Office to distribute all those alarmist mailers. 

Chairperson and Treasure is Grant David Gillham out of Reno, Nevada. A former tobacco lobbyist and chemistry industry lobbyist, Gillham spearheaded a campaign in California (spending $22 million alone in 2007) to defeat an effort to ban toxic fire retardants. He later made amends, exposing the lies companies told about the safety of their chemicals.

Also wishing to turn back the clock, another Super PAC, the National Association of Realtors Fund, has jumped into the Maui council race to try to defeat Molokai’s brilliant council member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez.  They’re pouring $60,000 into online ads supporting her opponent, pro-GMO Stacy Crivello, who was defeated by Rawlins-Fernandez in the last election.

Why would a Super PAC based in Chicago, with close to $2 million in their coffers, bother with a Maui County race?

The Fund supports Republican candidates around the nation. In 2012, they spent $700,000 supporting a California Republican candidate, Garry Miller, who made a fortune in the real estate development business.

In 2018, it was a dodgy group from Alaska supporting Crivello, who were  campaigning for more short term rentals on Molokai.

Asked why she thinks  a Chicago-based real estate SuperPAC is flooding Maui County with campaign funding for Crivello, Rawlins-Fernandez explains: “In the last two years, I have been very clear that my objective is to lift up our residential community and local small businesses and am not surprised that offshore investors are throwing huge sums of money to support my opponent, as I have already made numerous successful legislative steps toward bringing our limited local housing inventory back to long-term residential use from investment properties for non-resident speculation buyers, including setting a zero STR cap for Molokai.

“Non-resident investment properties are hurting our County’s housing inventory, and I am here for our community, not to ensure they can maximize profits at the community’s expense. My opponent has a long history of accepting donations from special interest groups like offshore real estate investors. They support her, because she supports their interests.

“As the Economic Development and Budget Committee Chair, I started the tax reform investigative group and we passed a progressive tax structure that equitably distributed real property taxes through tiers. This enabled the council to substantially lower taxes for our residential and business classes.

“My next legislative step is creating a long- term rental class and exemption, modeled after the existing  “Owner-occupied” and “Homeowner exemption” which provides tax incentives for people that live in their own home. This is a clear and successful long-standing indication that through taxation, we are able to incentivize the type of housing use we would like for our county.

“If offshore investors continue to purchase and use our limited housing inventory for short term rentals, then they must contribute more to our community through taxes to help offset the significant impacts our community experiences.

“I understand why paying more is unattractive to speculators; however, I am not sure why our local Realtors Association isn’t on board with supporting our residents having better opportunities to buy homes of their own. It seems like a win-win for our community and I would love to partner with RAM to prioritize our local residents finding forever homes.

“If off-shore speculators decide higher taxes make their investment properties in Maui County less attractive, they will likely put those homes up on the market for sale, which will create an influx of home sales for our local realtors to manage, and our housing inventory will increase exponentially, likely dropping home prices for our residents to purchase.

“I support our local economy and prioritize our residents having a roof over their heads. This is why I am a threat to outside investors and my opponent is not.”

In Part 2 we’ll look at specific amendments and what the old guard fears. Stay tuned.

Jon Woodhouse

Jon Woodhouse

Jon Woodhouse is the Managing Editor of The Maui Independent. Moving to Maui 36 years ago, he feels blessed daily to live here. He writes weekly for The Maui News and has worked for the Department of Education since 2001.

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