Q&A with Maui County Council’s People Powered Leader Alika Atay "We have the opportunity to wake everybody up and say what is important is keeping Maui Maui"

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What brought you to politics?

I’ve been a community servant and leader for well over 35 years. My aloha for Maui has been well established. Then came the calling in 2013 and 2014 to be involved in the election involving GMO and pesticides. As a steward of the land I saw it as a duty back then to step forward to be one of the leaders of our community to say enough already with the poisoning of our paradise, enough with the chemical cocktailing of our land and possible tainting our water resources.

That led to the citizens’ initiative ballot which led to a victorious election in 2014, and that kept me involved to the 2016 election for me to run for political office. Everything we were saying that was bad for the health of our children has been proven true. The same people who did not respect our vote are asking us to vote for them again. If you voted yes for the GMO Moratorium and your vote was not respected, come back and vote them out.”

What makes you excited about this election?

We have an opportunity this year to establish a different direction. The pendulum will spring back to the power of ‘we the people.’

We have a slate of nine Ohana candidates and the majority of them were born and raised in the islands and they have instilled in them the value of aloha a’ina. For the very first time the people will be able to elect a slate that may hopefully end up with five or more county counselors who will be of Hawaiian blood descent. That’s never been done to have a majority Hawaiian council.

The power of Maui County was always controlled through the plantation, whether pineapple or sugar plantation. It was the plantation owners and managers that dictated to the workers how to vote. Now with the demise of pineapple and sugar we need to remind people that the mentality of the plantation era is gone. We have the opportunity to wake everybody up and say what is important is keeping Maui Maui. The simple question is do you want Maui to be just like Honolulu? It’s a resounding no. We do not want to be like Honolulu. The choice is moving forward and paving over paradise, or cautiously, strategically planning for our growth.

What do you say to the argument that the Council needed to oppose the GMO moratorium because otherwise Monsanto would have sued them and they would have had to spend millions of taxpayer dollars defending it?

Look who was on the council;  those that joined the mayor and his friends at Monsanto to sue us, to sue we the people. They didn’t follow the peoples’ vote. Victorino, Crivello, Hokama, and Carroll, they joined Arakawa to sue the people of Maui.

What do you think of the critical front page articles about you in The Maui News?

It’s all political strategy. It’s very obvious they’ve endorsed my opponent. It’s obvious we have consistently biased local media. Four times I’ve had interviews and quotes being taken out of context and consistently placing negative statements or publicity against myself. The community here has grown accustomed to biased journalism.

The first time we had a public meeting pertaining to the Queen’s (Ka’ahumanu) grant it was scheduled three or four days before the primary election. It was still in the grant period. Normally you have a period of 60 days after the event to close out your grant. It was not outside of the 60 days. When they began to block the reimbursements it was only 10 days after the event had occurred. More bills were coming but they were stuck. My understanding is that this sort of premature investigation has never been done before.

The first hearing was within the 60 day period and someone in the county administration, the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development had a straight line to the Maui News and released confidential information to them. It was not public information because it was still within the 60 days, the grant was still in progress. The county chose to block payment to the local vendors and then blame me for not paying their bills. We have documented evidence they blocked payments on April 5, 10 days after the event.

With the grant blocking, your emails being blocked and you being unable to schedule or hold County Water Commission meetings, do you feel this is a campaign to make you look bad?

It makes you wonder if it’s not a coincidence; that possibly it’s part of a strategic political ploy – when they realize that we the people are getting a little more educated on the inner workings of local government and we’re now circling a little too close to the core. It isn’t a coincidence that communication from my office, emails are all blocked. Isn’t that against the law? What are they afraid of?

If the Maui Ohana slate gets a majority what will change?

We will be able to work in unity to make positive advances benefitting the people of the entire county. Like on the issue of affordable housing. We’ve had a mayor that’s been in office for nearly 12 years, and a housing director who came from Monsanto. Most recently they left the county for a position with Alexander and Baldwin. The circle continues from Monsanto to Mayor Arakawa to A&B.

Several years ago Elle Cochran headed an investigation into Maui’s housing needs. Then the mayor hires an outside consultant who came back with the same result as Elle’s group had. The investigation found that Maui should be building 1,200 homes a year, or 12,000 homes in 10 years. The year before last they built only 300, and last year they built nearly 300 more.

Then, two weeks ago, Maui’s new housing director verified that after all these years the County has no housing plan. All they have is a report that verifies that we have to build 12,000 to 14,000 homes in the next 10 years. After this mayor and a couple of housing directors have been in office for so long,  the end result is there is no housing plan. If we had one hundred acres we could build 1,000 homes. If we had 200 acres we could build 2,000 homes.

What do you see as the future of agriculture and water rights for Maui?

We are heavily dependent on food imports. And we need to be prepared for disaster readiness by looking at local food production and distribution. If we have a majority like-minded council and mayor there will be change.

With proper legislation, we can live a healthy future life without dying from chemical pesticides. Decisions made today can protect the future generation and their right to have a clean and healthy Maui. Wisdom and vision has to come into decision making. It’s about quality of life for the future.

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Jonathan Greenberg

Jonathan Greenberg is the publisher and project editor of the Maui Independent. He is the founder of Informing to Empower, the non-profit public interest media organization that publishes the Maui Independent and the SonomaIndependent.org. Greenberg is an investigative financial journalist with 35 years of experience with national publications. Greenberg also serves as founder and Executive Director of Informing to Empower, the parent non-profit of both the Sonoma Independent and the Maui Independent. Greenberg has won first prizes from the Greater Bay Journalism Awards for the past three years, starting with his coverage of the closing of County library cutbacks, and then Palm Drive Hospital. Jonathan’s professional career began as a fact checker at Forbes Magazine, where he advanced to the role of the lead reporter in creating the first Forbes 400 listing of wealthy Americans (as recounted in this recent article for Forbes’ 100th anniversary issue and more extensively in this biography of Malcolm Forbes. Jonathan has been an investigative financial and political journalist for such national publications as The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Magazine, Mother Jones, Forbes, Money, Playboy, GQ, The New Republic, and Alternet. From 2011 through 2017, Jonathan was a blogger for the Huffington Post, where his narrative-transforming reporting and analysis about subjects like Bernie Sanders, Monsanto and Native Hawaiian water protectors achieved some of the widest readership of any HuffPost writer on these subjects. Jonathan’s nearly 40 years of professional media and reporting experience has been enhanced by a Yale Law School Masters Degree fellowship program, from which he graduated with honors in First Amendment Law from internationally renowned attorney Floyd Abrams and then Yale University President Benno Schmidt. Jonathan is the author of the critically acclaimed biography Staking A Claim: Jake Simmons and the Making of an African-American Oil Dynasty, which a Washington Post Book World front page review called, “a rare biography that challenges the readers senses in the same the way science fiction does.” In 1992, he edited Buying America Back: Economic Choices for the 1990′s, an anthology of 45 progressive solution-oriented essays called by Publisher’s Weekly, “An immensely important resource for policymakers, community activists, and everyone concerned with building a more humane future.” As a new media innovator who has developed a half dozen interactive web platforms and dozens of content-focused web sites, Greenberg is committed to enhancing responsive government and expanding media democracy. Greenberg is founder of Progressive Source Communications, a Sebastopol-based public interest communications company. In the past, he founded and managed two other online companies, TV1.com, and Gist.com. Greenberg’s political work included serving as Policy Director for the New York City Council’s Select Committee on Lower Manhattan Redevelopment in the years following 9-11. His work resulted in more than $250 million of federal funds being re-directed to needy businesses and constituents in the impacted area. Greenberg has been Vice President of Fenton Communication’s New York office. His work on behalf of non-profit organizations has included communications consulting for Save Darfur, Stonyfield Farm, the ACLU, and the Lakota People’s Law Project. Greenberg holds a B.A. in writing from the State University of New York at Binghamton, and a Masters Degree in Law from Yale Law School, where he graduated with honors in First Amendment Law.

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