Friday, June 17, 2016

Kihei House Race Heating Up

    It’s hot in Kihei. That fact is neither newsworthy nor controversial. But what is newsworthy is the heating up of the South Maui House seat. Democrats have got a real primary on their hands this year.
    In one corner you have our incumbent, the twenty-seven- year-old Kaniela Ing—arguably the youngest incumbent in our State’s history. Ing ran for office in 2012, beat out three other candidates in the primary, and then beat then-Republican and former-police officer incumbent George Fontaine.
     Ing grew up on Maui. His campaign website boasts of having a father who waited tables at Raffles in Wailea while his mom sold shoes at Liberty House (that was the anchor store at the Queen Kaahumanu Center back in the 1980s for you newcomers). He worked in pineapple fields over the summer and graduated among the first class of the Kamehameha Schools Maui Campus in 2006.
     He was the first in his family to go to college and is proud of it. In college he made a splash by being elected the first neighbor islander to serve as the student body president. His spouse is a civil rights activist. They have a newborn son.
     Then there’s his challenger: Deidre Tegarden. It’s unclear if she came from Maui, but she did attend McKinley High School in Honolulu. Her mother was a journalist and she had the fortunate opportunity to travel extensively through Asia as a young woman. She earned a degree in Chinese and Japanese studies from the University of Maryland.
     She’s fluent in Chinese and Japanese and lived abroad before moving to Maui in 1997. Her first job on the island was with the Outrigger Hotel and Resort in Wailea as the Conference Services Manager. She was also a manager of the Hula Bowl Maui event, where she was in charge of logistics, sales, and marketing.
     Tegarden’s background appears to be in coordinating ceremonies and events between Hawaii and Asia. In government she worked under the administration of Mayor Charmaine Tavares and later Governor Neil Abercrombie as Chief of Protocol for the State of Hawaii.
     Tegarden has been campaigning hard in Kihei. Her signs can be found from Maui Meadows to Kalama Park. She’s also got the endorsements of major labor unions on the island, including hotel workers and carpenters. Ing, however, has the endorsement of the Sierra Club and is starting to campaign too.
     The race is just starting to heat up. This week, the Maui News reported that in announcing his Sierra Club endorsement, Ing argued that the primary election “presents a clear choice between the old boy network’s trajectory of unchecked growth or a new grass-roots approach of smart growth and environmental stewardship.”
     Tegarden was quick to respond and called the announcement a “petty political rhetoric and attack.” She got into it herself by claiming that Ing has the one of the lowest attendance rates in the Legislature and that he is the “only Neighbor Island committee chair not to pass any legislation these past two years[.]”
     Ing shot back. He called the attendance dig a “mainland-style attack” that has “no place on Maui.” He explained his tardiness was caused by committee meetings running late and by being on Maui. He explained some absences were caused by health concerns for his partner and the birth of his son.
      As for passing bills, Tegarden got it wrong. Ing told the Maui News that he authored a bill requiring state board members to have some kind of training in Native Hawaiian law and landscaping to require native indigenous plants.
     But there’s more to it than that. In 2014, Ing introduced and was the first to sign off on a bill that allowed same-day registration, a progressive move toward opening the voting franchise. The bill allows those who would otherwise be eligible to vote but were late in registering, to vote at absentee polls or the voting booth itself on election day. It has the dramatic effect of increasing the voter franchise and empowering more people to participate in democracy. Ironically, Gov. Abercrombie, Tegarden’s former boss, signed it into law.
     And of course there’s the high school. Both candidates are crediting themselves in getting a Kihei High School built. Ing says that he helped funnel monies toward its construction and secured the support of lawmakers to make it happen. Tegarden credited herself for walking the ranch land grounds in 2011 with former Gov. Abercrombie, who later “signed the paperwork to acquire the land.”
     And so it begins. Everyone likes to claim that they want to run a clean campaign, but I have my doubts. I think folks actually want to the see the candidates go at it like this to see what they’re made of. It may be hot in South Maui right now, but given that this is just the start of what could be war of words between the candidates, it’s only going to get hotter.

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Meditation on the H-Word

I use a word in my column that until recently has never caused pause for me until recently. It’s a word we all know. I have known it my entire life. It’s been used to describe me. I’ve used it to describe myself and used it to describe others. But perhaps I shouldn’t.
I use the word “haole” interchangeably with Caucasian and white. No, I don’t apply the word to non-Hawaiians like Asians or even Portuguese. It was just the word we use to describe white people in Hawaii. But then not too long ago, someone pointed out to me that the word brought back painful memories of his school days, when local kids would use the term with disdain. I started talking to others about the use of the word, and many whites consider it racist or prejudicial.
Let’s start with its meaning; its literal meaning. One story is that the word means “without breath or life.” Many believe this word became associated with foreigners—particularly white foreigners—who were ignorant of the traditional greeting among Hawaiians, in which people got close enough to share each other’s breath. Those who didn’t do that were considered “without breath” or life (ha meaning breath or life and ole meaning without).
This origin has its critics. University of Hawaii linguist Albert Schutz pointed out that this origin story is too dismissive of the languages use of long vowels and glottal stops. The word haole has neither the ‘okina or the kahako, while the shorter words ha (with a long “a”) and ’ole does. For Schutz, there is no evidence that this is the true etymology of the word.
The term was around before statehood. Nineteenth-century scholar, David Malo, uses it in his writings to refer to not people, but things that were of foreign origin. Chants use the word to describe people from far off places like Tahiti or the Marquesas.
At some point, the word went from describing something foreign to describing an ethnic group: Caucasians. When that happened is unclear, but it might have happened fairly early on. Hawaiian dictionaries point out that Native Hawaiians used the term to apply to Americans and Europeans during the period of the kingdom.
Now I personally have nothing wrong with the word—even when it’s used as a pejorative. Kanaka maoli, a newer term used to describe Native Hawaiians, have a long and justified list of grievances against the whites who came to the islands.
Caucasians may have brought over things like mirrors, nails, and other trinkets that were alluring at the time, but they also brought disease, capitalism, and a way of thinking and life that resulted in complete destruction to their way of life and culture. They were the harbingers of great change for the islands and its inhabitants. And not every change was a good thing.
Being mad at what happened is understandable. After all, the whites came to these islands and took everything. They introduced diseases, converted inhabitants to a new religion, made up private property, and then brought about the overthrow of an independent kingdom.
The sentiment isn’t reserved for just Hawaiians. During the plantation era, sugar and pineapple companies brought in whites to run their plantations and it didn’t matter how much experience they had in the islands. They oversaw workers and managers of other races. Even in our post-plantation era, Caucasians still are in management and leadership positions—and it’s worse when folks are imported from the mainland.
At that point, the word haole meant more than just white, which is why Portuguese folks aren’t considered haole. Locals use the term to describe a certain insensitivity to the island way of life. For example, if a person comes into a workplace and constantly talks about how things are done in far off and arguably more efficient places like California or the mainland, you might be branded a haole.
Which brings its usage on school campuses, the beach, and just about anywhere else in the islands. Is it an insult? Sure. It can be. The noun is oftentimes preceded by colorful adjectives like “dumb,” “stupid,” or of course, the gerund form of the f-word. It is oftentimes used to describe a white person who is out of step with local culture, but sometimes it is used well within local culture.
For many newcomers, who grew up and became accustomed to living within a white majority on the mainland, this is a jarring and shocking experience. But that doesn’t mean it’s justified to make fun of someone’s race.

And that brings me back to my column. At first I felt that the word haole was perfectly fine. Those who were insulted by the term or hurt by it are just being too sensitive and need to realize the long history of imperialism here. But at the same time, it is unfair to judge folks and their attitudes toward the islands and its people by virtue of the color of their skin. So maybe I am the one who should be more sensitive.