*** Commentary *** Reqiuem For An Inauguration

As for Monday’s top story, the inauguration at the Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium, I’m going to have to write in first person.

FYI, I cannot write about politics objectively until I go outside to my car and remove my “Aunty Emily,” bumper sticker from the back window. Journalists aren’t supposed to drive around espousing their opinions on vinyl, certainly not to endorse any particular political candidate.

Yes, we journalists are supposed to be so objective that a colleague of mine who works for the Tribune-Herald goes so far as to not vote. I take journalism and its accompanying ethics seriously, but I also cannot deny my civic duty and, quite frankly, my own subjectivity. After all, we must be true to ourselves. We are all, by nature, subjective.

Presenting the news with objectivity is a formality of journalism that I love and appreciate, and I will seek to honor that tradition here. But I have to call a spade a spade, and identify an opinion piece for what it is.

As for Monday’s inauguration, being there with the estimated 400 people, I couldn’t help but to recall other inaugurations from years past.

Inaugurations celebrate new beginnings and, in recent years, my life has changed dramatically with them.

It was two years ago on Monday that I said goodbye to the West Hawaii Today. The 2006 inauguration story was my last piece for that publication.

On Monday, I said goodbye to Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole, who I’ve spent the last year and a half with as a legislative aide.

What an experience, on so many levels. I’m sure there are many who wonder why I opted not to continue on with Aunty Em after she was re-elected. I have to express my utmost appreciation to Aunty for being such an admirable woman on so many levels, having achieved what she has after over 50 years in the very district she was born. Raised deep in the heart of Puna in Ophikao, she epitomizes, and can laugh at the fact that she is truly a country bumpkin. Oh, she is indeed, and it would be crass for me to humor you with examples. After all, I see beyond that. She kind of reminds me of my own mother who hailed from Amarillo, Texas. My mother was so religious — a Southern Baptist — she thought God was talking to her all the time, communicating through different scriptures she would be compelled to turn to in the Bible. Her favorite scripture was “Phil 1:3,” and it was her signature scripture in all her correspondence to me. Needless to say, I don’t have a problem with religious people, if they don’t have a problem with my choice not to be religious.

I’ve known Auntie Em was a religious woman, having interacted with her years before she became a councilwoman. Covering the 2006 campaign for the West Hawaii Today, I did not hold back the fact that she was a religious woman and did not differentiate between church and state. All her expressions of “Father God” and “Lord Jesus” in our interview went in as colorful quotes in my news stories about the Council District 5 race.

Knowing what I knew and writing what I observed about her then, you can imagine how astounded I was that she ousted incumbent Gary Safarik in the 2006 election. In fact, truth be told, I actually called Mr. Safarik from the Elections Office just after the first returns on election night 2006, and kidded with him that Auntie Em was beating him by a few hundred votes. You can imagine how floored I was later that night when my joke became reality, when my words had manifested destiny.

As a WHT reporter two years ago, it was the inauguration story that served as the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

The night editor had removed paragraphs where I detailed how students from the Kua O Ka La Public Charter School had bedecked Auntie Em with leis and surrounded her to bellow out a powerful chant that led her to tears, just after she had been sworn in to public office. Students, predominantly local, had told me how struck they were that someone that they could relate to had been elected into public office. After all, Auntie had worked at their school as a parent coordinator. The students had made a field trip out of witnessing the historic moment. All that had been taken out of my story, and I was admonished for not writing more about the newly sworn in West Hawaii council members in my piece about the inauguration.

And so, I quit that newspaper on principle, and I did pretty well with Tiffany Edwards Communications in the first six months of 2007. I hardly read the newspaper about the new County Council, or Emily Naeole, or local politics in those first six months of the 2006-2008 term. Having covered the administration and the County Council for the newspaper here since 2001, it was kind of nice to take a break from the madness of local politics. I was surfing, grant writing, transcribing for closed captioning, and free-lance writing human-interest stories for the Big Island Weekly and the Hawaii Island Journal.

Then one day I got a call from Gerard Lee Loy, one of the members of Auntie Emily’s kupuna council, asking me if I’d be interested in a job with Emily Naeole. Auntie Em had given her campaign manager the legislative aide post upon being elected, and it was only a matter of time before the relationship between the two women had strained in a power struggle over who was actually the councilmember. The campaign-manager-turned-legislative-aide accused Auntie of all kinds of county Ethics violations, including conducting campaign activities on county time and in the county office and forcing the aide to pray at work every day.

As Gerard was bringing me up to speed on the news of the day involving the two women, I flashed back to when I first met Auntie Emily. Oddly enough, we first met outside the Afook-Chinen Auditorium, where the inaugurations are held and where the Merrie Monarch craft fairs take place. She used to make the most striking haku leis for Merrie Monarch out of foliage from the beloved Ohia Lehua, and I actually had written about her before when covering the Merrie Monarch for WHT.

After Gerard’s phone call and a subsequent meeting with Auntie Emily, I considered the post as legislative aide but reserved any commitment until the Board of Ethics cleared her of any wrongdoing alleged by the aide I would be replacing.

Sitting through the Ethics hearing, I was struck by the fact that Emily sat next to a box containing her late husband’s ashes and, when asserting her innocence to ethics board members, referred to her late husband and her concern that the aide’s accusations tarnished his good name. I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry that she had brought along her husband to make such a strong point, but I vowed then that I was going to help her through her political blunders.

Never did I predict that I would be working for Aunty Emily when I wrote my last inauguration story for WHT. After I resigned from the paper, I predicted privately to my husband that Auntie would make political blunders and I expressed relief to him that I would not have to cover them for the paper. (He laughingly reminded me of that fact when I went to work for Auntie Emily, trying to put a happy face on the blunders.)

So now that chapter where I went to work for Auntie is over, and frankly there isn’t a proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back for me to publicize.

Let me take the opportunity to assure the readers of this column, though, that I intend to show no partiality to Auntie Emily in my coverage of local politics in the next two years.

Auntie Em is fair game, like any other politican that has put himself or herself out there as a leader of our community. I just hope Auntie Em, or any other politician I may base my commentary on for that matter, knows not to take things personally. It’s the nature of being courageous enough to put yourself out there to be a leader of your community, as the Buddhist Minister Ikeda put it during the invocation at Monday’s inauguration.

I’ve seen the guts of government, and I’ve about turned myself inside out having a baby in the two years since I said goodbye to my post as Hilo Bureau Chief of WHT.

As I walked out of Monday’s inauguration, saying goodbye to Auntie Em, county government, and the past year and a half of my life on the inside of local politics, it was none other but my old WHT editor in my path. This was the first time we had laid eyes on each other in the two years since I walked away.

If I were a coward or were still holding a grudge, I would have strolled right past him. But, no, I steered my baby’s stroller right toward him and met his eyes as I approached. It wasn’t until Monday, until we met eye to eye and exchanged words at the inauguration, that I could express my appreciation for all I learned from him. It all came full circle for me on Monday — at least I think so. You never really know when things will come back around.

This is paraphrasing the conversation between WHT Editor Reed Flickinger and me: (Me) “I feel so liberated.” (Reed) “Why? Who are you going to work for?, ” (Acting eager for a scoop). (Me) “Myself. Her. (Referring to my baby Coco). I’m going to focus on being a good mother and wife.” And that is where we reunited with each other, talking about the personal side of life, with politics aside.

As I reflect back on our meeting there, I think of how many inaugurations
Reed Flickinger has covered in his twenty some odd years with WHT. I reflect on how many times he has heard politicians espouse, in so many words, if not, “Together We Can,” exactly. Yes, for me personally, because Monday’s inauguration was very personal, Reed Flickinger eclipsed any sort of optimism about a unified County Council and mayoral administration. He brought me back to reality, to the fact that we have been here before, we have heard these sort of speeches and we have made them our front page news.

I am not completely cyncial, though. I am hopeful that this time is different.

It is vital for the health of our community to hold our politicians accountable, to remind them of their promises, either met or broken. This is the role of the journalist. This is the goal of the Big Island Chronicle, although the coverage won’t solely be about politics.

Together we can, Mayor Billy, as long as I get to freely express my opinions about you and your administration on this blog without people holding grudges and giving me stink eye. Together we can, council members. Just don’t hold a grudge when I refer to your legislation or your antics during Council meetings in my political coverage.

Oh and keep those meetings open. I want to be able to stop in now and then to see my local government at work. I’ll have my www.bigislandchronicle.com folder at the County Clerk’s office, right next to my West Hawaii Today folder. Please keep me in the loop, and incude my cyber publication for your media releases. Send emails to newswoman@mac.com. I’m back, just like the good old days, except I’m my own editor this time.

Together we can. I just hope this year isn’t like years past when the holiday cheer fades and the optimism of a unified County Council and administration is last year’s wishful thinking.

Just a quick note of the priorities in this next term:

— Cutting unnecessary government spending as much as possible in the face of a nationwide recession, including unnecessary staff, meetings, supplies, projects or initiatives
— Pursuit of any all measures that will make this island sustainable, from the pursuit of alternative energy to ensuring we grow, rather than import, most of our food
— A solution to the unlined Hilo landfill (preferably the adoption of zero waste principles… the establishment of recycling (including green waste and ultimately composting) at all the transfer stations… and the pursuit of a construction and demolition landfill (I do not support an incinerator. I think we should recycle and reuse as much as possible, and then line one of those quarries next to the existing landfill and create a state-of-the-art “wet” landfill where we capture and reuse the methane and leachate.)
— Relaxed building codes to allow for more affordable housing using recyclable and native materials with structures conducive and most appropriate for the environment here
— A cooperative between the state and county to address key issues like transportation, housing, homelessness, and recreation, i.e., the school gyms should be available to the public after school hours and the county and state should be actively working together to ensure roads are paved and repaved and/or built in crucial areas

— *** (For the County Clerk/County Council) Make County Council and Council Committees available on the web in real time, preferably. Also, please make teleconferencing available at the new Pahoa Council Office in Malama Marketplace.

And, so, readers, the only way Big Island Chronicle is going to work is with an audience interested in what I have to say. I invite your feedback. I see the value of it.

My formal training is in journalism. I got my degree in Communications/Mass Media in 1998. But I’ve been journaling since I was five. I’ll never forget when the fire for journalism lit inside me. It was my freshman year in college, with a class entitled, “History of American Journalism.”

If you google me, you’ll learn that I was the rookie reporter for the Laramie Daily Boomerang when gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was beat with the butt end of a pistol and left to die. There was an off-Broadway play entitled, “The Laramie Project,” that resulted from that brutal murder, and I am a character in it. In the play, my character bemoans the cruelty of her profession, how journalists pounce upon tragedy and act so desperate for a story they lose sight of their own human-ness.

High school and college students still act out my character in “The Laramie Project” ten years later. History won’t let me forget that my love for journalism is bittersweet.

I met Helen Thomas in 2001 at UH-Hilo. She wrote out on my reporter’s pad, “Seek out the truth and you will find it.” Indeed, that is the goal. I just don’t want to be the one chasing after the ambulance.

I see the Big Island Chronicle as 3-D journalism, if you will. After all, the only interaction between the writer and the reader in the old days was a “letter to the editor.” With a blog, the reader gets to instantly engage with the writer, and everyone else who is reading. It truly is an innovative way to present news and commentary to a community.

In the old days, back in print, there was a separation of church and state, i.e., advertising and news writing. I come from that space. I vow to always asterisk when I write out my opinion.

I must mention as I wrap up this long-winded prologue that any all opinions expressed on www.bigislandchronicle.com may not necessarily reflect the opinions of our advertisers.
Oh, and I have been known to “murder” the English language, as one reader told an editor of mine once. Please feel free to offer your constructive criticism of me, and educate me on the syntax of things. Just no “tutu slaps,” please. (That’s another story down the line.)

Blog with aloha.

12 replies
  1. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:

    Aloha Tiff,

    Big Island, small world, huh? 🙂
    Having also “seen the guts of government” in Hawaii County, as well as elsewhere, I reckon your “priorities” have very good value.
    Cost of government, “sustainability”, and the Hilo landfill-alternative, are big ticket items — can we feature what is or not doing in these in the BIC?
    Building codes: change ’em, definitely. Is “relax” really what is needed? What are we trying to achieve?
    The “cooperative” idea is, frankly, fascinating. Something formal? …?

  2. Tiffany Edwards Hunt
    Tiffany Edwards Hunt says:

    What do you mean by, “Can we feature what is or not doing in these in the BIC?” Please elaborate.
    As for your suggestion of “something formal” for my cooperative idea, are you suggesting we work together on a resolution, i.e., a policy statement that we could present to our council members?

  3. Sue Fassett
    Sue Fassett says:

    Dearest Tiffany,
    As a book buyer and manager of a bookstore, I read numerous accounts of personal opinions. You my dear, are not only beautiful in person but truely beautiful in spirit. Your words have power and you are able to communicate honestly, somewhat objectively, and most importantly, creatively. I am not on the Big I. anymore, I don’t have a personal connection with the people or the issues of which you are writing. Regardless, I would like to say, keep writing!!! You are passionate and talented, keep reading, you will learn from that activity. Expression through brevity is an art, and, eventually, removing the “I” and somehow adding wisdom on a universal level will connect people in a verbal holistic manner. There is magic in words. Often journalism gets dry and tedious, example: the non-stop election coverage, gag. How we elected a half-black man to be president certainly had something to do with journalism/communication, YEAH!
    Find the balance, that’s my two cents worth of bloggin’.
    Cheers, Peace, and Aloha,
    Sue Fassett

  4. damon
    damon says:

    Right on Tiff…

    I see we had the same major at UH… although I went the Manoa route.

    Also spent a year on the Ke Kalahea when I was at HawCC.

    Then wrote for PR’s for the Legislature . Then DOE for the last 9 years in a Video Position. It’s only now that I’m free to write what I want to.

    Great work with Auntie Em! It took a lot of guts to step into that kitchen with that cook!

    Good to see you at the inauguration…

    Hope this blog fills the need for my “Hunter Bishop Withdrawals”

  5. harley charlie
    harley charlie says:

    Aloha Tiff, very well though out comments.

    It never ceases to amaze me how self-centered people can get, vis-a-vis politics and politic parties. Politicians are first and foremost (of course) humans with human frailties. If Billy and the council can truly act to do “what is best for the county”, as did Harry Kim, perhaps we can grow past Steve Yamashiro’s self-indulgent Plantation Style management.

    Billy said how he would like to increase communication with the people, but he would get a HUGE bang-for-the-buck if he encourages communication elsewhere on his staff.

    My suggestion for Billy is to have his direct reports encourage direct communication between the union members and management to have an “open door policy” in effect. The union members do not really know how their union management acts as a filter. That alone acts as a drag on productivity as it did for the plantations. A ‘whats up, what are our measurables, where are our finances, what are your beefs’ newsletter with contact emails and phone numbers for instance would be difficult at first but should pay off with increased productivity.

    I know it is not a popular idea here, but it was the only one that worked in the union shops I worked in. Everyone needs to be engaged and pulling in the same – sane – direction.

    Good luck Madame ‘Hunter Bishop’, blog on!!!

  6. Tiffany Edwards Hunt
    Tiffany Edwards Hunt says:

    Damon, as a matter of clarification, my alma mater is the University of Wyoming.
    (I am an ongoing part-time student at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. I took a couple of classes in 2007, but I eventually would like to get a master’s degree from there, or via an online/residency program on the mainland.)
    I would have liked to have obtained my COMM/MM degree from University of Hawaii-Manoa, having met journalism prof Bev Keever.

  7. James Weatherford
    James Weatherford says:

    Government spending, “sustainability”, and the Hilo-landfill-alternative: If these ought to be priorities, then there needs to be some light on why they are important and what is going on with them. Other folks might think we need to widen all the highways on the island and build more roads so more cars can go faster; or not 😉
    My own training is not in journalism, but as an experienced and untrained news junkie as well as experienced and trained policy analyst, “priorities” seem to me to be newsworthy. For example, the 2009 Update on the Integrated Solid Waste Management Plan (the one that costs the County $500,000 and is mandated by State law).
    btw: suggestion to Mayor Billy — lead by example in these tough economic times, take a 10% cut in salary and ask all appointees to do the same.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] work as a legislative assistant for Puna Councilwoman Emily Naeole-Beason for a year and a half.  When the last Council term ended, I resumed my sole proprietorship and launched Big Island Chronicle.  Along with BIC, there is hawaii247.org run by Karin Stanton, a former WHT city editor, and […]

  2. […] or editing suggestions. I’m not used to being my own editor!  Yikes.  As I told you in one of my first blog entries, I’ve been known to murder the English language now and then.  Thanks to Phyllis, I have […]

  3. […] Working for Emily Naeole as her legislative aide, though, I got to see her back stage in politics.  While there is that side to her that professes to not allow herself to be influenced by others, there is a another side that can be easily swayed.  As you recall I went to work with Emily, after she had a falling out with then-legislative aide Barbara Hale and after Barbara Hale had taken her to the county Ethics board. […]

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