Well, I’m back in my comfy writing saddle, after spending many months sitting on my fingers engaged in self censorship.
As you may know, I ran for office last year. That meant a writing hiatus. And what torture that was. I cannot tell you how many times I wanted to put my thoughts into words and share them with the public. If nothing else, running for office was an incredible exercise in self restraint.
If you picked up this newspaper and actually read through it before you line a bird cage or cat litter box, chances are you are one of those people in Hawaii County who pays attention to local politics. I like to think that all 6,000 of the newspapers I publish are going into the hands of the likes of you.
But the reality is, there are too few people who have the time or interest in who is running for a seat on the Hawaii County Council or in the Hawaii State Legislature as a senator or representative.
For those in the know, please indulge me while I get those unfamiliar up to speed. I ran for the Puna Council District 5 seat that Zendo Kern won in 2012. Having briefly served as Kern’s campaign manager, to say I was disappointed in his representation is an understatement — but I’ll leave it at that. When I turned in my nomination papers, I thought I would be challenging his bid for re-election. Turns out, Kern thought he did so well in one term, he opted not to seek re-election. By the time we reached the candidate filing deadline, there were seven candidates vying for the Council District 5 seat. I’m partial, but I think it’s an honest assessment as a journalist that the District 5 seat was a hot race. It really was hard to predict the outcome. On the inside of that race, though, it felt like a circus, with some pretty colorful clowns.
One of them was recently arrested for disturbing the peace at a community meeting on geothermal drilling.
That same individual verbally attacked me at a candidate forum and helped drive a smear campaign suggesting I was a carpet bagger, at the same time she quietly tried to cover up her own voter registration mess. The daily newspaper jumped on the bandwagon, defying ethics in publishing one of the smear articles the day before the Primary Election. The most colorful of the characters in my race spent endless hours on the Internet, finding camaraderie in a forum dominated by crazies I’ve encountered over the years as a journalist.
They had hatred for me in common and conspired to do what they could to break my spirit, going so far as to attack my late father’s decorated military career and defaming my late mother, suggesting that because she was a Las Vegas showgirl she had been a “whore.” What was striking to me was the team of haters was led by women. And for them to attack my mother who, of all people, embodied her womanness, well, it was proof that they don’t know how to be ladylike, or sportsmanlike, for that matter.
In any event, there was plenty of fiction written about me online, and I did all I could to avoid reading any of it. If you did, I’m sure you’ll agree the online commentary defines dissociative behavior and the Online Disinhibition Effect.
If you can believe this, one of my stalkers went into the Election Division to obtain my voter registration history and ‘inadvertently’ got my date of birth and social security number! I found out when the County Clerk and Election Division administrator called me on speaker phone to each personally apologize. That same day they sent out a courier with a pamphlet detailing how to respond to identity theft! Months later, I’m still fuming that my personal information went to a truly disturbed individual who has an obsession with me.
There was another deranged woman who harassed me over the course of my campaign, calling and emailing me with insults, and publicly referring to me as the “Cunt for Puna.” Meanwhile, I had an ungodly amount of campaign signs stolen. This woman ended up being caught on somebody’s video surveillance in Pahoa stealing my signs. The footage, along with an account of a supporter in Ainaloa catching her in the act of stealing a sign, was turned over to authorities. Maybe she’ll get prosecuted. But at least the sign theft mystery was solved.
I cannot say I have ever done anything more grueling than running for public office. Actually, I spent the summer before my senior year of high school helping my father and stepmother renovate a historic home — peeling paint off and sanding gutters and windows. Campaigning for public office was kind of like that; it was tedious and exhaustive, with the feeling that it was never-ending at the same time that it was a countdown. Don’t get me wrong. Campaigning had its positive moments.
I hardly left Puna for months and I would not commit to much outside my district. My goal was to meet anyone and everyone I could, becoming well versed on the plethora of issues facing the district and mapping a plan to hit the ground running when I was elected. I spent countless hours and money at the local farmers markets, really seeing the local economy at work and observing just how many entrepreneurs there are here, trying to put their ideas into action. We have some really good people out here in Puna. I cannot over-emphasize that. Many of those really good people are too busy to get too involved in politics; they’re trying to pay the bills and make ends meet.
I felt lucky to get a campaign donation or a place for a sign on someone’s fence line. I sure hope those really good people know how grateful I am for the support, whether it was a check, a wave, a honk, a shaka, a smile, a hug or a conversation over a playdate with the kids.
Hands down, those who helped me out the most with my campaign were former council members Bob and Julie Jacobson and Barbara Lively, a former legislative aide for Bob Jacobson, former Councilmen Fred Blas, and Kern.
I got to know the Jacobsons and Lively really well and, if you’ll excuse me, I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank them, for donating to my campaign, for sign-making, for sign-waving, for going door-to-door with me, and for generally being there for moral support. They became members of my family — Bob fathered me, Julie was motherly, and Barbara was sisterly.
The day after I lost in the General Election, it was Julie and Barbara who reminded me of campaign etiquette and flanked me as I offered my “MAHALO” wave on the side of Highway 11.
That was tough, dragging myself out to the side of the road to wave. I just had to keep reminding myself that some of the people in those passing cars had voted for me.
For weeks after I lost to Daniel “Danny” Paleka by 270-some-odd votes, I was so depressed and despondent, I came to fully understand why historically women wore lace scarves over their heads during grieving periods. I could physically feel the heartbreak from the loss, and waves of sobbing would overtake me at random intervals. I became very reclusive and I wore sunglasses to mask my sad face the little time I spent in public. I stopped going to community meetings. I told myself I wasn’t going to go back to journalism. Hurt and guarded, I couldn’t imagine the day would ever come again that I would want to share any part of myself with the public.
Looking back I don’t remember exactly what it was that got me out of my slump. I guess I got tired of feeling sorry for myself and saw that my family needed me to snap out of it. I focused on my family and our retail business and preparing for the holiday season.
It was around this time that our community was pretty hot and heavy into lava drama. The June 27 Pu’u O’o lava flow had shifted toward Pahoa Marketplace and we saw the evacuation of our main grocery store and gas station, our tire shop, our hardware store, and our bank. With the community around me feeling about as stressed and anxietied as I was, all I could do was pull myself up by my own boot straps.
The lava flow remains an issue at press time, but we seem to generally be doing a good job coping with the anxiety and uncertainty out here in Puna. This ordeal has been a tremendous act of letting go and allowing whatever is to be, to be.
The campaign and the lava drama has whittled me down to my core essence, for me to see what it is I’m made of and how strong and resilient I truly am. I am so grateful for the learning, I really am. Hopefully my kids will look back and remember the year I ran for office, that year I hand-painted campaign signs on our lawn, that year I got up at dawn day after day to go sign waving before taking them to school, that year I made them where “Hunt for Puna” shirts.
Maybe I planted a seed in them to ultimately grow into community stewards. Who knows. That reminds me of a conversation I had with a 6-year-old friend of my daughter’s, shortly after the election. “What did you have to do to win, run laps or something? Who is Daniel Paleka?” The mere fact that this first grader knew my opponent’s name and was uttering it had me laughing. “Believe me, kid, a lot of people are wondering.”
At least my cjo;drem got to see the reality that sometimes you can give something my all and you will still lose. It’s part of life. You win some, you lose some. Many truly great leaders had their fair share of failures. I’m no exception.
While I had so many urges to publicly share my thoughts over the course of the campaign, it’s probably best that this is a retrospective. Now I can see the bigger picture that I couldn’t see when I was in the thick of it.
People ask me if I’ll ever run for public office again. I can tell you this, I didn’t think I would ever have a second child! It wasn’t until I forgot how painful giving birth was that I decided I could get pregnant again.
I have a pile of campaign signs that I look at every day and wish I knew what to do with — I suppose I’ll store away some, but I really am trying to give some of the signs away to anyone who has any use for them. Some people have transformed them into homemade traffic signs, like Tina Aiona, who has been trying for years to get the county to install traffic calming devices on Kamaili Road. Next to “Slow Down, Faka, Unda Stand?!” is a new message on the back of my campaign sign urging people to drive slowly. Artists have picked up some of my signs and vowed to recreate them into works of art. Please feel free to seek me out if you are inspired to repurpose one of my signs.
Regarding this edition, it’s been a long time coming. Putting journalism on the back burner to pursue politics inevitably affected the health and wellness of Big Island Chronicle. While I have community contributors and Alan McNarie serving as my guest editor, this operation is so small that I am a necessary equation, certainly to secure the funding.
For this issue, you can thank handfuls of small businesses you see advertised throughout these pages. And you can thank Kapoho Kine Adventures and Ormat, which gave a bulk of the funding necessary to make publishing happen.
While campaigning, I got a lot of flack from people I would describe as “eco-fundamentalists,” for publishing Ormat ads. People obviously have no idea what is involved in publishing a newspaper, so they can be luxurious in their judgment. People assumed that, because of the Ormat ads in my newspaper, I couldn’t look at the geothermal issue objectively.
The fact is and always has been, I’m not vehemently opposed to geothermal technology. What I find bothersome is that Ormat, running Pahoa Geothermal Venture in Puna, perpetuates their boogeyman in the neighborhood image. Recently, I attended a community meeting in which PGV laid out its drilling schedule for a new well at its Kapoho site. At this meeting, it was obvious the relationship between PGV and its surrounding neighbors is hostile. PGV has the necessary permits for up to 28 wells, and they come across like they don’t give a damn what the community thinks about them trying to drill every one of them.
I get that company stance, particularly with community members in their face, claiming they are “poisoning” and “gassing” them, and lacking any decorum in voicing these allegations. At the meeting I attended in late January, PGV informed the community that they would be engaging in night drilling, because they believed they could. See, in 2012, while he was running for mayor, then-Councilman Dominic Yagong drafted a bill that the majority of his colleagues ultimately passed, banning night drilling operations for geothermal.
PGV and the company’s lawyer Tom Yeh believe that PGV is exempt from that law. So, they are going to make a point to prove wrong that asshole Yagong, testing the waters with night drilling and, in turn, trying the community’s little patience. Puna Pono Alliance, a community advocacy group headed by Bob Petricci, isn’t waiting for PGV to make that bold step. At press time, PPA had just filed an injunction seeking a judge’s relief from the night drilling.
If only PGV would turn this around and take the opportunity to be a community hero. In my fantasy, where PGV does the right thing, this is the speech the company would give:
“We believe we have the right to engage in night drilling, that Yagong’s bill couldn’t and doesn’t pertain to us. But we recognize that we are in a unique situation, having our plant located in such close proximity to residences. We understand that Puna doesn’t have any hotels in the traditional sense, that visitors stay in bed and breakfasts in this area, many of them situated around our plant. While it is industry standard to engage in night drilling, we really want to be good neighbors. We are going to do our best to cease our operations by 6 p.m. nightly.
“And, while we are on this mission to improve community relations, we are going to pledge to improve the frontage of our plant. We are going to work with the community to plant native shrubs and trees along Pahoa-Kapoho Road, and we are going to erect a marquee sign on which we will notify neighbors and passersby our drilling schedule.
“We aren’t going to stop there. We are going to work very closely with the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA), which owns our original site off Pohoiki Road, and we are going to transform that eyesore into a geothermal education center, which will not only help to educate people about geothermal technology but also serve as a destination for our youth. This education center will offer hands-on science focused on renewable energy, at the same time that it will be playful and fun.”
The fact is, PGV isn’t paying me for PR. They are just buying ads in my newspaper. Time will tell if they are reading and taking any of my free and unscoliticted advice. I can only hope for our community’s sake, that they come to their senses and try to imagine themselves trying to sleep through their drilling. Expect us to follow up on this ongoing night-drilling debate.
Surely you’ve noticed that this edition is pretty Pahoa centric. In previous editions I have had had that tendency, with my newspaper and family’s retail business located here. I am celebrating Pahoa with this edition, though, in part for the fact that this historic village has been spared, temporarily, perhaps, from the lava. Many businesses went by the wayside or uprooted and relocated, but some remained and have survived the ups and downs associated with this ongoing “disaster.”
If only I had a bigger budget and more room in this edition to tell you all about the brilliant innovations as a result of the lava flow, including that of Bryson Kuwahara, with his lava bridge, and Steve Strauss, with his lava ferry. Time will tell if either are needed, I suppose. Stay tuned.
At press time, Pahoa had just been named one of the top 50 best small downtowns in America. Hopefully this spotlight on Pahoa inspires you to patronize the shops and businesses that remain there. It takes a village to make a village.
I wish you a great read and look forward to being able to get another edition to you soon.
— Tiffany Edwards Hunt