As we were going to press for this issue, we were witnessing unrest, all over the nation, with protestors fed up with racial profiling and police brutality, taking it to the streets, even resorting to looting in Maryland. There was unrest here at home, too, with our volcanic goddess Pele creating quite a spectacular show with the rising lava lake in Halema’uma’u Crater at the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. And we were seeing unrest atop Mauna Kea. This is considered a dormant volcano, so the unrest I am referring to here is our very own newsworthy protest. Those defending the sacred mountain from telescope development, however, consider themselves as protectors rather than protestors. Their protest hasn’t been violent. In the most disturbing news of the Thirty Meter Telescope demonstrations, 31 people were arrested for blocking the way to the summit of Mauna Kea. But we saw authorities gathered in prayer with these ‘protectors.’ We saw at least one police officer give a protector a honi honi, or traditional embrace, before that protector was arrested. The protectors and the police are showing aloha, at the same time both sides are fulfilling their perceived duties.
As we look around the nation and see violent reactions to political injustices, it is refreshing to see a demonstration be so peaceful. The message is far more resounding with this kind of delivery.
At press time, we were witnessing the resounding effect of the #WeAreMaunaKea movement. Thanks to some star power and the dissemination of information through social media, the Mauna Kea story is now being told worldwide.
And anyone with a keen sense knows we are witnessing history in the making. This movement is not really about the significance of the sacred mountain, the telescopes atop the mountain, and the attempt to construct the 13th one for $1 billion. This movement has morphed into being about “aloha aina” and about indigenous rights. This is about aboriginal people from all over the world saying “hallelujah” to calls for decolonization and sovereignty. As someone who has to look at the “Atlas of Indians of North America” to get details on my tribe and its demise, I understand the movement. I look up at that mountain and see Poliahu. I hear the chants and get tearful as the words expressing the mountain’s significance resound within.
Because this resonates with me so strongly, I have been sharing through social media a lot of images and videos related to the #WeAreMaunaKea movement.
On my Facebook page, I’m hosting a lot of conversations about yet another newsworthy matter here on the island: p card use among officials and specifically our very own Billy Kenoi. I have shared images created by the Maui Meme Factory, one of which you can see on page 14. In response to my posts, I got the following message from a Facebook friend:
“Tiffany, I love you and I support you and supported your candidacy too even though I was not in your district. I also always stuck up for you when people were mean to you in print and speaking!
Being a ‘public figure’ and being abused by many; I wish you would stop posting the insensitive and hurtful ‘jokes’ about Billy. He has done SO much for Puna and the Island and he paid it back, please let it go…”
This was my response to her:
“I appreciate your mana’o. Billy is a friend. I am reposting palpable and sensitive subjects, e.g., Mauna Kea and Billy Kenoi… Both are considered taboo yet need to be discussed for the bigger picture. I have conflicting opinions about both subjects but choose to host conversations for now.”
And, so, I continue to do that, even here in these pages ahead. I’m not trying to take a stance. I’m trying to stimulate your thinking and inspire conversations. Truthfully, at this stage, I feel like I have to do some more fact-finding before I take any particular stance with conviction. I want to observe how these political stories unfold, resisting the tendency to pass judgment, wag my finger, or join an angry mob. I’m not interested in jumping on any bandwagons without having all the facts.
Regarding the mayor’s p card spending, the only statements we’ve really heard from him have been apologies. At this point, we really don’t know the story behind the story for why he spent $31,000 on that government-issued credit card. We only know that he ultimately paid back that amount. On the surface, it is questionable that he bought a surfboard and a marathon-performance bike. We can only speculate on the motivation. As I try to understand it without having all the facts, I envision him at the Duke Kahanamoku surfing event in Honolulu — remember him making the news for doing to a headstand on his longboard? I recall him giving us all something to cheer about, as our Iron Mayor participating in the Ironman Triathlon. Who knows, maybe he thought those surfboard and bike purchases were part his official business as mayor. The counter argument is that civil servants provided with government issued credit cards are briefed on what is and what is not appropriate spending. The mayor could have very well been told by now-retired Fiannce Director Nancy Crawford that he needed to watch his spending. Knowing how soft spoken she is, maybe Nancy wasn’t asservative enough and Billy was too dismissive with a “Sorry, auntie, my bad!” We can only speculate, while the Attorney General’s Office probes the matter. I commend our prosecuting attorney, Mitch Roth, for referring the investigation to the Attorney General, to avoid any appearance of impropriety. The hostess bar is another thing. At first I was appalled, and started thinking about slimey politicians I’ve encountered on the mainland who act all Holier Than Thou and then you spot them at some skanky truck stop strip club. News flash, when people are out partying, these are the type of places that are open later than every other bar. I’ve heard that about Club Evergreen, where the mayor reportedly spent $900. It’s one of the only bars in Honolulu open past 2 a.m. The thing is, the mayor incurred that charge while he was in Honolulu in County business. Taxpayers paid the airfare and rental car fee for that trip. So, did the business meeting move from a conference room to a hostess bar?! Apparently, in Asian custom, which is pretty prevalent around here, hostess bars are sometimes the venue for business. So, then, after you wrap your brain around that, you start thinking about the other charges, $400 here, $500 there, at different restaurants in the islands and on the mainland. I have been dining out, mulling this stuff over. And I just envision the mayor standing up at his table and announcing to about 15 people that the County of Hawaii is buying their dinner. Knowing his personality, I can picture that scenario. It’s not to say that that is the right thing to do. I’m mean it’s generous, but it is actually a little reckless, considering it is the taxpayer’s money. If you delve into council members’ p card spending, you see the varying spending habits of elected officials. Unfortunately, this is a subject that I will have to elaborate more fully in another edition due to the volume of material I have been going through since the story of mayor’s p card spending broke. One of the council member’s p card statements I reviewed closely is that of our former Puna representative Zendo Kern. Keep in mind, when I ran for Hawaii County Council last year, I thought I would be running against Zendo. So, I was eager to look at how he spent the public’s money. The reality is, he spent very little. In fact, he spent so little, it is no wonder why we didn’t him anywhere and we felt like we had a phantom representative. If you contrast Zendo with Billy, you start thinking about what you want out of a representative. With Billy, he has been everywhere. Some of his p card purchases reflect that he bought food for Iselle victims. He has gone to Washington, D.C., seeking federal funds for public transportation and roads, for example. One could argue that all the mayor’s moving and shaking is going to involve some expense.
Nevertheless, the mayor is clearly in some political hot water. And there are people who want to see this guy’s political future cooked. A friend of mine, Dennis Kitsman, has appropriately dubbed it “Hilogate.” Russell Doi has added “recall Billy” to his stockpile of inflammatory car-part-turned-billboards display at the intersection of Highway 11 and E. Kahaopea Street. Doi has a recall petition that he is trying to get people to sign. And he was at council members’ recent budget hearing heckling Billy with “Resign Billy, Resign.”
Meanwhile, as the Hilogate unfolds, we are witnessing the start of the next campaign season. On the nation front, we have Hillary Clinton, putting her name in the ring to potentially be our first woman president. And you know what? Talking about the Clintons, I cannot help but go back to Billy. There are many people who think Bill Clinton and Billy Kenoi are cut from the same cloth. It’s interesting because, with larger-than-life characters such as these, people really love to love them, or they love to hate them. The common denominator is passion. Speaking of passion and larger-than-life characters, there are some names circulating with regard to who is seeking to fill Billy’s shoes in the next mayoral go-around. The mayor is term-limited, fyi. On the list of usual suspects is Harry Kim. Having barely lost to Billy in the last go-around, maybe he wants to try again with Billy out of the picture. Also on the list is Marlene Hapai, a Republican who last ran for State House District 4, former University of Hawaii Hilo biology professor, and an active community planner in Puna. She said a while back she was considering a bid for mayor. Then there are the surprises. Pete Hoffmann, former Hawaii County Council chairman, who represented Kohala, the seat that Margaret Wille now occupies has put out exploratory feelers via email. And, get this, I heard from a credible source that Faye Hanohano is considering a run for the mayoral seat. Talk about larger-than-life characters! Faye, you may recall, is the four-term Puna state representative who lost in the last election to Joy San Buenaventura. She had hard time overcoming the negative publicity that resulted from how she publicly conveyed her passion for Hawaiian cultural issues. See? It’s all about the delivery. Time will tell who is going to pull their nomination papers. But, in the meantime, there is no shortage of headlines and what a pretty spectacular show, don’t you think?
Tiffany & Co.