Most were not in favor of the bill as written, and will vote “no.”

Katherine Kama‘ema‘e Smith


Candidates running for Maui County Council participated in a forum at the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce Business Fest on Thursday, Oct 2. After brief introductions, they were all asked to answer this question: “Maui County’s controversial center stage is the GMO initiative to appear on the November ballot. Councilors, share your support or non-support.”

If approved, the Maui County Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) Moratorium Initiative would prohibit growth, testing and cultivation of genetically modified (GM) or engineered (GE) crops and would halt all GM and GE operations in the county until an environmental and public health study is conducted and finds the proposed cultivation practices to be safe and harmless.

The measure, if approved, provides strict penalties for violations of the prohibition against GE and GM. Civil penalties prescribed by the measure consist of fines that range from $10,000 to $50,000 per day for cultivation of GMOs. The measure also dictates criminal penalties consisting of $2,000 in fines and a year in prison for each offense, which could result in extremely harsh maximum criminal penalties, since each day of violation is considered a separate infraction.

Most were not in favor of the bill as written.

The forum continued with a question about how the candidates would work on affordable housing, which may be viewed in its entirety on Akakü: Maui Community Media (visit akaku.org).


Don Couch, council member for South Maui (Kïhei), is running for his third term. As a computer specialist, Couch is a “big picture” guy who likes to work on details to get things done. He likes to listen, find a way to fit in, interact and help, so things get done the right way. He encourages citizens to come to his office and share their thoughts, because his mind is always open.

“I discussed it with all the attorneys on the council and they say the language is flawed, so I’m not going to vote for it. This issue has been very divisive for the community… there is a lot on both sides that is just wrong. Yes, the EPA came before the council and said they have not tested all the pesticide combinations, but they said in the same sentence that it is illegal for companies to use untested combinations. Misinformation is on both sides. We need to get together and get this thing solved the right way.”

Couch will vote “no” on the initiative.

John Fitzpatrick is running for the South Maui seat against Couch. Fitzpatrick has a bachelor of science degree in marine biology, a master’s degree in zoology and teaches at UHMC. He made the point that between 700,000 and 1.2 million people once lived in Hawai‘i without any imported food. “We need to learn how to live off the land again and show the whole world how to do it.” He encouraged everyone to get out to vote and save the planet. Fitzpatrick said he is standing with the 10,000 ballot signers.

“If Monsanto wants to sue us, let them sue us. It will show you how evil they are.”

He will vote “yes” and encouraged the audience to vote “yes” on the GMO moratorium initiative.

Elle Cochran has represented West Maui for two terms and chairs the Infrastructure and Enviromenmental Management Committee. She said her culture is at the forefront of every decision she makes on the Council. She on the board of Waiola Church, and is honored to be of service to this community. She will never forget the küpuna and people who voted her into office.

“I support the initiative. I think the wording needs work and the intent is good. I pushed it through. Twenty thousand people thought it was important, so I will continue to support it.”

Cochran will vote “yes.”

Kaʻala Buenconsejo is running against Cochran. He is a graduate of Baldwin High School, University of Hawai‘i Maui College (UHMC) and UH Mänoa, and works as marketing director for the Hoaloha Group, owner of Old Lahaina Lüau, Star Noodle, Aloha Mixed Plate and Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop. He is focused on jobs, housing, parks and recreation for future generations. He wants affordable housing and more rental units for West Maui workers and their families, and will support the visitor industry by bringing more money back Maui.

“I have to ask, if the bill is flawed and needs a lot of work, then why are we spending full days of council time pushing it through? …Take all the time, effort and resources spent on this and put it toward affordable housing and jobs.”

“For the same reasons stated by everyone else, I am voting ‘no’.”

Don Guzman represents Kahului and chairs the Economic Development, Energy, Agricutlrue and Recreation Committees. He said we must find the balance in all aspects of life. He tries to balance culture and commerce. Having new people on the council brings growth and he brings new ideas to the council. A former deputy prosecutor, he had legislative experience working in Maizie Hirono’s office, and said his best experience was running his own law practice. He worked on the smoking ban for Maui beaches and conducted educational programs teaching high school students about the legislative process.

At the close of his first term he said, “The best is yet to come.”

“I am for the process. This is the first time a public initiative has gotten to the ballot.” Nevertheless, Guzman said that he does not like the language of the bill.

Guzman will vote “no.”

Joe Pontanilla, who is challenging Guzman, is a veteran and retiree from Hawaiian Telecom Inc. He served as a council member for Kahului from 2003 to 2012, and chaired the Housing and Human Services, Public Works, and Budget and Finance Committees. He worked on four successful affordable housing projects. He is currently an executive assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa, where he worked on the Läna‘i Community Health Center project.

Pontanilla said he cannot support this bill. He made the point that state and federal agencies are already in place to tell us what is safe or not safe: EPA, USDA, FDA.

He will vote “no.”

Mike Victorino has represented the Wailuku-Waiheʻe-Waikapü for eight years, and has lived on Maui for 42 years. He is focused on people-driven community and listening to the people. He has been working on 67 acres of public lands in Wailuku, working behind the scenes with Gov. Neil Abercrombie on the Lïpoa Point land purchase, and getting land in Launiupoko and ʻUkumehame so people can see open space as they drive.

“I cannot support it because of the language. I want to separate pesticides and GMO, not bring them together.” He believes the topic needs more discussion. “I cannot support the initiative. I am concerned about choice.”

Victorino will vote “no.”

Joe Blackburn, who is running against Victorino for the Central Maui seat, described his qualifications as a former member of the County of Maui Department of Parks and Recreation, the Maui Police and Maui Fire Departments, and an employee of Maui Electric Company. He now is a realtor-broker and owns a small business with his wife, Shirley.

As a trained instructor and first responder for hazardous chemicals, Blackburn said he has read all the background on this initiative and cannot find a reason to support it.

The answer now is “no.”

Mike White is completing his first term representing the Makawao-Ha‘ikü-Pä‘ia district. He spoke of Käʻanapali Beach Hotel, where he is general manager, and how they bring Hawaiian values and culture to people of all heritages, benefitting the hotel guests, staff and their families and the whole community. White said he brings this cultural perspective and a business perspective to the council to analyze the budget and inefficiencies and to make tough decisions focused on the best use of Mauiʻs resources. He said his family has been on Maui for generations and he wants to continue his service to the council.

He said that this is a very important issue for everyone on Maui that needs to go forward through a deliberative process. He said nobody wants to expose their family relative and friends to risk, but they need to know what the risks are. White says he has a responsibility to learn about both sides, and however the decision goes, to carry out the law.

Mike Molina is running against White. He is a veteran and a public shool educator, who prides himself on working together and respecting others’ ideas. He previously served five terms.

“To achieve legislation, we have work with other council members and the administration,” he said. Two pieces of legislation he is proud of are the plastic bag reduction law and affordable housing. He vows to be as accessible and responsive. He wants to restore faith in our government and people’s participation.

He said when it comes to legislating what is being proposed, the language of the moratorium initiative and its potential consequences—he cannot support the legislation. “I would support an initiative for labeling our foods, so people can choose what they eat.” He thinks the proposed initiative is too much for our community and we need to know more about it. “The issue is divisive and that’s unfortunate. I personally will not support this legislation as currently written,” he said.

Molina will vote “no.”

Gladys Baisa, County Council chair, represents Upcountry (Pukalani, Kula, ‘Ulupalakua). She spoke to her eight years of experience and proven ability to represent Upcountry residents with solid experience and relationships. She wishes to serve one more term to improve County Council communications and encourage public testimony from the people of Maui.

“I am not supporting the GMO initiative. The bill is flawed… I don’t want to spend any more tax dollars on lawyers.” She voiced a concern for choice and said Maui does not have to pass this initiative to enact labeling of GMO foods.

“I don’t want to see the economic and social devastation that will come if this initiative passes. Don’t make it complicated. Just vote ‘no’.”

Courtney Bruch, who is running against Baisa for the Upcountry seat, has lived on Maui 13 years. Bruch is a licensed healthcare provider with a background in nutrition, and a bachelor’s degree in graphic arts. She is an advocate for the environment and sustainability, natural farming practicies and school garden programs. She was a director of A GMO Free Maui, and she ecourages everyone to vote “yes” on the GMO initiative. She supports public health safety studies before GMO crops are allowed to be grown, to protect workers, children and the environment. Bruch says it is important to vote in new leaders who will steward the environment for the next generation.

“I am in strong support of the moratorium. I ask everyone to please read the bill at www.mauiunited.com. There is so much misinformation about this bill. It is not a rollback to Kaua‘i.”

She believes it is a strong bill, and that GMO should be dealt with at the county level of government, as genetically engineered taro was. In 2009, Maui County Health Department advised that genetically engineered taro not be grown until a public safety impact study could was completed. She says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency testified to the County Council that they had not fully tested all pesticide combinations.

Bruch will vote “yes.”

Bob Carroll represents East Maui (Häna-Keanae-Kailua) and chairs the Land Use Committee. Carroll is a veteran, and after leaving Hawaiian Telcom Inc., became a commercial fisherman. Carroll volunteers with the state Department of Education, community health, the Häna Museum and Bailey House Museum, introducing culture and history to Maui youth. He was president of the Maui Work Day Program. He believes in community.

“I do not believe this bill is going to do what we want it to do. The language is inappropriate, so I don’t support it.”

Carroll will vote “no” on the initiative.

Nick Nikhilananda is running for the East Maui seat against Carroll. He thanked the council members and said he would like to see some of them retire. He is an advocate for district voting. Nick earned an bachelor’s degree in political science from Bradley College and a master’s degree in public law and urban affairs from American University. His “Maui Talks-TV” show ran for nine years on Akakü. He said the County Council needs new blood, and called term limits “term pauses.”

Nikhilandana works as a mediator for the county courts and as a realtor. He was formerly state co-chair of Hawai‘i’s Green Party.

He said he strongly supports the initiative, and sees a lot of misinformation. He points out that it is not an anti-faming ban, and attorneys disagree on the language. He believes the County Council tries to keep community initiatives off the ballot.

Nikhilananda will vote “yes.”

Riki Hokama represents the Island of Länaʻi, where, he says, “Everyone is watching everybody— we all take care of each other.” He believes serving neighbors and community is a very honorable endeavor. He challenges voters to ask council members about tax rates, debt to cash ratio, permits and licenses, because the main business of the council is managing money for the county. He said that we need strong, independent councilors who will meet their charter to hold the administration accountable for their actions and the funds the council appropriates.

Hokama was chairperson of the committee that reviewed this initiative, and recommended not to move it forward. “For me, it doesn’t pass constitutional muster and I don’t believe it’s the right venue… it is a state or federal issue.” He said it will take a lot of taxpayers’ money when the county gets taken to court. “I don’t support it. This is an individual issue; I support everybody’s right to choose what to eat, but I will fight anybody who tells me what I have to eat.”

Hokama will vote “no.”

Stacy Crivello represents Molokai, but pointed out that all council members represent all of Maui. She is running unopposed for her second term. As a homestead farmer, she brings the council a Hawaiian perspective on water issues. She was trained to listen carefully and she is always open to learn from the public and from experts.

“One thing that we have to consider is what will happen if these big companies shut down. On Molokai, 300 families would be devastated.” She said that this might be a surgical strike to drive GMO companies off the island, but the outcome should not destroy families.

Crivello will vote “no” on the initiative.

Photo: Maui County Council members and challengers participated in a forum earlier this month, where they were asked to share their opinions on the Maui County Genetically Modified Organism Moratorium Initiative that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot.