Lifeguard, politician will accept only small donations

Lifeguard Tamara Paltin has launched a campaign for Maui County mayor that’s short on money and election paraphernalia, but, she says, long on her concern for addressing community issues.

Last week, the 36-year-old Napili resident was the first to officially file as a candidate for the office currently held by Mayor Alan Arakawa, who is seeking re-election.

As of Tuesday, Paltin had $47 available for her campaign. (Arakawa had $379,294 in his campaign war chest, according to the last report to the state Campaign Spending Commission.) Paltin has never run for political office before. Arakawa, 62, is seeking his third term as mayor. In addition to his current term, he was mayor from 2003 to 2006, and served on the Maui County Council from 1995 to 1998 and from 2001 to 2002.

Despite Arakawa being a formidable opponent, Paltin said she believes she can run a strong campaign grounded in grass-roots issues, even without matching the mayor’s deep pockets. In fact, she said she won’t accept donations greater than $100 and has filed a notice of her intent to seek public funds for her campaign.

“I want people to know I’m not influenced by big money,” she said. “I think I can win. I’m just going to run a grass-roots campaign. I don’t think handing out pins and rice paddles has much to do with the issues. I don’t want to purchase a bunch of signs that will just end up in the landfill. I’d rather engage people and empower them.”

When asked about Paltin’s “big money” comment and the extent to which the mayor is influenced by campaign donors, Arakawa campaign Chairwoman Lynn Araki-Regan said: “Mayor Arakawa is only beholden to the voting public. Those who donate do so because they support the mayor’s vision, but public service means you serve everyone.”

Paltin started her campaign website,, on Monday.

And, she said, even if she loses the mayor’s race, “I’ll be glad I at least talked about the issues.”

Paltin became well-known on Maui for her efforts to save the Honolua Bay area from development as the co-founder and president of the Save Honolua Coalition. In 2007, she was among The Maui News’ “People Who Made A Difference.”

She was born in Honolulu, grew up in Hilo (Hilo High School class of 1995), received a Bachelor of Science degree from Northern Arizona University (with cum laude honors) in 1998 and has been a Maui County ocean safety officer since 2001. She’s married to George Vierra, has a 23-month-old daughter, a 3-year-old son and three stepchildren, ages 25, 24 and 16.

Paltin said the impetus for her campaign was “frustration with the current system.”

Oahu and Kauai lifeguards are paid $2.50 more per hour than Maui lifeguards when they operate personal watercraft, although they do the same work, she said. (Big Island lifeguards don’t use personal watercraft.)

Maui County lifeguards have operated the watercraft, doing ocean rescues and monitoring shark sightings, without being compensated for using them for the past 12 years, Paltin said. Lifeguards have filed a grievance seeking such compensation, which, she said, is an example of how the concerns of front-line county employees are not making their way up to the county’s top-level management.

“People are hearing us, but they’re not listening,” Paltin said. So far, there’s been no favorable response, “just getting roadblocks.”

Araki-Regan said that, as a campaign official, she was unable to comment about the lifeguards’ grievance, but she said: “Front-line employees are the backbone of the County of Maui as they interact with the community and businesses on a daily basis.”

Paltin said she discussed her frustration with “some people in politics” who urged her to run for mayor but not to do so as a single-issue candidate.

She has been monitoring the county’s General Plan review process and has found it too slow and the county administration poor at enforcing plan provisions already in place.

Paltin said the General Plan is “long overdue” for updating. The last plan was approved in 1990, and it was supposed to be updated every 10 years, she said.

“We’re working off a 1990 plan that nobody’s even following,” she said.

Paltin said she doesn’t have “good faith” that if Mayor Arakawa were re-elected then his administration would follow and implement the General Plan.

Although it’s more than 600 pages long, the county’s General Plan should be followed by the county’s executive branch “like your Bible, almost,” she said.

She noted that Planning Director Will Spence recently acknowledged that the county has a “laundry list” of 200 to 250 actions it’s supposed to do as detailed in community plans written over the years. But it’s only accomplished about six of them so far.

Paltin said Spence’s plan to set up a new division, the Plan Implementation Division with a staff of three, would fall short.

“Three people in the Planning Department just isn’t going to cut it,” she said.

Instead, she said, all county directors need to take their marching orders from the county’s general and community plans, setting up goals, objectives and action items to accomplish what the community has said it wants its county government to do.

“All we need to do is follow and implement the General Plan,” she said. “It’s a blueprint of what people want.”

Araki-Regan said the Maui Island Plan was adopted by the county on Dec. 28, 2012. She noted that the plan establishes urban and rural growth areas that indicate where development is intended and will be supported.

“Growth areas will provide for less-costly services, reduced commuting, protection of community character and the preservation of agriculture, open space, and cultural and natural resources,” she said. “The plan comprises goals, policies, programs and actions, which are based on an assessment of current and future needs and available resources.”

The plan is the “principal tool for the county and its citizens to use when evaluating public and private projects on Maui island and their impacts on land use, the economy, environment, infrastructure and cultural resources,” Araki-Regan said.

Some community plans, such as the Lanai plan, which is before the Lanai Planning Commission, are being updated, she said.

As for planning staff committed to implementing plans, Spence has proposed a “new team of planners that will make implementing community plans a priority,” she said.

Paltin and Arakawa are two of five candidates who’ve checked out nomination papers for mayor. The others are Kihei resident Alana Kay, Kahului resident Orion Kopelman and Wailuku resident Carson Nemoto.

In other action among candidates, Council Member Don Guzman filed officially last week for re-election to his Kahului residency seat, and former Kahului Council Member Joe Pontanilla checked out papers to reclaim his former seat.

Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa and Council Member Stacy Crivello officially filed as candidates to reclaim their respective Upcountry and Molokai residency seats.

And, Council Member Mike Victorino checked out papers for his Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu seat and former Council Member Mike Molina took out nomination papers to seek his former Makawao-Haiku-Paia seat.

Lahaina resident Frederick Mejia Nava pulled papers for the West Maui council seat held by Council Member Elle Cochran. She also has checked out papers for re-election, while Lahaina resident Butch Buenconsejo has taken out papers for the West Maui residency seat.

* Brian Perry can be reached at