Cochran in front despite super PAC support of rival

Council Member Elle Cochran was the top vote-getter in her West Maui residency race despite challenger Ka’ala Buenconsejo having more than $100,000 in support from independent super political action committees that made him a household name in Maui County through mailers and radio and newspaper advertisements.

Cochran held on to a lead throughout the night and in the end ended up with 10,714 votes, or 40 percent, followed by Buenconsejo, a Lahaina marketing manager, with 7,430 votes, or 27.7 percent. Coming in third was small-business owner Rick Nava with 4,684 votes, or 17.5 percent.

The two top vote-getters in the County Council nonpartisan races advance to the Nov. 4 general election. Those races with only two candidates advanced automatically to the general election.

“I’m happy. I put a lot of time and energy into this job, and I’d like to do more work,” Cochran said after the last printout while she was at Akaku: Maui Community Television studios in Kahului.

Earlier in the night, Cochran admitted that she was “a little worried” about how she would fare against Buenconsejo, who has had the backing of two super PACs.

The super PACs, Maui Time Share Ohana Political Action Committee and Forward Progress, both based in Honolulu, have poured thousands of dollars in advocating for Buenconsejo, a first-time political candidate. The PACs operate independently and do not need the permission of the candidate.

Cochran said pundits had predicted that she would face Buenconsejo in the general election.

Cochran said her camp will “work hard and work through the general” as she stopped on the side of the road to take a telephone call from The Maui News.

Buenconsejo thanked everyone for their support but added “there is a lot of work ahead of us.”

“Going into this race, we just wanted to get out there. As a first-time candidate, first-time political person coming into the race, it’s very humbling. I appreciate the support. I ask we continue to move forward and get to our goal,” he said after the final printout.

On the super PACs, Buenconsejo said he appreciates the support, but added that they are totally a “separate campaign from my personal campaign.” Buenconsejo said that he will not be a “rubber-stamp” for the PACs.

“There is no commitment on my part,” he said.

Looking at the number of blank ballots and those cast for Nava, Buenconsejo said around 8,000 votes are now up for grabs.

“I hope to get that support,” he said.

Maui Time Share Ohana has received its funding from donations from the Ocean Resort Villas PAC and Ocean Resort Villas North PAC, which are affiliated with owners of time shares at The Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas.

While the PACs did not return requests for comment on why they were endorsing Buenconsejo, the Maui Time Share Ohana website asks for a more fair property tax rate and says that its tax rate is more than several times greater than the one for residents, although the owners spend a lot of money on Maui, which stabilizes the visitor industry.

Forward Progress’ funding has come from the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program. The super PAC has said it supports candidates “who have a desire, commitment and plan to make Hawaii the kind of place where residents want to live and can afford to live.”

In Wailuku Heights, Nava was at his sister’s house watching the results.

“I’m a little surprised. We are disappointed because we worked so hard,” Nava said after the second printout.

In another high-profile council race, incumbent Council Member Mike White, who holds the Makawao-Paia-Haiku residency seat, trailed challenger and former Council Member Mike Molina all night.

White had 9,562 votes, or 35.7 percent, to Molina’s 10,862, or 40.5 percent. Molina is an executive assistant for Mayor Alan Arakawa and previously held White’s seat.

Molina, who was enjoying a pre-anniversary dinner with his wife and friends at Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Wailea, said via cellphone that “we are pleased with the results, but it’s far from over.”

“We thought the incumbent would have the edge at this point,” Molina said after the second printout was issued at around 8 p.m. “We hope the trend continues.”

Molina said his lead could be attributed to his past accomplishments on the council and added that with him in the race the public now has “another choice to choose from.”

After the last printout White said: “This is just the primary at this point. We’ve got a long way to go. I look forward to a positive campaign and getting out my message.”

“As we compare our accomplishments, I think people will see I have been working very, very hard for the people of Maui in being fiscally responsible and cutting taxes,” White said via cellphone as he was leaving Kahului. “I believe the people of Maui County want a council member who is watching out for them in a fair and accountable and balanced manner.”

White said he thinks many people appreciate that the council’s job is to do the kinds of things that he has been doing, alluding to reviewing administration proposals.

“I think there has been too much focus maybe on my disagreements with the mayor,” White said.

In fact, he said, his Budget and Finance Committee has agreed with the administration on more things than it has disagreed on.

“I think overall they are doing a good job,” White said of Arakawa’s administration.

As for Saturday’s results, White said that he and his campaign knew it would be a close race. He said that Molina has great name recognition and has the solid backing of Arakawa and his supporters.

In the same race, Paia businessman Henry Kahula Jr. finished third with 2,060 votes, or 7.7 percent, and Haiku landscaper Alex Haller had 795 votes, or 3 percent.

The East Maui and South Maui residency seats had their incumbents carrying at least a 10,000-vote lead over their next competitors.

East Maui Council Member Robert Carroll had 16,221 votes, or 60.5 percent, followed by Nikhilananda with 3,784 votes, or 14.1 percent. Third was John Blumer-Buell with 1,875 votes, or 7 percent.

After the first printout that showed he had a commanding lead, Carroll said, “I’m very happy. I truly believe people look at what I do and they are satisfied (with my work).”

“It gives me a good feeling that I’m on the right track and people support me, what I’m doing,” he said.

Carroll, who was at state House candidate James “Kimo” Apana’s gathering in Kahului, said, “I plan on even working harder.”

Nikhilananda, who was reached at home in Huelo before he headed to the Akaku studios in Kahului, said: “There is enough people to say yes, we want another choice.”

He said that if he held the lead after the first printout that he felt that Blumer-Buell would extend his support to him.

“He knows I would support him if he had prevailed,” he said.

Nikhilananda said he wasn’t running against Carroll but ran to give people a choice.

Blumer-Buell could not be reached for comment.

In the South Maui Council race, incumbent Don Couch led with 14,961 votes, or 55.8 percent. He was followed by John M. Fitzpatrick with 3,704 votes, or 13.8 percent. Third was Robin S. “Sea Lily” Knox with 1,999 votes, or 7.5 percent, and Jerry Metcalfe with 1,096 votes, or 4.1 percent.

Couch said after the first printout that he felt good about the results.

“I think it’s a pretty good indication people are supportive of the way I’m working at the council, and they like how I do my job,” he said via cellphone on the side of the road after conducting a radio interview.

“I think the biggest thing is everybody knows I’ll talk to anybody. . . . I listen to all sides of the issue. Everyone knows that and they like that,” he said.

Couch said Fitzpatrick, an oceanography, environmental ecology and human biology instructor at the University of Hawaii Maui College and a captain for Paragon Sailing Charters, probably has support from the college.

Fitzpatrick could not be reached for comment Saturday night.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at