Molina aims to regain former seat
On Saturday, two-term Maui County Council Member Mike White will face off against three other candidates, including former Council Member Mike Molina, who has come out swinging.
“I have concerns about his (White’s) decisions to support amendments to the Circuit Breaker Tax exemption program, which subjected many families, including longtime residents, to higher taxes,” Molina said. “(White also) supported abolishing a successful housing assistance program helping our working families and reduced the budgets of our police, fire and solid waste, possibly jeopardizing their ability to serve the public more efficiently.
“While making these reductions, he has spent thousands of county tax dollars on color brochures and newsletters promoting his activities.”
Molina, who is an executive assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa, said that he “always believed in adding tools in the toolbox for affordable housing” and would have funded the program to help a handful of families. He added that White’s adversarial relationship with the Arakawa administration has caused issues to be dragged out, costing taxpayers money and time.
Molina previously held White’s seat, the council’s Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency district, from 2001 to 2010. He left the seat due to term limits and became an executive assistant for Arakawa.
Both Molina, 54, and White, 65, will try to fend off two lesser-known candidates, businessman HenrY Kahula Jr. of Paia and 26-year-old landscaper Alex Haller of Haiku in the primary election. The top two vote-getters Saturday will advance to the general election on Nov. 4.
Responding to Molina’s criticism, White said that the first-time homebuyers’ program advocated by Molina was not an effective way to help the thousands of Maui County first-time homebuyers.
“It definitely helps if you are one of the lucky 13 or so families who won in the lottery selection process,” White said in a email interview. “However, what about the other families who did not get selected? I, along with the majority of members, felt it was an unfair selection process and only helped a lucky few.”
A program is needed that helps all families needing assistance, White said, and the council has continually asked the Department of Housing and Human Concerns for a revamped program. A flaw in the rejected homebuyers program was that it did not have a repayment mechanism that would allow for a recycling of funds to help others.
In recent county budget cycles, White, the council’s Budget and Finance Committee chairman, has led the charge to trim Arakawa’s budget proposals. During the budget deliberations, White said he wanted to reduce the county budget because Maui County’s economy is not yet “on solid economic footing.”
White said that in order to hold the line on county fee levels, such as for trash pickup, and to keep property taxes at a minimum, proposed county expansion positions by the mayor could not be approved. Under White’s leadership, the council budget committee pared the mayor’s $623 million proposal with property tax hikes and increases in trash fees to $604 million with no trash fee hikes and a reduction in property tax rates.
White agreed with Molina that everyone must work hard to be fiscally responsible. He said it began in his office as he had to “make tough decisions and reallocate funds” by forgoing additional staff and travel expenses. This cutting was done so that he could assist with the payment for brochures and mailers to inform the public and to solicit public comment on the county budget process this past year.
“I heard very positive responses, and I received many comments thanking me for the information and outreach. Many felt that this was the first time county government made an effort to obtain their opinion, including how they felt resources should be increased, streamlined or reduced,” White wrote.
Kahula, 72, who has had at least two unsuccessful campaigns for the state House, is running for the council in part to “get heard.”
“Everyone that runs has concerns, concerns that are not being addressed,” he said.
Kahula’s concerns include the lack of political representation and lack of attention that Paia receives from the county and state governments. While Kahula acknowledged that some of his major concerns are state government issues, he said, “The thing is the council is never around.”
He said he would like to see the council promote entrepreneurship and suggested that the county outsource some work.
The 26-year-old Haller said he is running to lay the foundation for future political runs. He doesn’t expect to make it past the primary and has no funding.
What lured him into this year’s race was the council’s debate with the county administration over the county’s Launiupoko land purchase late last year. There was a battle over differing values for the 186 acres that involved appraisals done for the administration and the council, which was led by White.
In the end, the council, including White, approved buying the land at $13 million, the amount negotiated by the administration.
Haller, with a minor in construction management from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, said the issue over battling appraisals was like comparing “apples and oranges.”
He currently is working for the Maui Invasive Species Committee on its coqui frog capturing team.
Challenger Molina said the public has urged him to take back his seat.
“Citizens from all walks of life have expressed to me their appreciation for my past service and asked me to run because they want a full time, responsive and accessible elected officials who is not preoccupied with another job or special interest,” Molina said, alluding to White’s job as general manager of the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel. “They want another choice; they want someone there full time,” he said.
Molina said his affiliation with Arakawa’s administration will not be a factor.
“A council member has the responsibility of scrutinizing proposals from the administration and the right to disagree,” he said. “I will take this responsibility seriously and will not be afraid to ask the tough questions and disagree with the administration.”
If re-elected, White said issues that he would continue to tackle include road repaving, helping to create a new Paia bypass, “chipping away” at water issues, providing adequate public safety and adding park space. He also would focus on the economy, job creation and tackling the county’s fiscal challenges.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.
**Editor’s note: This story is a continuation of Maui News coverage of contested election races for state and county political offices. The primary election is Saturday. Winners advance to the Nov. 4 general election.