Some half century ago, Maui was smaller, less complicated and just beginning its ascendancy as a tourist destination. Kaanapali had been established for about a decade. Kihei was a clutter of condos under construction. Kalana O Maui, the county building, was less than a decade old. The population was less than 50,000 - a third of today's count. Elections were the same and not the same.
Members of the County Council had little to fear from the voters, who - as they do now - cast ballots for familiar candidates. There were few new faces, usually for an open seat and always from an established island family. It would take upward of another decade before county politics included transplants such as Baldwin teacher Allen Barr and Molokai reporter Linda Lingle.
It was a time when the late Manuel Molina boasted he spent less than $50 on his re-election campaigns. He'd pause after the comment and add, "That's how much I spent for pencils with my name on 'em."
Members of the Maui County Council spent more time on the telephone and in face-to-face meetings with constituents than they did in session - it was a part-time job. Committee meetings were held in a seventh-floor conference room that could seat maybe a dozen spectators. There were usually empty chairs.
Audiences at the two-a-month sessions on the eighth floor often numbered just six, including four reporters, one each from the two Honolulu papers, The Maui News and KNUI radio. The two others were usually political gadfly Herman Adalist and Alexander & Baldwin's vice president for community relations, Phil Vierra.
There was little drama during the meetings if you excluded the flare-ups between bar owner Molina and his mortician nephew Joe Bulgo, a one-time opera singer. What else from a couple of easy-to-anger politicians? The outbursts were brief. Council Chairman Goro Hokama, father of current Council Member Riki Hokama, ran disciplined meetings. Public wrangling over development wouldn't come until decades later.
In those days, the No. 1 priority for would-be developers was to win over the mayor. They weren't always successful. Sometimes they left the ninth-floor office feeling beat up. Mayor Elmer F. Cravalho was pro-development, but he had his own ideas about what and where. Nothing got built without his OK.
Cravalho once said, "I can tell you the outcome of an (upcoming) election by making 20 telephone calls." He was that tapped in to the island. His office door was always open to reporters and anyone asking for a favor or complaining about what county workers were or were not doing. The reporters had no other source of county news. Every department head deferred to the mayor. "No comment. Go ask the mayor."
The mayor did have an Office of Information and Complaints - one appointed guy who answered to no one but the mayor. I got the job in 1976, an election year but with Cravalho's blessing stayed out of campaign politics. I was a hired technician. Mostly the job involved writing and distributing press releases to the island's three radio stations - KMVI, KNUI and KAOI and four newspapers - The Maui News, The Honolulu Advertiser, The Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the weekly Maui Sun.
That was the easy part of the job, even though it involved an electric typewriter, Xerox copies and riding a motorcycle from newsroom to newsroom. Today, check the county's website.
The hard part was dealing with recent arrivals. They'd move to the island with little or no knowledge of island ways and expect county bureaucrats and officials to act the way they did "back home." I loved telling them "You're not back home" and suggesting they "ask" rather than "demand." Or, stay ha'aha'a (humble) instead of maha'oi (pushy). It's still good advice when dealing with a low-level member of a bureaucracy, both public and private.
The job also involved leading school tours of the county building. The tours always ended by meeting the mayor. While waiting for Cravalho to arrive, I'd ask the kids, "Who owns this building?" Many different answers. I'd tell them they owned the building and all the people worked for them.
Not a bad thing to remember when you go to the polls. You are voting, aren't you?
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.