White, Furtado face off for council seat in general election
DECISION 2016 EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in a series of feature stories on contested races in Tuesday’s general election. Stories will appear most days through Sunday. A complete look at all Maui County Council and state House contests was published as a special section in the Oct. 23 edition of The Maui News.
In a closely watched council race this election cycle, incumbent and Maui County Council Chairman Mike White will defend his Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seat against challenger and first-time candidate Trinette Furtado on Tuesday.
If re-elected, White, 67, said he will continue to bring a cool head and steady hand to the council as he works to ensure the county is fiscally responsible — something he takes very seriously. As a “numbers guy,” White says crafting a responsible budget is one of his proudest accomplishments as a council member.
“I really enjoy working on the budget,” he said.
White served as the council Budget Committee chairman before assuming the chairmanship of the council in January 2015. He was first elected to the council in 2010.
As council chairman, White said he acts with uncompromising honesty and integrity. “Those are the values my parents taught me,” he explained. “I learned this at an early age: When you do what’s right, you don’t have to look over your shoulder. I have a very strong responsibility to do the right thing.”
White pledges to carry on the good work he’s done for Maui County residents since he was first elected in 2011. “I’ve worked very hard on their behalf, and I will continue to do so,” he said. “Maui is my home, and I have a sense of kuleana to make things better for everyone here.”
It’s been a spirited, issue-laden campaign for Furtado, 45, a political newcomer who seeks to infuse the council with new ideas and a fresh perspective. “This election is not just about me,” she explained. “It’s about a new path.” Furtado credits her opponent for making the county more fiscally accountable, but says there are a number of concerns that haven’t been addressed during his tenure. “What we’re seeing are significant problems that haven’t been dealt with,” she said. “And until they are, we won’t see things get better.”
Furtado said she’s not afraid to tackle the tough issues. In fact, she was one of the lead organizers of protests to block the transport of wide-load parts for the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope from a Puunene baseyard to the summit of Haleakala last summer.
“I always point out the elephant in the room,” she said. “And then I invite it to sit down so we can have a chat.” If she’s elected, Furtado said she will work tirelessly to “incentivize community.” “We can do so much if we all work together,” she said. “I’ve seen what it can do on a small scale, and I know it can happen on a larger scale.”
Here’s where the two candidates stand on a few of the issues affecting Maui County residents.
Transparency in local government
For Furtado, there’s one issue that lays the groundwork for the rest: improving government transparency and accessibility of our elected officials. “We need more transparency in local government and more access to information,” she explained. “If we are more community-minded, we will have better policies.”
If elected, Furtado said her door will always be open to constituents. “I am here to listen,” she said. “The door will always be open — just take off your slippers and come in.” Furtado said she would also be a visible presence in the community. “I won’t just be waiting for the phone to ring; I’ll be reaching out and asking people what they need,” she said. “It doesn’t take much to reach out . . . you just need to get out and do it.” Above all, Furtado would like to see unity in county government.
“We don’t need to see divisiveness in the people who represent us,” she said. “We need to see cohesiveness.”
White also calls for more trust, respect and cooperation in local government. “There’s a lot of work to do,” he said. “And in order for us to do it well, we have to work together.” In addition to fiscal responsibility, White is also an advocate for a greater level of government accountability and transparency. In an effort to keep residents informed, White writes about county legislative matters in the “Chair’s 3 Minutes,” a weekly column in The Maui News.
“Making the workings of the council transparent, whether it’s positive or negative, is important,” he said. “We need to make the process as transparent as we possibly can.”
White says he’s always ready and willing to listen and respond to his constituents’ concerns, and if he’s not making appearances out in the community, it’s because he’s hard at work tackling the issues that affect Maui County and its residents.
“I prefer to spend my time doing the job I was elected to do,” he said.
Both candidates agree it is vitally important to strike a balance between economic and environmental stability. For Furtado, it starts from the ground up. She proposes leasing county agricultural land to increase local food production, as well as creating private- and public-sector partnerships to support local farmers and sustainable agricultural endeavors.
Furtado also calls for more discussion regarding the risk-to-benefit analysis of rezoning agricultural land. And in order to accommodate population growth, she said the county must review and update all community plans that are more than 10 years old in order to assess the potential impacts on communities.
White said he keeps a close eye on the state of the local economy and even closer eye on Maui’s environmental integrity. “I believe in balanced growth that provides for both,” he said. Smart growth not only ensures a better quality of life for residents but also contributes to a healthier visitor industry, which provides more than 75 percent of the county’s economic activity, he said.
Among other things, White said, the county can prevent urban sprawl by preserving chunks of land for open space. And to reduce traffic congestion and the environmental impact of residents driving to and from work, White said he will continue to support and expand the Maui Bus and other commuter transportation systems and work to create a safe network of bike paths.
Affordable housing and homelessness
White and Furtado both say they will look for ways to create more affordable housing options for Maui County residents, and they are also committed to finding long-term solutions to homelessness.
For White, it’s a work in progress: The council is considering a number of housing-related bills. “We are working toward solutions,” he said. “And we spend more on homeless issues than any other island.”
White sees homelessness through a lens of compassion. His father served as treasurer of the Institute for Human Services on Oahu for 35 years, and White, who was born and raised on Oahu, often visited the 24-hour emergency shelter during his formative years.
“We need to take care of our own,” he said. “We have a responsibility to help families, especially those with children, who are homeless because of housing issues.”
Looking at the big picture, White says the affordable housing crisis has been largely driven by market forces, not government forces. An anemic inventory leads to escalating costs, and until we have an adequate housing supply, we won’t be able to bring home or rental prices down, he explained.
“We need to increase the inventory to decrease the prices,” he said.
Among other things, White would like to see more options added to the mix of affordable solutions in the county’s urban areas, and if appropriate, zoning changes that would facilitate the movement of affordable projects. “We have to attack the planning process and the rezoning process,” he said.
Increasing the supply of affordable and workforce housing is Furtado’s top campaign issue. “This is a crisis that cannot be ignored,” she said. “We need to take action now.” If elected, Furtado said she’d start with some housekeeping. “We need to look at what’s on the books and start weeding out the ordinances that contribute to the problem,” she said.
Another major concern, she said, is the scarcity of affordable rentals on Maui. “This is a problem that’s only getting worse . . . affordable rentals must be accessible,” she said. “If I’m elected, I’ll push for the council to hold community meetings so we can fully understand this issue. We also need an accurate inventory of rental properties that the county has access to.”
Furtado said she plans to take a closer look at illegally operating transient vacation rentals, as well as underutilized or vacant county properties that could be repurposed or rehabbed to increase the stock of affordable units or house unsheltered residents.
“We need to look at properties with vacant spaces, like Maui Marketplace,” she said. “The county could acquire or rent these spaces and open dorms with showers and toilets to those in need. If we give them transitional housing, we can get them on the path to self-sufficiency — it’s doable as long as it’s safe.”
Trinette K.U. Furtado
Residence: Hamakualoa, Haiku
Occupation: Web and graphic designer/developer
Education: Maui High School, Class of 1988; Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2001
Community service: Sierra Club, Maui Chapter, executive board member, 2015-16; ‘Aha Kauleo State Advisory Board for Ka Papahana/Hawaiian Language Immersion Schools, school/parent representative, 2013-14; ‘Aha Ho’oko/Executive Board of ‘Aha Kauleo, recording secretary, 2014-16; Na Leo Kako’o Maui (Ke Kula Kaiapuni o Maui PTA), Hope Pelikikena, vice president, 2010-13
Family: Divorced, one child
Occupation: General manager of the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel; council member
Political experience: Maui County Council, 2011-present; Hawaii State Legislature, House of Representatives, 1993-98
Education: Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, School of Travel Industry Management
Community service: Native Hawaiian Hospitality Association, treasurer, founding member, board of directors, 2005-13; Hawai’i Employers Council, Board of Governors, 2001-14; Hawai’i Hotel & Lodging Association, Board of Directors, 2000-13; University of Hawaii School of Travel Industry Management Advisory Council, 2004-08; Maui Hotel & Lodging Association, president, 1987, vice president, 1988, 1989, chairman, 1990, 1991, board member, 1986-95, member, 1998-2003, member of the board 2004-present
Family: Married, five adult children