Mayoral candidates share their life stories
Elle Cochran could have led a quiet, relaxing life of surfing, living off the grid and running a surf shop with her husband, Wayne.
But the reasons that pulled her into politics are the same ones that have kept her there — to protect Maui’s natural beauty and the island way of life. What started as a campaign to save Honolua has morphed into a public service career that Cochran hopes will lead to the mayor’s office.
“It was really about save Honolua, but of course when get in, you learn that there’s so much more things happening in the community,” Cochran said.
The lifelong West Maui resident grew up in Lahaina when it was still “a quiet plantation town.” Pioneer Mill was still operating, and Cochran recalled a world of crop dusters, cane burning and “chasing the pesticide truck down the cane haul road” as it sprayed droplets of what the kids assumed was water.
Before the art galleries and retail stores swooped in, Front Street was an amalgam of mom-and-pop stores offering fresh-baked bread, homemade noodles, fishing supplies and shave ice. Cochran and her brothers would go to the harbor to dive for coins tossed by tourists.
“It was a real simple way. There was no traffic, just the families,” said Cochran, who lived on Front Street and walked to school at Kamehameha III Elementary.
Cochran’s parents came from Oahu, and her father, a crane operator, helped build the Sheraton Maui in the 1960s. They fixed up an old condemned building in Lahaina and turned it into a bar and restaurant, with the family living upstairs above the business. Cochran experienced tragedy early on; she was just 3 years old when her father died of heart problems, and in 6th grade when her brother, a black coral diver in his early 20s, was killed by sharks.
“I was young, but we were close, and I missed him a lot,” Cochran said, adding that what happened to her brother “literally scared me out of the water” for many years.
Cochran was a boarder at Seabury Hall before she left at age 16 to get her GED.
“I didn’t like school,” she said. “I wanted to jump into the workforce and earn money.”
She went to work in the food and beverage industry, and for 32 years hopped between various hotels in jobs ranging from prep cook to bartender.
Cochran met her husband through their mutual love of surfing. Wayne Cochran had come to Maui fresh out of high school, drawn by the waves, and ended up shaping Elle’s first longboard. The couple married in 1996 and lived off the grid in Honolua.
“When I met my husband, I was just starting to get back into the ocean,” Elle Cochran said. “I was getting clean and sober and needed to find a healthier lifestyle, a healthier activity, and I thought, you know, I think I want to go back and try surfing. . . . I went into the water and for some reason, this time, I felt my brother was there to protect me.”
Surfing was part of Cochran’s recovery process after getting involved with drugs and bad company. On Nov. 27, 1993, Cochran – then 28 and known under her maiden name as Eleanora Kellett – was with Marco Antonio DeCiaccione when he pointed a .38-caliber handgun at four tourists and demanded money from them in the parking lot of the Lahaina Cannery Mall. Cochran tried to help DeCiaccione after he was apprehended by mall security and “attempted to wrestle the gun away from the security guard” before she could be subdued, according to court documents.
In 1994, Cochran pleaded no contest in to second-degree attempted theft, a felony, though she received a certificate of discharge from the state after completing five years’ probation and 200 hours of community service, which Maui County Clerk Jeffrey Kuwada said in 2010 made her eligible to run for office.
“Ilima Loomis did a front-page story (for The Maui News) back in the day when I first ran,” Cochran said. “This mom called me and said she wanted to tell me that she read the article to her kids because she wanted her kids to know that if they ever make a mistake in their lives, it’s not the end of the world. You will still be loved. You can change yourself.”
Cochran said she’s not ashamed of her past and sees her public service career as proof that a person can change.
Her first foray into politics began around 2006, when Maui Land & Pineapple Co. proposed a golf course and luxury homes for Lipoa Point. Determined to keep Honolua from becoming another high-end luxury community, Cochran founded the Save Honolua Coalition, rallying residents to show up en masse to County Council and General Plan Advisory Committee meetings to convince the county to buy the land.
It was a crash course in county politics. Until then, Cochran had no idea what community plans or council members were. When West Maui Council Member JoAnne Johnson termed out, Cochran decided to run for office in 2010.
“I was still in the throes of still trying to save Honolua, and I thought, ‘I don’t even know if these guys are listening to me, I don’t know if they agree what is going on. I should be there in the seat making decisions, because I know I want to vote to protect this place,'” Cochran recalled.
Cochran won the election that year and began the first of what would be four consecutive terms. Come November, she hopes her next step will be the ninth floor of the county building.
“I’m trying to bring in new and fresh and progressive and creative, and just changing the whole dynamic of how decisions are made and how things are looked at,” Cochran said.
If there’s anything Mike Victorino’s parents taught him, it was to always work hard and value what he had, however much or little that may be.
“We were very poor. ‘Humble means’ is probably a nice way of saying it,” said Victorino of his childhood. “What we did have, we enjoyed. It never bothered us. We didn’t know the difference between having and have not.”
Victorino has spent his whole life applying the lessons learned in childhood, from the pineapple fields of Lanai to the fast-food counters of McDonald’s to the cushy chambers of the Maui County Council — jobs where he worked hard, earned his place and gained an appreciation for the everyday worker.
“It gave me a really good perspective of people, especially the everyday little guy, and that’s why I fight very hard for them each and every day,” he said.
Born and raised on Hawaii island, Victorino grew up with a father who worked for Hilo Iron Works for 37 years, and a mother who juggled several part-time jobs as they moved throughout the islands, including working at Dairy Queen and as a pineapple trimmer on Kauai. Neither of his parents had a college education, which they insisted their children would have.
“My dad and mom worked very hard to give us three essentials: a roof over our head, food on the table and education to better ourselves,” Victorino said. “We grew up always knowing that you took care of each other, what you had you had to share, and there was no more after that.”
Victorino spent the summers of his youth visiting his mother’s family in Haliimaile; summers in high school were spent working the pineapple fields of Lanai for $1.15 an hour. After graduation, he went on to study business management at Hawaii Community College and Hilo College.
In every job, Victorino worked his way through the ranks. At Zales Jewelry Corp. in Hilo, he went from stock clerk to manager and was sent to open the Zales store at the Queen Ka’ahumanu Center in 1973. A year later, he left Zales to work at the Puunene McDonald’s, progressing through the “Hamburger U” training program to become the manager of two McDonald’s locations in Lahaina and one in Kihei.
It was at McDonald’s that Victorino met his future wife, Joycelyn, a fellow employee. While she wasn’t smitten right away, Victorino said he used a combination of “my charm, my good looks and I’ll leave it at that” to win her over. In 1976, they were married, followed by the birth of son Michael Jr. later that same year and then Shane in 1980.
“Emotional-wise and in many other areas of my life, she’s been there for me 100 percent of the time,” Victorino said of his wife. “And I try to be there 100 percent of the time for her. I think I skip sometimes, more like 75 (percent). But I can say that she has helped me be a much better person, a much better man.”
After the birth of their sons, Victorino left McDonald’s for the insurance industry and worked hotel security. The family weathered tough financial times, when buying a $40 baseball glove for Shane was a significant expense (but one that would pan out decades later when Shane rose through the ranks to Major League Baseball where he became an all-star and won two World Series rings). They also endured a number of health scares — Mike Sr.’s cancer surgeries and the time a drunken driver struck the car he and Michael Jr. were in.
“That accident changed a lot of my perspective on life,” said Mike Victorino Sr., who was out of work for nearly three months afterward. “God made me see that there’s another opportunity, and I’m not going to waste it.”
Over the years, people had encouraged Victorino to run for public office, pointing out his knack for working with people. But Victorino had promised his wife that he wouldn’t run until their sons had finished school. In 1998, with Shane set to graduate the following year from St. Anthony Junior-Senior High School, Joycelyn gave her husband the OK.
He ran to represent Maui on the state Board of Education and won. Two years later, he decided to run for the Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat on the council, and lost to Dain Kane. Maybe, Victorino thought, politics wasn’t his calling.
“I was kind of disappointed, but you learn from your defeat what I call the essence of life,” Victorino said. “If you win all the time and never lose, you really miss out on something very important — how to lose. Because when you lose, you actually win because you gain the knowledge, experience and, more importantly, I believe, that fire to come back and win.”
When Kane left the seat in 2006 to run for mayor, Victorino gave it another shot. This time, he won.
“It was the start of 10 years on the council, 10 years that I’ve seen Maui and the dynamics of Maui change, how the agricultural industry slowly dissipated,” Victorino said.
The former council member, who termed out in 2016, also has served on dozens of public and private boards throughout his career, including the Board of Water Supply, Board of Education, Maui County Fair and Maui Economic Community Concerns. He’s coached and refereed youth sports. Victorino said his experiences and community involvement have shown him the different perspectives of the many people he hopes to bring together if elected mayor.
“We need that balanced vision, and that’s what I think I bring to the table,” Victorino said. “The years of administrative experience being in the business world, corporations as well as smaller mom-and-pop businesses, nonprofits, government. I bring a wide array of all these experiences and knowledge that now I can sit with anyone . . . and we can have a discussion.”
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at email@example.com.
Occupation: County Council member (since 2011); owner, Maui Surfboards
Community service: Na Kia’i o Waine’e member (2013-present); board member Waiola Church (2009-2010 and 2015-present)
Occupation: Insurance, Mutual Underwriters Corp.
Political experience: Maui County Council member, 2007-2016
Education: Studied business management at Hawaii Community College and Hilo College
Community service: Ka Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Shelter, vice president (2013-2015); Knights of Columbus, state deputy (2012-2014 and 2018) and supreme warden (2016-2017); Maui Family Support Services, president and board of directors (2014-2017); General Insurance Agents of Maui, president, 2012-present
Family: Married, two adult sons
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of stories examining the key Maui County races in the Nov. 6 general election. Today’s feature focuses on the race for mayor with profiles of the candidates. The election stories will run periodically through Nov. 4. The Maui News election guide will be published Sunday.