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Alberta de Jetley to run for Lanai council seat

Gabe Johnson to campaign again; Riki Hokama is facing term limits

Liquor Control Commission member Alberta de Jetley speaks during a commission meeting Wednesday morning. De Jetley confirmed Wednesday that she is stepping down from the commission to run for the Maui County Council’s Lanai residency seat. The Maui News / COLLEEN UECHI photo

WAILUKU — Lanai resident and longtime newspaper publisher Alberta de Jetley is resigning from the Liquor Control Commission to run for the Maui County Council, de Jetley confirmed Wednesday.

De Jetley’s final meeting with the commission will be Jan. 23; candidates can officially start filing papers to run on Feb. 3.

“I feel that I can serve the Liquor Control Department better as a councilwoman than as a commissioner,” de Jetley said during a break in the meeting.

Council Member Riki Hokama, who currently holds the Lanai residency seat, has to step down after this year due to term limits.

Lanai resident Gabe Johnson, who’s challenged Hokama in the past two elections, said he welcomed de Jetley’s candidacy and also planned to run again in 2020.

GABE JOHNSON – Plans another council run

“The more the merrier,” Johnson said. “We get some people in there, that gives the voters a choice.”

De Jetley, who’s run the Lanai Today newspaper for the past 11 years, said she attends all the community meetings on Lanai, and with Hokama leaving, “I realized that I was the most informed person on Lanai, and it was time for me to move on to other things.”

“I have another project that is really dear to my heart that will make a big impact, and I think I can get that project moving forward better as a councilwoman than I can as just a newspaper editor,” she said.

That project is to bring an assisted living facility to Lanai. De Jetley knows of at least 11 longtime Lanai residents who can no longer live on the island because there isn’t a facility like that. She’s fostering a dog for a friend, who was hospitalized and now lives in an assisted living facility on Oahu.

“I’m hoping and praying that I can get people like her to be able to come back where they can be near their families, and where they can be near their friends, and where they can be near their pets,” de Jetley said.

She added that there are big things happening on Lanai, including the possibility of Pulama Lana’i — the company of tech billionaire Larry Ellison, who owns about 98 percent of the island — buying the island’s grid. Hawaiian Electric said Monday that it was approached by Pulama Lana’i and that they were in “exploratory talks.” Pulama Lana’i said it wants to modernize Lanai’s grid and push the island toward energy independence.

“Lanai is not a sustainable island. We’ve never been able to support ourselves, and now we have this opportunity to enter a whole new future for our residents,” de Jetley said. “So I’m really excited about that. I want to be part of developing that.”

De Jetley said that taking Lanai to “the next phase” will require a lot of money, and it’s unclear whether Hawaiian Electric would be willing to spend that kind of money on Lanai. It “makes sense” for Pulama Lana’i to take over, she said.

When asked if she had reservations about a private company owning the grid, de Jetley pointed out that it would still be regulated by the state Public Utilities Commission.

De Jetley was born on Molokai as Alberta Morita and moved to Lanai when her father became the island’s game warden. She graduated from Lanai High and Elementary School, and at age 18 began working for the hotel and travel industry on Oahu and Hawaii island.

De Jetley’s late husband, Tony, was the general manager of Hotel Hana Maui, and after his passing in 1981, de Jetley moved back to Lanai, where she ran Castle & Cooke’s community newsletter, the Lanaian, from 1985 to 1990. She’s since started or run a series of publications — the Lanai Times in 1990, Hana News from 1990 to 1994 and then Lanai Today in 2008.

She’s also grown fruits and vegetables on her 18-acre farm on Lanai until she gave it up about two years ago.

“I can see both sides of the story,” de Jetley said of her newspaper experience. “I feel as a council member I’ll be able to analyze both sides of an issue, both sides of the problem, and get people to come together.”

De Jetley sold Lanai Today to Pulama Lana’i, who hired Nelinia Cabiles as editor. When asked if she was concerned about the company owning a newspaper that would have to keep it accountable, de Jetley said she wasn’t, because “not once in all of the time that I’ve been doing the newspaper have they ever asked me not to publish something.”

Johnson, meanwhile, said he wants to run again because he’s concerned about creating a better future for his daughter, a junior at Lahainaluna High School.

“There’s a lot of things that need to be solved so that we don’t have the constant turnover of young people and families and working-class folks, who have to leave Hawaii to make a living,” said Johnson, who’s a single father.

Johnson wants to see better paying jobs and more affordable housing, and like de Jetley, he’s interested in improving health care options for rural and Neighbor Island residents, pointing out that families on Lanai have to leave the island to give birth, spending money and taking time off from work. One solution on the county’s part could be to set up dorms near the hospital for off-island families, he said.

“Health care is really important, especially for the canoe districts, or the really rural districts. . . . The county could help off-island guys,” Johnson said.

As an organic farmer, Johnson is passionate about food sovereignty and wants to push for an agricultural park on Lanai. He works for Kumu Ola Farm, an aquaponics operation that offers organic produce and fish.

Born in Miami and raised in Cleveland, Johnson earned a degree in English at Kent State University in Ohio and went on to teach English in Japan after college. He landed a teaching internship in New York City before he was recruited to work at Lahaina Intermediate. He moved to Maui in 2003 and taught Japanese and English as a second language at the school before moving to Lanai in 2005. Since then, he’s worked as a bellman with the Four Seasons and as an invasive species technician with Pulama Lana’i.

Contrary to de Jetley, he was hesitant about Pulama Lana’i buying the island’s electric grid and would rather see the county take it over.

“I don’t believe that Pulama Lana’i should own a public utility,” Johnson said. “I like the way Kauai’s model is set up. The word is baked in there — the utilities should be in the public hand. I really wish, if they’re thinking on selling, then the county should think on buying.”

Johnson has run unsuccessfully against Hokama twice, but shaved the margin in the last election. In 2016, Hokama won with 23,272 votes, or 44 percent, to Johnson’s 19,092 votes, or 36.1 percent. In 2018, Hokama had 22,475 votes, 44.4 percent, to Johnson’s 20,508 votes, or 40.5 percent, which Johnson saw as an encouraging sign.

“I know my message is ringing true for people,” he said.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.