By Wendy Osher
Maui county council candidates clarified their stance on the proposed GMO moratorium during a candidate forum hosted by the Maui Native Hawaiian Chamber of Commerce during their 2014 Business Fest.
A total of 16 candidates participated in the forum held Thursday afternoon at the Grand Wailea resort in South Maui.
There were a total of four candidates who said they would be supporting the initiative that seeks a moratorium on genetically engineered organisms in Maui County, including a single member of the current county council.
The list of moratorium supporters includes:
- Elle Cochran, incumbent West Maui: said there were 20,000 people who felt the urge to support the item by signing petitions in its favor. She said that while it needs a lot of work, the intent is good. Cochran, who has been an advocate of GMO labeling, says that particular item always dies at the state level. This initiative, she said is reflective of much hard work and energy.
- Courtney Bruch, candidate Upcountry: said she is a strong supporter of the initiative. She claims that there has been much misinformation circulating about its impacts and encouraged the public to read the bill and do their own research.
- John Fitzpatrick, candidate South Maui: said he stands by the thousands who signed the petition to get the moratorium on the ballot. He said if Monsanto wants to sue, that it will show ill will because of the money it will cost taxpayers to defend a potential challenge.
- Nick Nikhilananda, candidate East Maui: agreed that misinformation is a problem. He lauded those who worked to get the initiative on the ballot, claiming it would benefit the public in terms of health and safety. He argued that the threshold set by the Charter Commission should be lowered to allow easier passage of initiatives in the future.
Two candidates, Don Guzman and Mike White did not give a yes or no answer, but chose instead to leave the decision making to the voters as the question will appear on the November general election ballot.
- Don Guzman, incumbent Kahului: said while he supports the process and credits the initiative for being the first to break the glass ceiling; he said that as an attorney by trade with 17 years of practice, he feels that the language is not correct and will be difficult to implement. Ultimately, he said the decision is up to the people.
- Mike White, incumbent Makawao: said people have a basic right to know what’s in the food they eat. He said, “Once a decision is made, we have a responsibility to carry out the law, whichever way that goes.”
The remaining 10 candidates said they could not support the legislation as written, with many claiming the language of the measure is flawed and would result in a legal challenge that would cost taxpayers more money.
- Mike Molina, candidate Makawao: said he cannot support the legislation as written, saying, “It’s a bit too much for the county to digest.” He said he does support labeling of products and hopes for continued discussion and education. Molina called the issue divisive and worried about the potential unintended consequences of language contained in the initiative.
- Robert Carroll, incumbent East Maui: said the issue has become more “emotional than scientific” and said there is “no hard evidence” to support the measure as written. He called the language contained in the initiative “inappropriate.”
- Mike Victorino, incumbent Wailuku: said he cannot support the initiative because of “flaws in the language,” and said he cannot support a moratorium where he said, “600 people would lose jobs.” He agreed that more discussion was needed and that pesticides and GMO are two separate issues.
- G Riki Hokama, incumbent Lānaʻi: said the item, “does not pass constitutional measure.” He said the item is not a county or local government issue and argued that it would cost taxpayer money to defend. He said that while he supports those that want to decide what to eat, he does not support them imposing their beliefs on him.
- Gladys Baisa, incumbent Upcountry: called the initiative, “the next lawyer employment opportunity.” She said that while we need to know what we are eating, “we do not need this initiative to accomplish that.” She said the initiative would result in “economic devastation” and said she would not support it.
- Joseph Blackburn, candidate Wailuku: as a trained chemical responder, he said he could not find anything to support the initiative. He said right now, his answer is “no.”
- Joe Pontanilla, candidate Kahului: said we have the federal government, the EPA, the USDA, and the Department of Health to impose regulations. He called the initiative “flawed” and said he will be voting no, but said people have choices, “so make your own choice.”
- Don Couch, incumbent South Maui: said he can’t in good conscious vote for the initiative saying he too thinks the bill is flawed. He said individuals on both sides of the issue have been “so hateful” and hoped more education and discussion would surface.
- Kaʻala Buenconsejo, candidate West Maui: said “if you know the bill needs a lot of work,” then why pass it now. He called the initiative “flawed” and argued that it is a case of “wasteful spending” that could be put towards affordable homes and jobs.
- Stacy Crivello, incumbent Molokaʻi: said the initiative would have negative impact and argued that “300 families would be devastated on Molokaʻi.” She called the language “flawed” and said it would impact the “very fabric of my culture,” which she said is “ʻohana.”
As currently written, the ballot question reads as follows: Maui: Voter Initiative, Genetically Engineered Organisms: Should the proposed initiative prohibiting the cultivation or reproduction of genetically engineered organisms within the County of Maui, which may be amended or repealed as to a specific person or entity when required environmental and public health impact studies, public hearings, a two thirds vote and a determination by the County Council that such operation or practice meets certain standards, and which establishes civil and criminal penalties, be adopted for Maui County?
The item will appear on the November 4, general election ballot for Maui County voters.