Is it really possible — or even desirable — to separate the candidate from the issues?
Isn't a candidate's moral compass, personality, values, ethics and belief system — as judged by current behavior/past actions — just as important, if not more so, than his/her stand on the issues?
I ask because we have two candidates — Fern Rosenstiel and Nadine Nakamura — running for the 14th House District seat. They have near identical stands on the issues — at least, rhetorically: provide affordable housing, ease traffic, protect the aina, support ag.
So then doesn't the question become which of these candidates is a better person? And given their characters, which is more likely to accomplish her goals and bring home the bacon for her district?
Someone like Fern, whose previous experience with the state Capitol was holding a shame banner?
Or someone with a calm, thoughtful, reasonable, informed demeanor, like Nadine?
Over at the prosecutor's office, incumbent Justin Kollar is getting some heat from his opponent, Lisa Arin, for being too soft on plea bargains. Defense attorneys lodge a different complaint: his deputies won't plead reasonably.
Unless you've got access to the criminal files, it's hard to know what's true. Though Councilman Mel Rapozo surely isn't the best person to weigh in, given his previous allegiance to defeated Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri.
But Justin was right when he made this comment to The Garden Island today:
“It’s easy to take a ‘lock them up and throw away the key’ approach, but frankly it is impossible for our community to incarcerate its way out of the problems we face.”
So much of what the OPA deals with is related to substance abuse — crimes committed by people under the influence and/or seeking cash to feed their habit and/or psychologically damaged from growing up in a substance abusing family.
Hawaii has to start dealing with addiction at its core. Yes, there's drug court, but that's not enough. Police chiefs, substance abuse counselors and prosecutors have teamed up in some 110 cities across the nation to try something other than arrest and prosecution.
Unfortunately, neither candidate is talking about seeking innovative solutions to this old Kauai problem. Instead, they're mostly talking about what prosecutors usually talk about: who is best at locking up bad guys.
Both Justin and Lisa are competent prosecutors, and I'm sure they're sincere in wanting to serve Kauai.
That said, three things concern me about Lisa's candidacy. For starters, she's gotten campaign donations from the chief and all the top brass at KPD. While OPA and KPD should be on good terms, they shouldn't be too chummy, especially since KPD officers not infrequently commit crimes.
Plus the donations more likely stem from their anger at Justin – they blame him for the mayor's decision to suspend the chief and Mark Begley's subsequent failed coup — than their support of Lisa.
Then there's the substantial support from Melinda Mendes, who quit the OPA about the same time as Lisa, both of them unhappy with Justin. She's given $2,018 — more even than Lisa's wife. It looks like she's trying to buy herself first deputy, or at least a job. And given her behavior under Shaylene Iseri, she doesn't seem like such a great person to return to that office.
Which leads me to my final concern with Lisa (and Melinda). Neither of them ever spoke up about Shaylene. Some people in OPA left rather than work for Shay, but those two never said a peep about Shay's horrible and unethical tactics. I asked Lisa why, and got this reply:
I never spoke publicly about either Prosecutor while employed by them. With Shaylene, I tried to provide input to her to assist making the office better which was mostly rebuffed. So I put my head down, worked hard for the community and victims I served and hoped for the best. With Justin, I tried to provide input to assist making the office better which was usually met with him saying he agreed with me, but nothing ever changed. When it became apparent that he was really just ignoring all of the advice from much more experienced attorneys like me, Kevin Takata, and Melinda Mendes, I believed that I had to run for Prosecutor to make the necessary changes in the operation of the office to have any real positive changes occur at the Kauai Office of the Prosecuting Attorney. The decision to leave the job I love was not an easy one, but our community deserves better.
I met Lisa once, and she seems to be a nice person. But it concerns me to hear someone say “I put my head down" when confronted with serious wrong-doing, especially in an important agency like OPA. Prosecutors must be willing to speak up, even at great personal cost, to ensure justice is done.
Say what you will about Justin, at least he had the gumption to run against Shay when no one else would.
Not even his opponent.