The Fourth in a Series.
Photos courtesy Michael Victorino
Editor’s note: In 2022, Leadership for the State and Maui County will be at the forefront with elections for Governor, Maui Mayor, Council, and due to reapportionment, all State Senators and State Representatives will be decided. The Primary Election will be held on August 13, 2022 with the General Election on November 8, 2022, and it’s not too early to start thinking about the type of State and County leaders needed. Our first series focused on potential gubernatorial candidates. We now shift our focus to our County’s elected leaders. This month, we focus on Mayor Michael Victorino and the next three months we will focus on the current members of the Maui County Council.
1. In 100 words or less, please tell us your background, including details about your family, education and experience in the public, private and non-profit sectors.
In 1871, my great-grandfather boarded a ship in the Azores to sail to a better life in Hawai‘i. I inherited his work ethic and island values. After high school graduation, I studied business management at Hawai‘i Community College and Hilo College then went into management in the retail, restaurant, and insurance industries. My greatest day was when I married Joycelyn Nakahashi in 1976. We’ve since been blessed with two sons, Michael Jr. and Shane. Together we’ve survived a cancer scare, two major surgeries and a near fatal accident caused by a drunk driver. Many people know me from coaching youth sports and my service through the Knights of Columbus, Maui Economic Development Board, my church and as Maui County Fair director. In 2006, I was elected to the Maui County Council and 12 years later, I was elected as Mayor of Maui County.
2. In 200 words or less, please tell us: a) What is your vision for Hawai‘i/Maui? b) What is right with Hawai‘i/Maui? c) What is wrong with Hawai‘i/ Maui?
My vision for Maui County is a gradual and steady return to our roots. I want our island-born people to be able to live and work here, raise their families here, and retire here if they so choose.
The world has changed dramatically over the past two decades. Since 2000, Maui County has experienced three major disruptions to tourism: the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the great recession of 2007–2009, and the global pandemic of 2020 that still lingers. In the meantime, damage to our natural environment has gotten worse. We should resist the human urge to “get back to normal” and insist on a new normal where people and place are more important than profit.
What’s right about Maui is that we are still very much a close community. We saw this when the pandemic arrived and people came together to sew masks, help with food drives, take care of kids, and sharing whatever we had. What’s wrong with Maui is that we are much too dependent on other places for our own survival needs. The more self-sufficient we are, the better for our residents and our future.
3. In 125 words or less, please describe your relationship with Hawai‘i’s/Maui’s Filipino community.
My wife Joycelyn and I have several long-term relationships within Maui’s Filipino community. Over the decades, we’ve connected through our shared service in civic organizations, church, business and many personal friendships. We’ve also enjoyed in sharing Filipino culture (and food) at Barrio Fiesta, Filipino Heritage Day and many pageants. Our friendships are easy and natural because we all share the same devotion to family—we know that family isn’t just important—it’s everything. Even if we aren’t related by blood we invite others into our families. In Hawai‘i we call it ‘ohana. Filipinos have kumare and kumpare, but it’s the same idea of sharing our lives as part of a large extended family. I’m very grateful that so many of my supporters come from Maui’s Filipino community.
4. In 500 words or less, please identify and explain the three greatest needs of Hawai‘i’s/ Maui’s Filipino community.
I believe the three greatest needs of our Filipino community are:
1. Coping with the high cost of living here
Maui’s Filipino community faces the same struggles as many of our local people who must work more than one job to make ends meet. Even after working multiple jobs, wages often don’t keep pace with the cost of living here.
The reasons are complex, but it all starts with Hawai‘i’s isolation. The high cost of shipping food, fuel and products from other places is added to everything we buy here. Also, tourism—our dominant industry—generates numerous service jobs but few professional careers with opportunities to advance. Finally, housing on Maui has become more of an investment than a way to fill a basic human need. Because of our economic conditions, off-shore investors have an unfair advantage in buying up a limited housing supply. Short supply drives demand and that means high prices. Working families can’t compete with wealthy investors, so the cycle repeats.
2. Under-representation in business and government
After the Sakadas arrived more than a century ago, many Filipinos started small businesses, but few have been able to expand to become major employers. Although Filipinos make up nearly one third of our population, they are under-represented among Hawai‘i’s influential business executives or elected officials.
Governor Ben Cayetano made history as the nation’s first, and so far only, governor of Filipino ancestry and Maui County is fortunate to have the leadership of State Senator Gil Keith-Agaran, but we need many more like them. More Filipinos are needed to serve among Maui County’s political leaders as well.
Keys to improving the status of Filipinos are political involvement and education. The Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce leads the way by encouraging college education with their generous scholarship program, but more can be done. A good place to start is by registering to vote.
3. Creating good quality careers for the next generation
If we want our island-born youth to stay here, succeed here, and raise their own families here, we must diversify our economy. Although tourism will always be a key industry for Maui County, we need other alternatives to keep our best and brightest here, or to bring them back home if they’ve left. Our youth deserve upward mobility. We need to look far beyond the beaches that attract visitors here and take advantage of technology, creative industries, high value agriculture, ocean sciences, astronomy, health and wellness traditions, and our abundance of natural energy sources to create high quality careers for our young people.
My Four Pillars of Recovery Plan is designed to solve these problems with a long-term view. My first priority is upgrading to green infrastructure to speed up development of residential housing. We need affordable rentals and attainable housing that working families can buy. Lack of infrastructure is often the biggest barrier to developing residential housing. With recent passage of the Federal infrastructure Bill, Maui County will be able to solve long-standing problems such as insufficient water and waste water systems, inadequate roads and bridges and more.
My second priority is to “right-size” tourism. Our hospitality industry will always be our #1 industry, but it can no longer be #2, #3 and #4 as well. We’ve learned that “more is not necessarily better” when it comes to tourism. Too many visitors alter our lifestyle and degrade our natural environment. Maui will always welcome the right number of visitors who visit for the right reasons.
My third priority is to diversify our economy. The pandemic was a crisis we can’t afford to waste. We can accomplish many of our goals through smart and deliberate economic diversification. Maui County can become more self-sufficient, more environmentally balanced, and more able to respectfully use our natural assets while generating new and better career opportunities for future generations.
Finally, I plan to continue to build the County of Maui’s assets by acquiring more land for nature and cultural preservation, for inland parks and recreational areas away from rising seas, and to partner in developing badly needed residential housing for working families. By working together, anything is possible.