Trumped In Kahuku

Tired of the pervasive anger and divisive rhetoric that is consuming American politics in this year's presidential contest, we decided to attend a recent candidate forum near our north shore Oahu home for a more Hawaiian experience -- one grounded in harmony, not hate.

The event, hosted by the Kahuku Community Association, was designed as an opportunity for voters to get to know the three men vying to represent House District 47 in the state legislature. This voting district is rural and diverse, spanning surf breaks and coastal communities from the farms of Waialua to the fishponds of Waikane.

The rules for participation, sent to each candidate two days in advance, were standard. As for most such events in the islands, they included a prohibition on campaign signs, banners, and t-shirts. It was, after all, a public forum, not a campaign rally.

Two of the candidates, Democrat Sean Quinlan and Republican primary-challenger Toagaifasa 'Junior' Mata'afa, arrived on time, ready to abide.

Republican-incumbent Feki Pouha, on the other hand, decided that the agreed-upon rules didn't apply to him. He pulled up to the venue late with a group of followers decked-out in "Team Feki" attire.

When KCA President Kent Fonoimoana reminded Pouha of the prohibition against campaign gear, Pouha responded by putting his finger in Fonoimoana's face and denouncing the restriction as a "violation of my free speech rights," as his team barged into the room.

Unfortunately, Fonoimoana ratcheted-up the heat with an aggressive response of his own, and chaos ensued. (Fonoimoana has since apologized. No word yet from Pouha.)

Over the next thirty minutes, KCA board members struggled to regain control of the proceedings as Team Feki supporters shouted objections at every attempt to move forward. Tensions flared further when KCA Vice-President Melissa Primacio was allegedly observed providing Pouha with an advance copy of board members' questions, allowing them to be revised in his favor.

Once the program finally got under way, with no clear explanation of what had actually transpired behind-the-scenes or how the conflicts had been resolved, political newcomers Quinlan and Mata'afa did their best to introduce themselves to the audience and offer their mana'o on the serious concerns facing the district.

But by this time, the air had been poisoned and the tone set.

It felt as though we had all been "Trumped" -- overtaken by the nastiness that drives today's Republican party, which Pouha had exemplified upon his arrival at the forum. Perhaps he was following the example of his predecessor and political mentor, the one-term Republican representative Richard Fale, whose well-known bluster and belligerence in office were surpassed only by his ineffectiveness.

As we look to the looming elections -- primary Aug. 13 and general Nov. 8 -- we can only hope that the voters of District 47 will take First Lady Michelle Obama's sage advice about how she and her Oahu-born husband respond to political bullies, and put things back on a more Hawaiian course: "When they go low, we go high."