Sunday, August 10, 2014
There’s no better poll than an election.
There can be some trickiness in figuring out what the numbers mean, but on Kaua`i this year, the primary election results were pretty plain. The community's comfort zone is offended by the anti-seed company, anti-GMO, aggressive pesticide regulation movement.
Several races were clear bellwethers on this issue.
One is the mayor’s race.
Dustin Barca helped lead the anti-GMO campaigns of 2013 and 2014. He was a regular figure in the vanguard, in his black shirt, shorts and boots. He wants Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, Pioneer and BASF heavily regulated and preferably gone. By contrast the ebullient, aloha-shirted Mayor Bernard Carvalho vetoed Bill 2491, which established strict regulations on big agriculture and its pesticide and crop choices. In doing so he became the enemy of the anti-GMO movement.
Barca ran a well-funded, professional campaign. Lots of signs, appearances at public events, robo-calling, and polling. He’ll get another shot in the General Election, but he managed just 5,957 votes to Carvalho’s 11,151. If you take away the small number of votes for two other candidates and the blank votes and overvotes, Barca picked up 35 percent of the votes and Carvalho 65 percent.
(Carvalho’s lead was dominant, certainly, although not as dominant as four years ago, when running against Diana LaBedz, Carvalho had 83 percent. LaBedz had a low-key underfunded campaign, but it was a precursor to today’s battles. She was against genetically modified mono-crops long before it became a cause célèbre.)
Next example: Take the 15th District State House Democratic Primary, where the same issue became one of the hallmarks of the battle between Dylan Hooser and incumbent Jimmy Tokioka. Hooser has been active in the anti-GMO movement, while Tokioka has been characterized as a supporter of the big ag status quo.
Tokioka’s tally of 3,487 and Hooser’s 1,656, allows the assumption that the anti-GMO vote was 32 percent, while Tokioka held a strong 68 percent. Two years ago, when GM technology was less of an issue and Tokioka was unopposed, he got 71 percent. Not much of a drop this year, despite the furor.
Finally there is the County Council non-partisan primary. There, three candidates who associate themselves with farming rights and frugal budgeting--Mel Rapozo, Ross Kagawa and Arryl Kaneshiro--handily led the pack of 20 candidates.
That's significant. Rapozo and Kagawa ran 4th and 5th in both the 2012 primary and general. Both expressed surprise on election night at their powerful showings. And it is notable that Kaneshiro, a first-time candidate with similar views, is in the top three with them.
The next two candidates are incumbents who voted for Bill 2491, but have hardly been its strongest advocates: JoAnn Yukimura and Jay Furfaro.
To find the first unapologetic opponents of seed research companies, you need to go down to 6th and 7th place, Gary Hooser and Tim Bynum. And it’s a big spread. Rapozo and Kagawa pulled down more than 9,000 votes apiece. Hooser picked up 6,642 and Bynum 5,839.
If that were the final election result, it would set up a divided County Council, with an edge for the farming rights folks. But in the General Election, a few positions can change and one or two regularly do change. Five candidates are within 1,500 votes of 7th place Bynum and four are within 2,000 votes of 6th place Hooser. Those candidates are roughly split between pro and anti-GMO folks, so the future balance of the Council is still not entirely clear.
The upshot of this election is a bit of a community wakeup call.
If you’d been reading the papers, watching Facebook and listening at community meetings for the past year, you might think that the anti-GMO movement was powerful wave and a slam-dunk for victory.
On reflection, not so much.
Somebody forgot to ask the people, and if there’s no better poll than the actual election, the people have now spoken quite clearly. They’re not quite as ready for radical change as the public discourse might suggest.
© Jan TenBruggencate 2014