Sunday, August 10, 2014

Kaua`i anti-GMO? You wouldn't know it from the primary election results.



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

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Consider the possibility that the GMO guys may have paid out big bucks to the three top winners to run their campaigns...I sus
pect that money had something to do with the vote

Anonymous said...

The majority is not always right, although the majority can control political power.

Michael Shintaku said...

Thank you for the excellent analysis. I was wondering about the actual sentiment of the majority, as the spectacle surrounding this issue on Kauai and the Big Island would lead you to believe, and many spokespeople actually said, that the vast majority want the seed companies out. You did a great job explaining how the numbers illustrate this issue.

Michael Shintaku said...

Thank you for the excellent analysis. I was wondering about the actual sentiment of the majority, as the spectacle surrounding this issue on Kauai and the Big Island would lead you to believe, and many spokespeople actually said, that the vast majority want the seed companies out. You did a great job explaining how the numbers illustrate this issue.

Anonymous said...

It's all about the money and power here, folks. Who do you think has it? Grassroots organizations and marginalized community members or powerful multi-billion dollar global corporations? And please stop calling them farmers. Farmers grow food. These guys test chemicals.

David Dinner said...

It is an electoral enigma that voters continue to vote for candidates who promise to work against those same voters' interests. If the health of the aina and the citizens is paramount, why do voters continue to support anti environmental candidates?

cira de castillo said...

I do not reach the same conclusions and performed a different analysis but i always enjoy reading your words. Also loved the graphic on your "purple" posting...

Lyn said...

You know, Barca getting 30% of the vote is REMARKABLE in a place like Kauai. I really don't understand why others don't "get" this fact. Last person who ran against Carvalho, basically on similar issues, got less than 3% of the vote. At that time everyone remarked how incredible this was. Now 30% is a negative result. I disagree.

Anonymous said...

You know, Barca getting 30% of the vote is REMARKABLE in a place like Kauai. I really don't understand why others don't "get" this fact. Last person who ran against Carvalho, basically on similar issues, got less than 3% of the vote. At that time everyone remarked how incredible this was. Now 30% is a negative result. I disagree.

Jan T said...

To Lyn, the point is well taken, however, your 3% number is far off. In the 2010 General Election, Diana LaBedz, who held anti-GMO positions, got 17% of the vote without benefit of a large islandwide anti-GMO movement or significant campaign funding. That WAS remarkable.