By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Several Hawaii County Council candidates are receiving unexpected, but nonetheless welcomed, support from a Honolulu political action committee mostly associated with Oahu’s rail dispute.
The Pacific Resource Partnership, jointly run by the carpenters’ union and Hawaii contractors, had spent $113,510 backing a handful of local candidates as of the primary election, which is the most current data available. The expenditures easily make it the largest independent spender in Big Island contests.
The group’s PAC, formed in June, has mainly flexed its muscle on Oahu, where it spent $1 million as of the primary supporting the rail project and attacking Honolulu mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano, who opposes it.
On the Big Island, PRP spokesman Jim McCoy said the group is endorsing council candidates Oliver “Sonny” Shimaoka, Fred Blas and Valerie Poindexter. It also supported Zendo Kern, elected to the council’s District 5 seat in the primary.
McCoy, who also works as a spokesman for Tulsi Gabbard’s congressional campaign, spoke in general terms of supporting “job creation and sustainable development” when explaining the endorsements.
PRP Executive Director John White didn’t respond to multiple requests for an interview but provided this statement: “PRP is supporting several candidates for Hawaii County Council who believe cooperation and team work are key to help make Hawaii County even stronger. Our support is intended to offer voters more information as they decide whom to cast their vote for.”
On its website, PRP says it supports the proposed Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea, but McCoy didn’t know if that influenced the endorsements.
Support for the council candidates, who have each received contributions from the Hawaii Region Council of Carpenters, has come in the form of fliers mailed to voters before the primary.
McCoy declined to comment on whether the mailers would continue.
In interviews, Poindexter, Shimaoka and Kern said they weren’t aware of the filers until they saw them in their mailboxes, and all but Kern said they weren’t aware of the group’s endorsement until then. Blas, who is running for re-election, said he wasn’t aware of the group’s support.
The fliers appeared to include pictures and content from their campaign websites or Facebook pages, the candidates said.
“I did receive a mailer in my PO box,” Kern said. “I didn’t know that was happening.”
Kern said he was fine with the advertisement, noting it contained similar statements he has used on issues, such as economic development and jobs.
“It was basically things I have on my website, pretty much,” he said.
One of PRP’s fliers created a stir in Waimea before the primary by displaying a photo of Shimaoka next to a volunteer from the Waimea Outdoor Circle. It also contained the group’s logo, causing it to request the mailer be suspended.
“It really was misleading and made it look like we endorse a particular candidate,” said WOC President Cheryl Langton. “And we don’t endorse any candidate or any party.”
White issued an apology in a letter to the group, citing “human error” as the cause.
Shimaoka, running in District 9, said he believes the photo was taken from his campaign Facebook page, and he didn’t know the flier was being sent. He has since deleted the photo from the page.
“I didn’t know what PRP was when it came out on the flier,” Shimaoka said.
“I was surprised when I picked them up on my own PO box,” he later added.
Shimaoka said he sees the mailers as a “plus” but didn’t seek the group’s support. He said he doesn’t foresee it influencing any of his decisions if elected.
“I’m really on record at three forums — I can’t be bought,” Shimaoka said. “It’s not in my nature.”
Supporters of his opponent, Margaret Wille, have also formed their own PAC, Citizens for a Sustainable North Hawaii. The group hasn’t filed any financial disclosure forms yet.
Poindexter, a District 1 candidate, said she welcomed the support, but like the others, didn’t know it was coming.
“I was happy when I got it and saw they had some of the things I said on it,” she said.
Poindexter equated the support to Hamakua residents buying an ad on her behalf.
“I’m not quite sure all of what they do,” she said of the group. “All I know is anybody who wants to pay for an ad or pay for a mailer for me … and if they believe in the vision and my grassroots leadership and buy into those same values, of course they are going to support me.”
PRP also spent $22,000 for a primary poll in Hawaii County.
The group’s PAC had raised $1.2 million as of the primary, all from the Hawaii Carpenters Market Recovery Program Fund.
PRP’s former PAC, the Pacific Resource Partnership Smart Growth Hui, disbanded in January 2009.
The carpenters’ union had contributed $1,000 to Poindexter, $500 to Blas, $3,800 to Kern and $3,800 to Shimaoka as of the primary.
It also donated $6,800 to Mayor Billy Kenoi’s campaign.
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.