By PETER SUR
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The 6th Council District is a land of wide open spaces, from the Kona coffee belt in the west, along the rugged Ka‘u coastline in the south and to misty Volcano Village in the east.
It’s the largest council district in the state and the southernmost in the nation. It runs from the summits of Mauna Loa and Kilauea to the sea and covers a string of communities along the way — Kealakekua, Milolii, Ocean View, Naalehu and Pahala, to name a few.
This year, incumbent 7th District Councilwoman Brenda Ford is being dropped into the 6th District in a runoff against Maile David.
In the 2010 primary election, David fell well behind Guy Enriques and Brittany Smart in a 6th District race that is most remembered for a legal battle over David’s eligibility to run.
In this year’s primary election, Ford had 48 percent of the valid votes cast and David had 35 percent, but the presence of two other candidates in the primary denied Ford an outright victory. Ford still has an advantage; she won six of the eight precincts in the district, while David carried Pahala and Hookena.
David, who turns 60 in three weeks, was born in Kealakekua and graduated from Konawaena High in 1970. She worked as a paralegal in Kona for a small law firm, for the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii and for the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney. She earned her paralegal certificate from the University of Hawaii at Hilo in 1996. She lives in Hookena.
David worked as an aide for Councilman Angel Pilago. When Pilago left the council in 2008, David worked for Councilman Kelly Greenwell for half of his term before serving as an assistant to Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Strance.
After the 2010 election, David returned to the County Council to be a legal specialist for the Legislative Research Branch in the West Hawaii Civic Center.
That means when David and Ford aren’t campaigning against each other, they have to work together and see each other almost every weekday. Both insist they maintain a professional working relationship.
David says her time helping the community through the County Council has given her a greater appreciation for the law, and she wants to continue it on “the next level.”
“District 6 is predominantly a rural area, and I come from a rural family,” she said. “I believe, personally, I can relate to a lot of issues and needs from the rural community.
“On a personal level, I have no problems with Brenda,” David said. “We’re cordial, and that’s the way I want to keep it.”
On a policy level, David appears to have few differences as well.
“I don’t think there is too much things that I would disagree,” David said. Rather, she promises a better working relationship with whoever the mayor will be.
Ford has gained a reputation of being a fierce critic of the administration, whether she’s bashing Mayor Harry Kim’s $125 million waste-to-energy incinerator or trading accusations with Mayor Billy Kenoi over whether prefunding employee retirement benefits using the unencumbered fund balance is “fiscally irresponsible.”
David feels there’s a better way.
“I really think that the other methods of aggressive advocating can’t achieve the ultimate goal effectively, because if you burn bridges,” you’re going to spend a heck of a time trying to repair it, she said. “I’m just trying to find a solution.”
Asked about her first piece of legislation, David said it would be something that comes “from the people,” but did not give details. She supports additional resources to give the Ka‘u coffee growers more help in their fight against the coffee berry borer beetle.
David likes what Kenoi has done to get services done for Kona, adding that the incumbent mayor has worked hard to get past the “so-called east-west rift.”
She says she wants to see the trash situation resolved, preferably through aggressive recycling and reuse efforts in the short term to extend the life of the Hilo landfill and a waste-to-energy solution in the long term.
Ford, 65, lives in Captain Cook. Born in Northern California, she began working at Pacific Bell, working as a project manager. Retiring from that company in 1991, she was a project manager for a chemical manufacturing company. She moved to the Big Island and worked in sales in the hotel industry for two years.
Ford became active in politics as a member of the Citizens for Equitable and Responsible Government, which sued Hawaii County following the 2001 redistricting effort which she argued disenfranchised West Hawaii residents in favor of East Hawaii. A circuit court ruled against CERG, and the Hawaii Supreme Court upheld the ruling, finding that the deviation from the ideal population base was illegal, but “only slightly” so. Ford personally took an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the high court declined to hear the argument.
Feeling that West Hawaii was being neglected in services and infrastructure, Ford ran for the County Council in 2006 and has been elected to three consecutive terms. If she wins on Nov. 6, she will not be eligible for re-election due to term limits.
“Get it done” is Ford’s philosophy, she said. “Just get it done.”
Her energies are focused now on getting the long-sought South Kona Fire Station, a four-year West Hawaii university and a South Kona police station.
One of her initiatives involves bringing the 178th Fighter Wing of the Ohio Air National Guard to drill a new well in Ocean View in 2015. For Ford, it’s a winning initiative — the Guard gets training and the community gets its water.
“We need more redundancy in our potable water system,” Ford said.
She worked to get the 2 percent open space fund in the law, and she’s trying to get approval for a charter amendment for a maintenance fund for the open space lands. Ford wants to establish a videoconference location in Ka‘u so residents don’t have to go to Hilo or Kailua-Kona to make their voices heard.
“We get along,” Ford said of David. “That’s not a problem.”
As for the way she works with the administration, Ford says she’s willing to work with anyone.
“I believe that the administration has a job to do, and … it is my job to get the job done,” Ford said.
On the council, Ford has shown an eagerness to dive into the details of legislation, and also an eagerness to tangle with department heads when she feels the job isn’t getting done.
She accused Department of Land and Natural Resources of committing a “heinous crime” by shooting feral cattle from a helicopter. She was hauled before the Board of Ethics, and ultimately cleared, for allegedly arguing with a Fire Commission nominee.
A long-running feud with former Councilwoman Emily Naeole prompted Ford to introduce a resolution adding name-calling, obscene gestures and the throwing of items to a list of prohibited practices by council members.
Ford says David hasn’t offered any tangible plan if she is elected.
“I have no idea what her platform is. I’ve never heard her express a platform,” Ford said.
Ford, by contrast, knows where she stands.
“I work a minimum of 50 hours a week, and I work seven days a week,” she said. “I write more legislation than anybody else. I write 99 percent of my legislation. I go to 99 percent of the council meetings.”
One of Ford’s greatest achievements as a legislator was signed into law last March. After a 10-year effort, she changed the Redistricting Commission’s criteria to ensure that the boundaries were drawn correctly this year.
“I am persistent. I will get the job done,” she said.
Email Peter Sur at firstname.lastname@example.org.