Councilmember and Mayoral candidate Angel Pilago has found a cause great enough to risk his candidacy - dope. With Pilago joined by Brenda Ford, Emily Naeole, and Dominic Yagong, the County Council voted 4-4 not to accept $441,000 in federal funds offered to the Hawaii County police for “Green Harvest” marijuana eradication work.
Pilago told the Council: “I know there was a lot of expectation that I would carry it over the hump.” He called his vote a “very difficult decision.” Pilago added: “My vote put me on the line. My sacrifice is a big one. It may have cost me the mayoral seat.”
The news is not all bad for Green Harvest. Pilago won’t be on the council next year. He faces stiff competition in the Mayoral race. After providing funding to a group led in part by a convicted drug dealer which sought to seize the kuleana plots of his Hawaiian neighbors, Bob Jacobson faces a sea of blue and white “Guy Enriques for Council” banners from one end his district to the other. Ford now faces a strong challenge from South Kona coffee farmer Casey Delo Santos. And Emily Naeole September 20 faces off with Wayne Joseph and several others.
Prior to the advent of Green Harvest in the late 1970s, Puna was one of the largest marijuana cultivation areas in the nation. Police corruption led to early raids being scheduled on a last-minute basis so that drug pushers could not be warned. Several high-profile homicides were tied to marijuana grow operations. Growers laced the jungle with nail-studded boards, hand grenades and other booby-traps to protect fields of cannabis as tall as Christmas trees.
Dope pushers played a political role as well. Convicted drug dealer Ralph Palikapu Dedman has two felonies among the four convictions on his rap sheet. Dedman led the war against clean geothermal electricity in Puna in the 1980s and 1990s resulting in the 25,856 acre Wao Kele O Puna site being transferred in 2007 to the Office of Hawaiian Affairs with OHA paying out only $350,000 from its own coffers. Wao Kele, which backs up to Hawaiian Acres, is still a major center for illicit marijuana grow ops.
Dedman and his associates in Ka`u Preservation, Inc in 2007 fought to have the County use eminent domain to seize his neighbor’s kuleana plots at Punalu`u Black Sand Beach. When that was exposed, KPI’s fall back position was to have the County buy part of the decaying resort property from an erstwhile developer and then place it under KPI’s management. KPI is still working with Jacobson toward this end, most recently forming “Malama ka `aina Kapu o Ninole-Punaluu” in an effort to place a KPI “kapu” over public and private land in the area.
In line with the recent marijuana vote, Dedman’s efforts received backing in council votes from Jacobson, Pilago, Ford and Naeole. KPI was funded with tens of thousands of dollars from Jacobson and OHA. Naeole was also deeply involved in the anti-geothermal protests.
Opponents of Green Harvest claim that helicopters are causing noise pollution and invading their privacy - ignoring the fact that Green Harvest flights take off only a few times per month while hundreds of tourist flights are launched every day.
Even more insidious argument is the slogan: “Thanks to Green Harvest, this island’s on ice.” It has never been difficult to buy marijuana on the Big Island, so it is not credible to claim that marijuana addicts unable to get their dope were forced to look for methamphetamines (ice). The slogan is actually a statement about the motivations of drug pushers. Dope dealers are telling voters that because Green Harvest reduced their ability to profit from marijuana sales, they have switched to pushing methamphetamines on our children.
Rather than blaming Green Harvest, a more reasonable explanation for the ice epidemic is the deep and well-documented connections between criminals and the political class. Failed Democrat Lt Governor candidate Malama Solomon and Mayor Harry Kim were both condemned in 2007 for testifying in court as character references for methamphetamines dealers. Mayoral candidate Billy Kenoi helped raise defense funds for convicted Pali shooter Ethan Malu Motta. One of Kenoi’s campaign selling points: he was Harry Kim’s point man in the failed war on ice.
Drug dealers have also been a source of power for OHA. OHA blocked drug treatment facilities from being constructed on Kaua`i near the Hanapepe Salt ponds.
The dopers are repaying their reward. Roger “million dollar crops” Christie, Libertarian Party activist and leader of Hilo-based THC ministries, was so thrilled at the Council’s decision that he dropped out of the mayoral race. Christie made his announcement to the activists assembled at Hilo’s Palace Theater for a May 21 ‘progressive’ mayoral candidates’ forum sponsored by Big Island Weekly.
Pilago is likely to benefit from the activist-doper vote Christie is abandoning. BIW Editor Kristine Kubat described Christie as “yield(ing) to Angel Pilago’s willingness to call the war on pakalolo unjust.” But Kubat emphasized that the forum “revealed more similarities than differences” among the candidates.
The truth is that drug money infests the County and the State’s political system and the activist class far more deeply than most people wish to acknowledge. As Kubat explained, “…with the county council voting to decline funding for Green Harvest and all…things have never been better.”
Given the dismal choices on offer, the dopers and activists could be in control of the Mayor’s office next year, but Council races have the potential to produce an entirely different result.