In a major step forward for Hawai’i Greens, Julie Jacobson won a partisan County Council seat on Hawaii’s Big Island, reclaiming a seat for the Greens held by Keiko Bonk between 1992 and 1996.
District 6 is 120 miles from one end to the other, and three times as large as the island of Oahu. Jacobson won there by 200 votes, her losing margin in 1996. Her victory in part was a result of a two-year Green registration drive, which led to 500 more votes overall for Jacobson.
Her incumbent opponent was Republican John Santangelo. The battle was over development. Jacboson campaigned for true cost, community-based development. Santangelo ‘talked the talk’, but voted a corporate line.
Jacobson’s campaign manager was Bonk. Bonk budgeted the campaign for $20,000 to win, and laid out a specific fund raising strategy. She was right on the money. In a district that by a large margin went Republican in the governors race, Jacobson ran explicitly as a Green, and showed that the Green concept of sustainability has a wide appeal.
Jacobson covered hundreds of square miles on foot going door to door, attending every community event, standing on the roads waving signs, running radio commercials and newspaper adds, and doing several mailings. Jacobson campaigned against building a large prison in Kau, against privatization of county services, and against the building of a nuclear food irradiator, an initiative which failed by less than 1% of the island-wide vote. This effort garnered a lot of support for Jacbosen among the newer Haole residents, but broke up part of the agriculture coalition Bonk had built.
Jacbosen did consistently well in all debates. The Sierra Club and the Conservation Voters of Hawaii endorsed her. She ultimately won with a rural coalition of Anglos (Haoles), Hawaiians and other ethnic groups, against an older pro-business status quo coalition that was also ethnically diverse, but more conservative.
Hawai’i Greens feel they have the best County Council now in many years, and that this gives Jacobson a chance to bring about real positive change. On the nine-person council, there is a Green, Green/Republican native Hawaiian, a Filipino Democrat, and a newly elected Anglo female Democrat, who all support community based economic development. Since Bonk’s first victory in 1992, local Greens have successfully changed the local political frame of reference.
For the long-term, Jacobson’s victory demonstrated that a Green other than Bonk can win. Combined with Bonk’s two previous wins and her near island wide victory for Mayor in 1996, the Greens are clearly a viable political force on the Big Island. In 2000 they hope to win one more seat and gain a Green/progressive majority on the council. Bonk will also make a second run at Mayor, with the possibility that the Greens will have the ability between the council and mayor’s office, to begin creating a model sustainable society.