It’s been a long journey for a local Hanalei boy who turned his love of health and the ocean into professional surfing and mixed martial arts careers. The road back was to fight a different kind of battle.
“I have my own reasons for running for mayor,” said Dustin Barca, candidate for Kauai County mayor.
Barca said a way of life is disappearing and he wants to protect it, so it is there when he raises his own family. He is running to protect the culture, but also the island’s agricultural lands from what he says are troubling land-use policies and a powerful agrochemical industry.
Barca believes he can make a bigger difference from within than he would from the outside as a thorn in the side of another mayor’s administration.
“The people of Kauai are not stupid,” Barca said. “We are really smart, especially when it comes to common sense and seeing between the lines.”
Kauai people stopped the Superferry and marched against the GMOs, and are never scared to stand up for what they believe in, he said. That stems from a sense of humility and respect for place and culture that they exhibit when visiting elsewhere, and they would like to see it here, he said.
“We’ve kept the place special for the next generation,” Barca said. “That is how we were raised, to protect it for the next generation. That has been my mentality since I was a baby, and that is exactly what I am doing right now at the highest level I can do.”
The island morality is a way of life where we put the ohana and aina first, he said. It is the way of the Hawaiians and the way of the culture.
“I was just lucky enough to learn from the right people about how to think and how to act,” he said. “We are lucky to live in such a small place where people can come together and change things.”
Barca said the common denominator for a diverse society — whether it is ethnically and racially, generationally, politically or economically — is to follow the old Walter Winchell quote, “Never above you. Never below you. Always beside you.”
“I think it comes down to not putting anybody first,” Barca said. “You put everybody next to each other.”
You can’t put local people ahead of people who just moved here, or let people with a lot of money stand ahead of less fortunate residents, Barca said. Once everyone is on the same level, then we can begin to work together and move forward, he said.
“A lot of people say that I am a fighter, and I’ve been a fighter on all these things, but more than anything, I think of myself as a uniter,” Barca said.
His fights started with helping to organize the effort to stop the Superferry from docking in Nawiliwili in 2007, and continued with GMO protest marches through Lihue last year. As mayor, Barca said he would look to bring people together in the most positive setting to solve problems.
As a lifelong athlete, skilled in surfing and mixed martial arts, Barca likes setting an example for bringing a healthy body and mind to politics.
“I lead by example,” Barca said. “I am a healthy person and I believe in being healthy and giving the opportunity to people to be healthy.”
Barca said this means supporting efforts for growing food locally, creating more youth sports programs, and applying a “working together” perspective to put health and the environment first to create a sustainable future.
One thing Barca said he learned from traveling to the world’s most beautiful places is that Kauai is rare for its self-sustaining fresh water, but this fragile ecosystem is in trouble.
“I tell you this is the most beautiful and special place on Earth,” he said. “We need to be environmentally sustainable to be economically sustainable.”
Economic sustainability is tourism — visitors come here for the health and beauty of this island and the richness of its culture, he said. But that is endangered by reef diseases and poisons in the air, land and water, and a growing dependency off-island from not growing enough food here.
“These are things that are going to affect us, especially if a hurricane comes,” he said.
Importing so much food makes us vulnerable after a natural disaster, when we would be dependent on FEMA and the Mainland, he said.
“We want to be dependent on our families and community and work together to solve our problems,” he said. “The way to be independent is to grow our own food.”
‘A night he would never forget’
That was how Barca described a bar brawl that resulted in his injury and arrest in 2004.
A life lesson but also fodder for his candidacy, Barca said there is false information being posted on the Internet about what was an unfortunate incident.
“People will do anything to smear your name,” Barca said.
Barca was 21 and in Costa Mesa, Calif., on April 29, 2004, when he was arrested for an assault against Patrick James Gray. Gray was a Michigan resident who was vacationing in his old hometown with family when he visited the Goat Hill Tavern near Newport Beach.
The detective in charge of the case has since retired, but CMPD Sgt. Ed Everett said the report notes that a bartender witnessed and a video security camera captured a brawl, in which Gray was smashed on the head with a cocktail glass, an injury that required around 40 sutures on his cheek.
Barca, who required 10 to 15 sutures for a cut on his left hand, was accused of the assault and arrested.
He sat in jail for two days awaiting his initial appearance in court. The criminal case was dropped after video evidence showed only that Barca and many others were caught up in a tussle.
“I was attacked and arrested and it was a brawl,” Barca said. “We went to court and they watched the video and I was not charged.”
Patrick and Cynthia Gray filed a civil complaint against Barca in Orange County Superior Court in October 2004. The couple charged assault, battery and negligence and sought to recoup wage losses, hospital and medical expenses and for loss of consortium.
Jeffrey Milman, the attorney representing the Grays in the civil matter, said he does recall the plaintiffs and the case. However, the box containing the file was destroyed in storage and so he could not speak to the facts of the case.
“I believe we obtained a default judgment against the defendant but never were able to collect,” Milman said.
U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Hawaii, granted Barca’s claim for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy in October 2005. Barca listed $2,023,034 in liabilities, including $23,000 for medical bills and $2 million listed as an unsecured non-priority claim to the Grays.
Barca said he was making about $1,500 a month and living on couches at the time. The medical emergencies wiped him out.
The bankruptcy was about a 22-year-old kid with $70,000 in hospital bills for appendicitis and dehydration, Barca said. It was not about any settlement.
It was a life-changing experience for Barca, who said he never really went out again after that. His life took a turn for the better, he said: He was among the top 44 surfers in the world, then became an undefeated professional mixed martial arts fighter.
Until he ran for mayor, no one had raised the incident or the civil matter — which fuels his suspicion that it was politically motivated.
“If I did, then I could bite the bullet and live with it,” he said. “I was not charged with a crime and so basically this is to make me look bad.”
It’s the same ploy as creating distractions to avoid talking about real issues, he added.
Barca said people want to focus on the past when there is so much to work for in our future.
“There are a lot of heavy things going on in this island,” Barca said. “Our kids are our future and that is why I am doing what I am doing.”
Tom LaVenture, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0424 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.