Talking politics

Some people don’t do windows. I don’t talk politics, especially during a bitter campaign like the 2016 presidential race.

I learned long ago there are two surefire ways to lose friends at election time: A. Support a candidate that someone despises or B. Despise a candidate that someone supports.

That truism is still relevant today but it was even more so years ago when Kauai voters were bound by a fierce sense of loyalty newcomers just couldn’t fathom.

Many in the community were either related by blood or marriage; had grown up together or attended the same school. Next-door neighbors were often more than just friends, they were almost like family.

You were loyal to family; you were loyal to friends. The issues didn’t seem to matter, nor did candidates’ positions on them. Instead, people voted for “Uncle Joe” or “Cousin Manuel’s nephew.” And while few will admit it today, some even voted for a candidate simply because his ancestors migrated to Kauai from the same place theirs did. This was the Kauai political scene when I first started working at The Garden Island.

I worked for nearly 37 years in two very different departments, composing and editorial. During those years, I watched campaigns and elections evolve; become more complex, more complicated, more sophisticated.

The population diversified and blended into a true melting pot. Attitudes and loyalties changed, sometimes drastically. Voters became more aware of potential issues looming over Kauai. Many in the community — kamaaina and even malihini — recognized the need and what many felt was a responsibility to protect this special place.

When I worked in composing, I got to know candidates as customers from the ads they placed with our newspaper. When I transferred to editorial I got to know them as people, who had a vision for Kauai, and felt they could make it happen. Their hopes and dreams were often at odds with their opponents. Campaigns were sometimes heated and bitter as well.

We covered it all — or tried to — from the moment the last candidate filed their papers until the moment the final printout was brought down the staircase (in those days) at the County Building.

But all of that was still light-years away on my very first general election night with The Garden Island.

I still remember that first night so clearly. I had just started working as a proofreader and typesetter at the paper. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do (writing had always been my dream) but I WAS at a newspaper and I was working with words.

TGI wasn’t yet a daily paper; it only came out twice a week. And it was always called The Garden Island, never “TGI.”

It was an exciting time to work there. Election season was winding down and candidates popped in and out of the office to meet with ad reps and proof their ads. Most handled their own ads. There was one advertising agency just starting out in those early years but for the most part, ads were simple and straightforward, rather than works of graphic art.

Our boss decided we had to be at the office by 2 a.m. the morning after the election so we could make the press deadline and carriers could deliver complete election results to subscribers.

I got ready early, drove my car down the driveway and was about to pull out onto Kawaihau Road when I heard a a very soft “Meow.”

In the rear-view mirror I could see our cat, Misty, scrunched down in terror on the trunk of my car. I was sure she would jump down and I would have to spend hours I didn’t have searching for her. But she didn’t. She was too petrified to move. I managed to grab her and take her safely back home.

That is the only thing I remember about that night. I don’t remember who won, I don’t even remember who was running. I do remember that the rest of the night was a snap after that. We put the paper to bed on time that morning. And elections became a part of my life I enjoyed for most of my years at The Garden Island.

Over the years I have collected many election memories. A couple are funny now and worth sharing. (I won’t mention any names to protect the dignity of the innocent and the reputation of the not-so-innocent.)

All of us were impressed when a well-known candidate dropped off an ad that supposedly came from the senior citizen community. It was a glowing statement of support for the candidate, praising him for all he had done for them and expressing their gratitude.

He responded with an ad of his own in the next issue; thanking them profusely for their kind words and promising to work hard for them if elected.

There was just one thing wrong: The candidate had written BOTH ads himself!

We were amused and amazed. But his ploy didn’t succeed. He wasn’t elected that year or ever again.

Election night parties were another pleasant memory when I worked in composing. Candidates and their committee people were always so grateful for the work we did they never forgot us. On election night, many would send over plates of food — sushi, doughnuts, sashimi — from their election night parties. It was an unexpected treat.

When I transferred to the editorial department, I soon found out there was a huge difference between how candidates and their committees treated composing employees and how they regarded the editorial staff. Reporters, editors, assistant editors were always being criticized about being “fair.” If you didn’t come out and endorse or openly support a candidate, they assumed you were against him (or her) and complained. It didn’t matter that our paper had a policy of not endorsing any candidate. They still complained.

What put it all into perspective and helped us keep our cool was when both candidates competing for the same race accused our staff of being biased against them and favoring the other candidate.

I even told the chair of both campaigns one year: “You say we are not being impartial or fair. If BOTH of you feel that way, we must be doing our job right.”

I must say I was fortunate when I was there. I had excellent reporters and staff. Several were so outstanding, I still keep in touch with them even now.

But there is one election night story that happened when I was editor that made me angrier than I have ever been with any reporter.

It happened nearly 20 years ago. Reporters had already dashed out of the office to the celebrations of their assigned candidate. It seemed to go well. All came back to the office, filed their stories and left for the night. No one said anything about having any problems.

When I came in early the next morning, one of my staff said, “Rita, you better sit down,” and handed me an article from an off-island newspaper.

I read it and was livid. One of our reporters had been assigned to cover a mayoral candidate in a hotly contested race.

The article actually named the reporter and said that when the first printout was released, he asked a top campaign official of the candidate if they were planning to concede the election anytime soon.

They, of course, were furious. There was no way any candidate would even consider conceding a race based on the results of the first printout. It was ludicrous and insulting to have even asked such a question.

The reporter got kicked out of the party immediately. He returned to the office, filed a story and never said a word about it.

He left our paper shortly after that incident.

Kauai has had its share of elections that were colorful and controversial (although I still think this year’s presidential race will go down in our country’s history books for many reasons).

Here, though, I have to say there have been many honest and committed people running for office who just want what’s best for this island we all love.

The problem is that few will ever agree on “what is best” for Kauai. And unfortunately, that will always lead to harsh criticism of candidates’ motives and character. Many of the allegations are neither warranted nor deserved.

Now you understand why I don’t “talk politics.” It never ends. Aloha.

•••

Rita De Silva is a former editor of The Garden Island and a Kapaa resident.

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