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Elle Cochran

Anti-GMO incumbent takes a stand.

June 24, 2014
Susan Halas - Contributing Writer , Maui Weekly

Lahaina resident Elle Cochran first ran for Maui County Council in 2010 in a crowded field of seven candidates. That year, she was a first-time candidate and won both the primary and general elections. She ran again unopposed in 2012 and is now finishing her second two-year council term. This year she is seeking reelection to a third term and facing two Lahaina challengers. (See Buenconsejo link, and Nava link

Cochran is 49 years old and married for 19 years to husband Wayne, who is the owner of Maui Surfboards. Though serving as a council member is a demanding job, she finds her reward in "representing the people, and finding out that they appreciate what I do."

She is best known for her interest in environmental concerns, but she also "cares about the homeless, the cost of housing and making sure that Maui can be a place where people born and raised here can continue to live."

Article Photos

Elle Cochran – Incumbent

Cochran chairs the council's Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee, which reviews matters related to solid waste, sewers, roads and also, in her words, "keeping on top of recycling issues and putting in additional dollars for items of importance to West Maui during and after the budget cycle."

Cochran said she spent roughly $90,000 in 2010, when she ran in a crowded field. She doesn't know what she will spend this year. She also finds the circumstance surrounding the election quite different.

"Now I have the full-time job of council member plus campaigning responsibilities," Cochran said. She expects the coming weeks to be "hectic."

Those who have watched her as a council member find her diligent and persistent. She asks many questions, sometimes bringing out significant details that might otherwise been overlooked. It was Cochran's questions that revealed that the administration had only presented the financial data for "new" capital improvements and had not included the costs of maintenance to existing facilities in their implementation phase of the Maui Island Plan.

But it's really not her whole record that's on the line in this election. Instead, the focus is most likely to be the controversial legislation related to GMOs and pesticides that she introduced in December 2013 that will either make her or break her this time around.

In January, the council's Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee held hearings on legislation proposed by Cochran. Its provisions included notification of neighbors when pesticides are about to be sprayed; setting up buffer zones around sensitive areas, such as schools, parks, healthcare and senior facilities; and improved reporting of the type and quantity of pesticides being used.

With respect to GMOs, the proposal included extensive reporting requirements, an environmental and public health survey and called for penalties, including a civil fine of not less than $10,000 and not more than $25,000 per day for non-compliance.

When described in general terms, many thought the intent of the legislation was good, but those who read the actual language found it harsh, punitive and anti-agriculture. It was also taken word-for-word from similar legislation passed on Kaua'i, and therefore, not necessarily applicable to conditions on Maui.

The reaction was not long in coming. Farmers on Maui and Molokai lined up in droves to oppose the proposal, pointing out, among other things, that if the control of pesticides was a key concern, then why was agriculture singled out? The proposal did not include the county, state and other agencies that are major sprayers. Landscapers and maintenance firms, pest control companies and others intensive users of chemicals were not mentioned. Critics also objected to her methods, saying she had rushed the measure forward without consulting those who would be impacted.

The hearings were acrimonious, and some who heard all the testimony thought that Cochran may have seriously misgauged public sentiment here. Others also doubted that she had actually read or understood the meaning or impact of the language she sponsored.

Instead of a dialog on GMOs and pesticide use, the hearings stirred up a hornet's nest of fierce opposition. A large, vocal group from many sectors of agriculture testified against it, saying they viewed it as punitive and a threat to their ability to earn a living. The testimony was angry and it ran strongly against the proposed legislation.

Asked about the status of the measure, Cochran replied, "After testimony, my office is working on splitting the two issues into separate proposals." She said she "expects revisions incorporating testimony heard during the hearings" and continues to "gather additional feedback from the community, farmers and ranchers."

When asked if she regrets introducing language that duplicated what passed in Kaua'i, she replied, "I jumped on the bandwagon-these issue were statewide. I acted in my enthusiasm to capture the momentum of these two issues. After hearing the testimony, I see that there are widespread concerns and ways to make the legislation better."

She called the proposals "a work in progress." But when asked for clarification on what the documents will actually say, Cochran said they will "utilize the existing language and not start fresh."

Asked what her colleagues thought of her viewpoint, she replied, "Let's just say on these issues we agree to disagree. In other areas, like the budget, we have a good working relationship."

As for her two opponents, she found it "encouraging that others want to step up."

Her own present agenda is" keeping my nose to grindstone; keep doing what I've been elected do."



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