Sour Poi Awards: Celebrating the Dumb, the Daft and the Deranged of 2016
Honoring the best of the worst news stories of 2016.
FROM TOP CLOCKWISE: BIG ISLAND MAYOR BILLY KENOI, BERNIE-SUPPORTER CHELSEA LYONS KENT, ROD TAM WITH GOP CHAIR FRITZ ROHLFING, AND WOULD-BE POLITICIAN ANGELA KAAIHUE.
ILLUSTRATIONS: CHRIS DANGER, Photos: Thinkstock
2016—what a year, huh?
That election season was crazy, and we’re not even talking about the national scene. Every year, HONOLULU collects the best of the worst of the past 12 months for our Sour Poi Awards—the dumb, the daft and the deranged—and, man, the antics and gaffes of an election year offer us such a wealth of options to choose from. Add in the usual array of stupid criminals, wacky mishaps and weird incidents, and we’re ready to leave 2016 behind. But let’s take a look back, for a few last laughs.
Home is Where the Grass Is
In January, Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland was quoted as saying she was introducing a bill that would set aside land to build Native Hawaiian thatched grass houses. She quickly clarified that she didn’t mean grass shacks, but rather “traditional Hawaiian hale.” “We’re envisioning … a beautiful, charming, traditional Hawaiian home,” she said.
It was revealed in January that, 21 years after the Hawai‘i Convention Center first opened, the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority is still in the hole $317 million for it. That’s more than 90 percent of the original $350 million construction cost.
Desperate Times Call for ... Rod Tam
Longtime gaffe-machine Rod Tam tried to mount a political comeback in 2016, this time as a Republican. To recap: Over the years, he’s proposed turning Koko Crater into a dump, banning smelly riders from buses, and offering afternoon naps and snacks to state workers. In 2008, in a City Council committee meeting, councilmember Rod Tam described undocumented laborers as “wetbacks.” In 2011, he pleaded a mix of guilty and no contest to 34 charges of theft, falsifying documents and violations of campaign spending laws. But none of that fazed Hawai‘i Republicans. Hawai‘i GOP chairman Fritz Rohlfing said, “We’re grateful that he has the values that we have. … We are thrilled that he’s coming over. He’s a grassroots guy; he’s close to his community.” Not that close; Tam lost.
Once Was More Than Enough
In November, both U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz publicly condemned the idea, pitched on national television by a prominent Donald Trump supporter, that the Japanese internment camps of World War II set a legal precedent for a new federal registry for Muslim immigrants in the United States. Schatz said, “The internment of Japanese Americans was a dark chapter in our history. We should remember it and never repeat the same injustice.”
Wishes Do Come True!
In September, thieves stole a van emblazoned with Make-a-Wish Hawai‘i graphics in front of a Diamond Head home. Fortunately, the van showed up later that day at a Waipi‘o storage facility, unharmed.
’Snot Pronounced Like That
In April, a Bakersfield, California newscaster enjoyed 15 minutes of Island fame, thanks to her name: Hanna Battah
Hawai‘i residents are always battling cockroaches. So when shipments of HoyHoy Trap-a-Roach were held up in U.S. Customs and Border Protection for improper package labeling, it made news. Fortunately, the shortage lasted only a few weeks.
Oaths of Office
Local Republicans had a rough year. They lost all representation in the state Senate, and earlier in the year, a spat broke out over how cozy the GOP members should be with the majority Democratic party. In March, the tensions erupted on the state House floor: State Rep. Bob McDermott fired off some spicy words for his Republican colleagues, after none of them surrendered their own allotted speaking time so he could finish his remarks on a funding cut for a proposed new Leeward O‘ahu high school. “Start acting like a (expletive) Republican,” he said, and, “do your (expletive) job.”
Point of No Return
What didn’t go wrong with the rail project this year? The concrete columns are starting to crack, even before construction has ended, and plastic shims are also breaking; officials estimate they’ll have to replace 165,000 of them. The project completion date kept getting pushed back, and the whole thing is now so far over budget that even Kirk Caldwell—the staunchest rail zealot out there—floated the idea of ending the rail line at Middle Street. Federal authorities quickly reminded him that their funding was contingent upon completing the entire route to Ala Moana.
Big Island mayor Billy Kenoi had a rollercoaster of a year. In the wake of his pCard scandal, he was charged with four counts of theft and one count of making a false statement under oath. In the end, a Hilo jury acquitted Kenoi of all charges, but his court case provided the media with months’ worth of colorful details. For example, receipts showed that he had bought Heineken beer, Crown Royal and pineapple juice (the ultimate local drinking combo). Chef Sam Choy even showed up to testify, providing the jury and the audience some much-needed levity with his witty personality.
A 59-year-old man was shot in the back at his own baptism in May. Talaiga Talitonu was on the second floor of the Samoa-Tokelau Seventh Day Adventist Church in Kalihi
when his former girlfriend allegedly fired a gun at him before being restrained by a church elder.
In July, as Hawai‘i’s delegation to the Democratic National Convention announced its delegates’ count for Hillary Clinton, one of the Bernie-Sanders-supporting delegates, Chelsea Lyons Kent, flipped the bird on live national television. She refused to apologize and was booted from the delegation.
A 21-year-old woman was arrested in September for allegedly throwing soup at a 34-year-old man and hitting him with a metal object. Police did not identify the metal object, and also did not specify whether the soup was hot.
The hepatitis A outbreak worried everyone in 2016. The virus sickened almost 300 people in Hawai‘i over the course of months, popping up in food-service workers all over town and prompting a rush for vaccinations. The state Department of Health eventually tracked down the source of the outbreak: a shipment of contaminated frozen scallops from the Philippines that ended up at Genki Sushi restaurants on O‘ahu and Kaua‘i.
A 21-year-old man was charged with two felony counts of robbery after allegedly stealing a pair of musubi from Foodland Mililani. Turns out flashing a pistol at the store director upgrades the crime to first-degree robbery, which could land the man as many as 20 years in prison.
230 of Hawai‘i’s adult correctional officers called in sick on Super Bowl Sunday—nearly a third of the total workforce scheduled to work that day.
Facing its last chance to convince the NFL to keep the Pro Bowl in Hawai‘i, the Aloha Stadium Authority fumbled. The game-day parking lots overflowed so quickly, it tied up surrounding traffic for hours. In 2017, the Pro Bowl moves to Orlando, Florida.
The Pokémon Go craze caused a few mishaps across the Islands this past year. In July, two players stumbled into a protected heiau on Kaua‘i in the course of hunting for new Pokémon. Graveyards and state parks, too, were in danger from overzealous explorers who had their faces glued to their screens. And the Waikīkī Aquarium became such a hotspot for Pokémon Go players—many of whom would try to scoop them while still in their car driving—it created regular traffic jams.
Healthy and Scruple Free
Angela Kaaihue was the laughingstock of the election season. Vice Magazine even called her “the most racist candidate of 2016.” Kaaihue, originally from Texas, put up campaign signs touting herself as “healthy and cancer free” while running to succeed Rep. Mark Takai, who declined to run due to pancreatic cancer, and has since passed away. She called Japanese people “murderous,” “lieing” (sic), “stealing” and “conspirators.” She posted wildly offensive Facebook memes depicting Tulsi Gabbard as a Hindu cult cannibal. The list goes on. By the election, both the Democratic and Republican parties had disavowed her.
Itching for Freedom
After being sentenced this past January to 46 months in prison for federal tax fraud, Honolulu businessman Albert Hee kept postponing the start of his prison term, complaining of allergies. By June, a federal judge had enough stalling, and ordered Hee to report to Rochester Federal Medical Center in Minnesota.
Hawai‘i residents had one more Mainland trend in 2016 to roll our eyes over: The ever-growing craze for fast-casual ‘ahi poke restaurants—many of them insisting on putting an inaccurate accent over the “e.”
Dead in the Water
In July, O‘ahu residents bristled at a local company’s proposal to create artificial reefs in Maunalua Bay and off Ko Olina using concrete blocks containing cremated human remains. The company, Hawai‘i Memorial Reefs, later withdrew its plan.
We Love the New, Punchy Graphics
For years, the official Honolulu Police Department website that maps local crime statistics completely omitted any violent crimes from its statistics. The excuse: “The map would be too hard to see if it included violent crimes.” In November, HPD finally relented and added the stats.
Why Are We Not Reassured?
In March, the Honolulu Police Department signed a $125,000 contract with a public relations firm to train its PR workers as well as HPD leaders and officers, and burnish the image of the department.
Eh, Get Quarter?
In September, Āliamanu Elementary School office assistant Ada Martin was arrested on charges that she stole more than $37,000 in school lunch money. She allegedly manipulated the school’s meal tracker program between July 2012 and April 2014. This wasn’t her first run-in with the law—in 1993, she pleaded guilty to food-stamp fraud, for $27,382 in overpayments.
In November, newly re-elected Hawai‘i Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard made national headlines. Again. Not for supporting Bernie Sanders. Not for quitting the Democratic National Committee. Not even for her fashion or her surfing. No, it was her meeting with President-elect Donald Trump, to discuss foreign policy issues. It made Daily Beast journalist Tim Mak look positively visionary: Back in July, he had called Gabbard a “Bernie-endorsing congresswoman who Trump fans can love.”
Hawaiian Airlines instituted a new seating policy on flights between Hawai‘i and American Samoa: No preselecting seats. Why? Apparently flights on that route were burning more fuel than expected, and when Hawaiian investigated, it found that passengers and carry-ons are an average 30 pounds heavier on that route. The airline later clarified that it would not be weighing anyone during check-in or boarding—merely distributing passengers so every row contains either an empty seat or a child.
The Price of Fame
Maui ‘ukulele player Clint Alama got to play on stage with Matisyahu after the reggae star surprised him while he was busking at a Maui coffee shop. The video of the chance encounter went viral, but, plot twist, Alama had a warrant out for probation violations, and had to turn himself in to police. Matisyahu invited him to Los Angeles to play in concert with him, but before Alama could travel, he had to get an OK from a judge. After the performance, he returned to jail on Maui.