Sour Poi Awards: Looking Back on the Offbeat, Obscure and Outrageous News of 2018

We laughed. We cried. Here’s the best of the worst of last year.
Sour Poi Awards


Natural disasters, an election year and the threat of immediate annihilation proved to be the newsy hallmarks of 2018 in Hawai‘i. While those stories merit serious reflection, the news of the day also prompts HONOLULU Magazine to look for some comic relief.


For years, the magazine has dubbed this recurring story the Sour Poi Awards. Let’s be clear: Here in the Islands, many of us prefer our poi a little sour. We like to give our poi enough time to acquire a tang—some character, if you will. And that’s how we approach our backward glance at a year of news that often had us shaking our heads in wonderment. Do we get a little snarky? Are we prone to poking at politicians? Must we mock? We do, we are and we must! Join us in celebrating Sour Poi, because laughing is nearly always better than crying, shouting or cursing at the things we can’t control.

  Sour Poi Awards


Turns Out It Was a Drill

What began as a routine Saturday morning in Hawai‘i on Jan. 13 turned into a B-grade horror movie, when a state emergency worker sent out this message to cell phones, government agencies and broadcast outlets: “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.” Across the state, people understandably panicked, including an O‘ahu man video-recorded on Twitter ushering his terrified children underground through a manhole. It took 38 long minutes for the state to officially notify people it was a false alarm. Officials first said the worker meant to send a drill message and pushed the wrong button by mistake. Initially, the bosses stuck by him, then the department heads resigned and he was fired. Later, the man—whom we will forever label as “the button pusher”—gave an identity-cloaked interview to say he thought the emergency was real. State and federal officials investigated and say new procedures will prevent any similar unnecessary panic incident in the future. Fingers crossed (and away from the button).


Not a Peep

Once we got past the shock of thinking we could all be dead in less than 30 minutes, most of us quickly whipped through various stages of grief: denial, anger, the urge to blame someone in charge. Gov. David Ige, at the time facing a tough challenge from fellow Democrat, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, was already struggling to persuade voters that his low-key, nice-guy exterior disguised a decisive leader. And, since he knew the alert was not a real threat in a few minutes, he had some explaining to do about why he didn’t get the word out faster. When pressed why he didn’t send a statewide notification himself about the false alarm through his social media, he said he didn’t know his Twitter password. He’s got that now.


How Deep?

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The Republican Party has struggled in Hawai‘i politics in recent years, with the number of elected officials plummeting. Still, party members could rally around state Rep. Andria Tupola as a credible, office-holding candidate for governor. Then, in-party squabbles kept getting in the way and Tupola was blasted by her own running mate, Marissa Kerns. In a KHON-TV debate, Kerns called for the multibillion-dollar rail project to be stopped, dismantled and perhaps tossed in the sea: “We have a local company that recycles cement. It’s cheaper to just cut it off, haul the pylons. The rest of it, you know, maybe we should throw it in the ocean. We have the deepest ocean in the Pacific.”


Arrogant Salad

A Chicago-based chain restaurant sparked controversy and put a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths when the company trademarked the name “Aloha Poke” and sent cease-and-desist letters to local and Mainland restaurants with similar names. The chain had already jumped on the assembly-line approach to poke: cubed fish, rice, greens, condiments lined up in trays for customers to point and choose. The legal threat prompted an Alaska eatery, run by Native Hawaiians, to change the name of their place. Downtown Honolulu’s Aloha Poke Shop ignored the letter saying it was clear the company didn’t understand the meaning of aloha. Exactly.


Going Reptile?

Folks annoyed by repeated calls from the Big Island Marine Mammal Center, which cares for endangered monk seals, were trying to figure out what was going on. After veterinarian Dr. Claire Simeone investigated, she found that a tiny visitor, a green gecko crawling on a touchscreen, had managed to repeatedly call her and others. The whimsical story got picked up across the country and the world after Simeone scooped up the gecko for relocation to a plant outside the clinic. No word if the lizard is exploring a future as a marketing consultant.


It’s New. Again.

The Magnum P.I. reboot stars the hunky Jay Hernandez, stunning scenery and the requisite red Ferrari. Another show we watch to laugh at the wacky navigation and the chance to see a favorite star or neighbor strolling through our hometown haunts. Somehow the self-deprecating Tom Selleck made us feel like we were in on the joke. Stay tuned.


Foot in the Door

A Ke‘eaumoku condominium developer stirred controversy with a proposal to have separate entrances for residents of affordable rental units and market-priced units. After the initial outcry and some discussions before the Honolulu City Council, the idea of a “poor door” hit the scrap heap.


Blame to Go Around

Just a handful of years ago, then-state Rep. Kaniela Ing was a young politician short-listed for a bright future. But Ing, 30, ran into trouble as a congressional candidate with questions raised about a traffic citation, campaign finances and even his résumé. The state Campaign Spending Commission fined him $15,000 for filing 23 false reports of contributions and expenditures, including using campaign money to pay rent and to make a $219 credit card payment for his domestic partner. Although he apologized for the errors, he also blamed the stress of holding a full-time job in addition to his part-time post at the Legislature. And he blamed a teller for depositing a $2,000 campaign check into his personal account. Ing lost his bid for the U.S. House.


Maybe Jason Momoa Was Busy

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The Kamehameha movie project is moving forward. Word that affable actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson will play the near-mythic Native Hawaiian king drew a mixed reaction. At least they’re not casting a blue-eyed white guy pretending to be Hawaiian and filming in Malaysia, as announced for a movie about Ni‘ihau. Johnson is half-Samoan, half-African-American; he attended McKinley High School and has spread goodwill and local dollars on movie projects here that included Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and Disney’s Jungle Cruise. Here’s hoping moviemakers include more Native Hawaiians for a truer portrait of an important historic and cultural icon.


Royal Pain

The legal battle over control of the $215 million trust of heiress Abigail Kawānanakoa reads like a miniseries unfolding in local courtrooms. A descendant of royalty—her great-uncle was King Kalākaua—the Campbell Estate beneficiary, now 92, has long been a force to be reckoned with. After a stroke in 2017, questions were raised about her mental competence to manage her finances. A battle over control erupted between her former attorney and her now-wife, Veronica Gail Worth. Kawānanakoa is known for speaking her mind (remember the 1998 incident when she sat on a normally restricted historic throne at ‘Iolani Palace during a photo shoot, then defended her right to do it as “the big cheese”?). In September, First Hawaiian Bank was appointed as trustee of the estate after the judge determined she wouldn’t manage her affairs. If only we could write this book.


Family Affair

The saga of former Police Chief Louis Kealoha and his former deputy city prosecutor wife, Katherine Kealoha, continues, with a trial scheduled in federal court this summer. The case may end up as one of the biggest public corruption trials in the state’s history. The two stand accused of stealing from clients, family members and financial institutions. They moved out of their Kāhala home a few months after federal documents revealed charges that Katherine Kealoha had spent more than $20,000 on a former lover—a Big Island firefighter—partly using money she had stolen from her grandmother and from a second mortgage.


Guess That’s Mainland Time

The Duolingo app and learning platform added Hawaiian to 81 courses across 37 languages available to learn for free for its 300 million users. The Star-Trek-created language of Klingon was available six months earlier.


Point of No Return

Heavy rains wreaked some havoc, especially on the Big Island, but the state heaved a collective sigh of relief when Hurricane Lane veered away after initially barreling toward the state as a Category 4 storm. One bachi move in the aftermath? Some people who panic-bought bottled water, generators, tarps and more tried to return the items, even the water. Stores had to put up signs saying that they couldn’t accept returned water.


That Sinking Feeling

One of the most historic visitor attractions in the state, the USS Arizona Memorial, closed in May because of repairs to the dock and visitor loading ramp. The World War II memorial remains a significant primary destination for legions of visitors. Within days of it being fixed, the shoreside dock sank, again causing boat tours to the USS Arizona Memorial to be canceled. A combined effort of various military and civilian helpers refloated the dock and work continued on the permanent repair. The National Park Service arranged to have a boat alongside the memorial for Dec. 7 observances for survivors and their families. The service expects access to be restored in March. Here’s hoping for no more surprises.



Sour Poi Awards


Federal authorities in California arrested eight people after seizing about 26 pounds of methamphetamine disguised inside decorative Aztec calendars and statues apparently destined for shipment to Hawai‘i. Suspects were arrested at a Garden Grove post office in July in an operation that included Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Cypress Police Department. Jail time?


That Bugs Me

Buzz’s Original Steak House permanently closed its Pearl City restaurant after the state Health Department shut down the 51-year-old eatery, posting a red placard citing roaches, inadequate plumbing and other sanitation problems in the aging building. The owners said the building was deteriorating too much and closed rather than try to renew the lease and fix the problems.


Got ’Em. Again. Eventually.

Authorities mistakenly released a state inmate awaiting trial instead of transporting him to the Hawai‘i State Hospital, but scooped him up after a tip. Crisis averted. More bad news: A murder suspect was mistakenly released from a Big Island jail. Good news: He turned himself in two days later.


Stealth Bomb

Controversy erupted in March in Kalaeloa after a group of volunteers one Saturday removed a memorial to the veterans who had served at Naval Air Station Barbers Point. After the base shut down in 1999, the land was sold to a private developer, Hunt Cos. The memorial, complete with silver-coated 1/15 model of the P-3C Orion airplane, was built across from what had been the former base headquarters. A lava rock wall with a “Naval Air Station Barbers Point 1942-1990” inscription in silver letters commemorates the veterans’ years of service. Then in October, a truckload of large concrete pilings was dropped off at the site, and at ‘Ewa Field, prompting more protests about the potential damage to the historic area. Some veterans are working to build a new home for the memorial and to restore the site.


Scoot on By

Sour Poi Awards


When about 200 Lime rental electric scooters suddenly showed up on Honolulu sidewalks, reaction was swift but probably not what the company had hoped. Honolulu police impounded many of the scooters parked all over the place: on city property, where they constituted a public nuisance; and on private property where owners asked them to be removed. Even Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell was incensed, suggesting that the company might have tried to consult local officials. The company rolled back with plans to consider future options.


Color Him Gracious

Hawai‘i Island witnessed the most destructive volcanic eruption in modern times, with hundreds of people evacuated and lava cutting off roads and mowing down homes, including a second home owned by Big Island Mayor Harry Kim in Vacationland. The blunt-spoken 79-year-old Kim managed pretty calmly the months of community upheaval that followed, while coping with his own recurrent health problems, including a fifth heart attack. Then he introduced a federal government representative at a Pāhoa community meeting as “the colored guy in back there.” Critics blasted Kim’s remark as archaic and tone-deaf while columnist Lee Cataluna summed it up as “sounding like racist grandpa.” The visiting African-American man, Willie Nunn, laughed off the remark as inoffensive.


That’s F***ed Up

U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono sometimes swears when she’s worked up about threats to health care, women’s rights and immigrants, and when reacting to President Donald Trump. When expressing her frustration about the disbelief and disparagement that women often face in reporting sexual harassment and assault, she urged men to “shut up and step up.” For this, some critics called her names and she received threats.


Money, Money, Money

What do these local companies have in common: The Arc in Hawai‘i, a nonprofit that provides services to children and adults with disabilities; an O‘ahu landscaper; the parent company of HONOLULU Magazine? The link between these very different local businesses is that all were shocked when betrayed by trusted employees, who were arrested, charged and convicted of the theft of millions of dollars.


Thanks, Anti-Vaxxers!

Mumps sickened more than 1,000 people statewide before state health officials officially said the outbreak was over in October. Around the same time, a wicked flu season hit hard, emptying offices and classrooms for a week at a time. Medical experts pointed to increased numbers of people who refuse to get vaccinations for themselves or their children as a complicating factor. Doctors acknowledge the rights of patients to make their own health care decisions but note that the unvaccinated can spread diseases that were generally thought to be held in check.


Read more stories by Robbie Dingeman