This afternoon at 5, Mayor Alan Arakawa will deliver his State of the County address in the Baldwin High School Auditorium. The public is invited; after all, it's his annual report to us, the shareholders. I'll be there, and I hope to see you there too, although I don't expect to.
Even at the state and national levels, very few of the general public attends "State of . . ." speeches. We'd rather get the condensed version on the 6 o'clock news or online. I like to read the synopsis and analysis in the next day's newspaper myself. In fact, this will be my first time in a State of the County audience.
I have, as a working reporter, been to a couple of State of the State addresses, delivered quietly and effectively by then-Gov. George Ariyoshi. (You pass the kama'aina test if you are now hearing that campaign jingle in your head: He's working quietly and effectively, to do what is best for Hawaii. . . . Bonus points if you remember Ariyoshi's 1974 opponent and his jingle: Crossley for Governorrr, with Mills for harmonyyyyy. . . . And you make honor roll if you're saying to yourself, "Hey, that's from the '60s, when John Burns, not Ariyoshi, beat Randolph Crossley.")
So how do we draw more people to these addresses? What's a chief executive to do? Well, besides offering free food, which the Arakawa administration is doing this evening, I'd like to suggest a bold, new marketing strategy. Actually, it's a pretty old strategy. Adopt a mascot, a nonhuman spokesperson for the county. Maybe even let the mascot deliver part of the speech. At the very least, the mascot could introduce the mayor and stand behind him on the dais, then pass out county brochures and pose for pictures with the kids afterwards.
The Maui mascot wouldn't be the first government spokestoon. Smokey the Bear has been delivering the U.S. Forest Service's message since 1944. He looks darned good for being close to 70; he hasn't changed much, although his line has evolved from "Only YOU can prevent forest fires" to "Only you can prevent wildfires." Smokey Bear (his official name) is one of the most recognizable and enduring mascots of all time. He's outlasted fellow forestry rep Hootie the Owl and outperformed all other spokesbears, including the Hamms Beer bear (From the land of sky blue waaater . . . ).
Then there's McGruff the Crime Dog, a relative Johnny-come-lately in the mascot biz. He's been taking a bite out of crime for the National Crime Prevention Council for only 33 years. He too has a lesser known sidekick, his nephew Scruff.
Of course, not all successful spokestoons are animals. My favorite was Reddy Kilowatt. I always thought Reddy was a local boy, born and raised at Maui Electric Co. It wasn't until just a few years ago that I learned he was famous beyond our shores. He's actually a Southerner, created at the Alabama Power Co. in 1926 and licensed to hundreds of electric companies nationwide. He's been retired for several decades now, probably living the good life in Wailea. I've heard gossip about a nose job, that he replaced the old light bulb with a CFL spiral.
Maui Electric did have a local mascot for a while, born and raised here by Jerry Miller. Jerry was the smooth baritone voice of MECO, heard on local radio commercials and public service announcements. He was also the voice of The Duck - I don't recall it ever having a name but it was much more eloquent than the Aflac one. The Duck was Jerry's baby, and he happily played straight man to the wise-quacking bird (Sorry, I can't resist a pun). Most commercials started with Jerry's greeting, "Hey, Duck!" and included his translation of the fowl language (Sorry again). The Duck usually got the last word.
Perhaps The Duck might be persuaded to fly again, as our county mascot. Or maybe he could refer us to a cousin nene. I'm sure any local bird or beast would be honored to serve.
We should have auditions, like American Idol. The Maui Mascot Star Search. We'd want a local spokestoon, of course, but we'd probably have to sit through applicants like the Geico Gecko and those disturbingly real pigs that seem to be everywhere these days. Maybe the Hamms Bear would show up with his little canoe. Akaku would televise the auditions, interview the hopefuls as they stood in line outside. An event like that would fill Baldwin Auditorium.
So there's another reason to attend today's speech. I'll suggest my idea to the mayor when I see him, over mini-bentos. Hmm. Mini-bentos. Don't you think a Spam musubi might make a good Maui mascot?
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.