The talk was that Kauai’s Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. was going to run for governor of Hawaii. Nearly everyone was convinced our mayor was going to seek the state’s highest elected seat since he would be termed out next year. It was just a matter of time, most of us thought, until the mayor made it official.
Our mayor had other plans.
Last month, he announced he was running as a Democrat for lieutenant governor of Hawaii.
That’s a smart political move and one that could lead to bigger things.
As much we believe Carvalho would be an excellent governor, we also don’t believe he could have won that race, at least not yet. The jump from mayor of Kauai and Niihau to governor of Hawaii would be a big one. And he would face Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, who announced in September she was seeking the governor’s seat, and he would face incumbent Democratic Gov. David Ige, who is sure to seek re-election. Either one would be difficult for Carvalho to defeat in a statewide race.
But the lieutenant governor post is winnable for Carvalho. Current Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui has already announced that he will not seek re-election when his term ends next year. Others in this race include state Sens. Will Espero, Josh Green and Jill Tokuda; Kim Coco Iwamoto, Maile Lu‛uwai and Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa.
Kauai’s mayor can win. He has certainly developed a reputation on this island as a man with heart and vision. He has taken stands where necessary, but his style is to lead and unite, not dictate. He refers to it as being a bridge builder.
He is popular. His appearance at community events, fundraisers and dinners is, to put it simply, a big deal. When the mayor shows up, everyone notices and everyone gravitates toward him. And no one is better at getting around the island to events than the mayor. He, like TGI’s Dennis Fujimoto, seems to be everywhere at one time.
While some might question what exactly he has accomplished as mayor, we believe the mayor’s vision to create a better Kauai is coming to fruition. He encourages people to live well and live healthy. He calls on them to take care of the aina and to take care of ohana. He wants people to live aloha.
Those things are happening and Carvalho’s influence should not be overlooked.
No one can dispute that the mayor loves Kauai and has a passion to do what he can to make it a great home for all who live here.
And, should the mayor win the race for lieutenant governor, the next step from there could be the governor’s office. The statewide recognition and legislative experience he would gain as lieutenant governor are two factors that could lead to a higher office. It’s the next logical move for a man who clearly has political ambitions.
Our only concern here is whether the mayor can campaign effectively while continuing to serve as Kauai’s mayor.
To win the lieutenant governor seat, Carvalho’s campaign will need to take him to other islands, where he is not as well known. He will need to clearly state his goals and tout his achievements to the bulk of the state’s voters on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii. It will be difficult to do that while staying home.
In case you were wondering, here’s a little about Carvalho:
He took office on Dec. 1, 2008 to fulfill a partial two-year term for the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste. He was re-elected in 2010 and 2014.
Employed by the County of Kauai since 1985, Mayor Carvalho was appointed by Mayor Baptiste in 2002 as the director of the Offices of Community Assistance, which included the Transportation, Recreation, Elderly Affairs and Housing divisions.
In 2007, he was tapped by Baptiste to set up and lead the new Department of Parks and Recreation as director.
A Kauai native, Carvalho graduated from Kapaa High School in 1979 and earned a full-ride scholarship to play football at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He graduated from UH in 1983 with a degree in communications and public relations and was drafted by the Miami Dolphins, where he played for two seasons before returning to the islands and marrying his wife Regina. They have three children and two grandchildren.
Carvalho has been a good mayor. It’s why he was twice re-elected. He would serve the state well as lieutenant governor.