For long-time Kauai resident Steve Yoder, there’s no place else he’d rather live.
Yoder was 5 years old when he visited the Hawaiian Islands for the first time with his family in 1959 and he still remembers that trip fondly. His dad sold airplanes to Hawaiian Airlines in 1949, and his parents visited Kauai often.
In 1965, Yoder said his parents bought a house in the Wailua Homesteads and moved here permanently in 1970.
He finished his last two years of high school at Kapaa High and raised three children on Kauai.
Throughout the years, Yoder has worn many hats. He was a preacher, he worked in sales and for the last 24 years he has been a tour guide. He is currently the Kauai GOP county chair.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
I graduated from high school in 1972 and a Filipino boy led me to the Lord. We started attending Anahola Baptist Church, I went off to Bible college. That’s where I met my future ex-wife. Married, had three kids, pastored, associate pastored up in the Dayton area of Ohio and McKinney, north of Dallas. Then moved back to Texas, got into sales. Every time I came back to Hawaii to see my mom — I lost my dad in ’81, a tractor rolled over him, behind Sleeping Giant — so every time I came back to see my mom, it was hard to go back to Texas. Texas is a wonderful state. I love Texas, but it was hard to move back here because you have to make money to live here and I was making darn good money, the best money I ever made was in sales, direct mail in Texas, but I ended up moving back here.
What is your favorite part about being a tour guide here on Kauai?
Meeting people. I enjoy people. I enjoy talking to them. I like to tease them a lot. One thing I learned in selling timeshares is unless people are laughing, they’re not listening. It’s a key.
Did you ever see yourself working in tourism?
No. No way. But one day I found myself out of a job and I know the guy who used to do this tour, over 24 years ago. He passed away, young guy, 37 years old, guy named Don. Tall, Swedish guy. I knew the thing had been floundering for four months and so I was out of a job, wife and three kids to feed, so I took it as a lark. I never pictured myself doing this for as long as I have, because my education is Arlington Baptist College, Arlington, Texas. My major was Bible, I had a double minor, New Testament Greek and New Testament Missions, which is actually critical when becoming a tour guide on Kauai. You can’t even get in through the door to be a tour guide without that. But basically, it just comes down to people skills and I enjoy people. That’s another thing today. I think people are way too offended. I always tell people, “Don’t worry about being offended, because you won’t die from it. It won’t kill you.”
What is the one thing from your experience as a tour guide that you have learned from the visitors?
To listen to get them to talk. I can talk a stream, but you’ve got to find out what interests people. It’s kind of like running for office. Four years ago I ran for office and many years people try to tell them what they think instead of finding out what they think, what they like to do, what interests them and I’ve always found the sweetest sound to anybody’s ear is the sound of their own name being spoken. Dale Carnegie once said that and I think one of the best quotes outside of the Bible that I’ve ever read, of course the book is holy writ, to me, it’s not just man, but Dale Carnegie wrote a book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s something you can read over and over again, but one of the main things is, “The sweetest thing to anybody’s ears is their name being spoken.” I always find when people are interested in the tour, it’s because they’re interested in me. If people don’t ask too many questions about me, it’s because I didn’t connect. So I always want to make sure I connect.
You’re the chairman of Kauai’s GOP Party. Tell me a little bit about that.
The person who first got me involved in politics was President Obama. I think he did for many people of the Republican Party. People do not like socialism. They didn’t like the intrusion of government being mandated that you have to have health care. Some people don’t want health care and to be penalized because you don’t have health care is asinine. I’m very sorry that John Roberts of the Supreme Court went along with it. The conservative judge, it was a tiebreaker, it was a five to four vote. What Trump did was he, within our last tax reform, they cut the heart out of Obamacare, the Affordable Care Act, so called. It’s not affordable, it doesn’t take care of you. But they took away the mandate that basically the pulling back of our military, having less of a military presence to protect our country. I can understand some people don’t like military involvement in other countries, but the countries like it or else we wouldn’t be there. Good case in point is the Philippines. We’re not there anymore because they don’t want us there and we won’t be there, but when things start going wrong, who are they first to call upon? The United States. But I just did not like the policy of President Obama. I was one of these guys, along with a commentator named Rush Limbaugh, that when he took office, I hoped he would fail, because if he succeeded, this country would be in deep kimchee.
So what happened?
I ran for office in 2014. I just went to a simple delegate meeting for the GOP here on Kauai. There’s three districts on Kauai. Guess how many people showed up at that delegation meeting in February 2014. One. Me. I was the only one there. The county chair was there, Bob Hickling, and, whose house it was at Harold Nelson, who is the former chair for House District 15. I thought, “God, we’re in worse shape than what I thought.”
There’s not even enough Republicans to pull a bill out of the House to vote on. So we have to work with Democrats. You talk about having to work across the aisle. So I ran because nobody ran against Jimmy Tokioka for District 15.
I raised $18-grand, but you need at least $50-grand to win, to come close. I was outspent. I remember knocking doors until late at night, 10 o’clock at night. I did that for eight months straight, seven days a week. People said I was the hardest working man on Kauai in the GOP party. I lost, got 1,989 votes, I think Jimmy Tokioka got a little over 4,000.
So I thought that was it. The guy who’s the head of the Republican Party on Kauai, Bob Hickling, asked me to become the county chair, which I agreed to, but I was kind of like a reluctant nominee and so we’ve been growing. I’m concerned now because we don’t have any candidates for our three state Houses. A Republican has never won a seat in a state House in the history of statehood, on Kauai.
The county used to be partisan but they say, “Republicans have won at the county level, it’s nonpartisan.”
If you’re a true Republican you can’t hold to the Democratic policies. Big Government, abortion on demand, all the shenanigans that goes on with the Democratic Party, which is really against the conservative attitude I think of the islands. I think people are far more Republican than they realize they are.
Are you going to run again?
I don’t know. I really shouldn’t because I’m too busy being GOP county chair. We do have a few people interested in running for county. But that’s nonpartisan.
What’s the future of Hawaii’s GOP Party?
Nowhere to go but up. The biggest friend we have right now is President Trump. We have a great chair in Charlene Ostrov. There’s two people that are running for the gubernatorial race, Republican Minority House Leader Andria Tupola, she won election in ’14 when I ran, she ran over in Oahu, Waianae, firecracker, great, great gal, and then John Carrol in his late 80s, he’s running also for the governorship. Jeremy Low is running for Lt. Governor so he’s going to be traveling around with me on Feb. 17.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge Hawaii is facing?
It’s the most expensive place to live in the country and we have the Democrat- led House and Senate that’s making it harder through higher taxation, through more regulation. Labor unions.
Hawaii, I believe, has the highest percentage of private labor union workers. It sounds like I’m against people who work for the union. I’m not, but I don’t know if you’ve heard the term unfunded liabilities. I see ads come out where the people who work for the union say, “See how the union takes care of us,” and they do. They take very good care of them. They get very high wages, they get great benefits, but who pays for that? I do. But I don’t get those benefits. It comes through taxation, through the price of doing business in Hawaii.
One of the worst regulations in our state is what’s known as The Jones Act of the 1920s. Unless a cruise ship is made in the United States and 70 percent of the crew is American citizens, and they have to pay higher taxes, of course, thanks to President Trump, it’s now lower, the ship that goes only between American ports, like Matson and The Pride of America, if a ship only goes between American ports, they have to follow the Jones Act.
That’s what drives up the cost of everything. The cost of living is not because of shipping, no more than trucking would cause the high cost of living on the Mainland, it’s because it’s being run by the Jones Act. A shipping company can buy a better ship from another country for a better price, it can hire labor which is less expensive, we wouldn’t have to pay as high of taxes. That would dramatically lower the cost of doing business.
But unless we vote the people out of office and put Republicans in there, at least we’d get a fighting chance to put somebody in there who has a different policy where government’s not the answer. People deserve to keep the money they earn. It doesn’t take as much money to run the government. Most of the programs are useless.
What is your biggest hope for Hawaii’s future?
My biggest hope for the future of Hawaii is that through the Republican Party — if the Democrats want to do it, I’d say, “Yippee ki ye,” — repeal the Jones Act. The 4 percent General Excise Tax that we have in our county, which is a little higher on Oahu, because of the rail, which is a boondoggle, it’s another Democrat boondoggle, we’re the only state where everything is taxed. Nothing escapes it. In other states you’re not taxed on food. You are when you go out to eat, but you’re not taxed on iceberg lettuce or a can of Spam or your medicine when you buy your drugs at a pharmacy. We’re the only state. We tax everything here, so if you’re taxed at 4 percent on everything, there’s a lot more paying taxes, than having to pay a 10 percent sales tax.
We also have a higher state income tax than California. Hawaii, along with Vermont, Maine and New York, are four of the most heavily taxed states in the states. If people can actually take home their gross income and then on April 15, say, “OK, here’s your tax bill,” people would revolt, but they don’t because a little bit’s being taken out. They don’t understand what’s happening to them, how much they’re being screwed, in their paycheck.
So you’re not sure yet if you’re going to run?
Not at this present. I don’t want to see Jimmy’s office District 15, go unchallenged. I’m trying to find candidates.
Do you have anything else to say about Hawaii or yourself?
We are so fortunate to live here. Just because it’s paradise doesn’t mean it has to be expensive. It doesn’t have to be. Vote Republican.