The crowded field in this year’s local elections might warrant asking for anyone who is NOT running for County Council to raise his or her hand.
It’s almost that daunting. Originally, 27 people pulled papers to run for the council. When the filing deadline had passed, the field had shrunk to 24 but it’s still the largest group ever. The primary is Aug. 11 and the general election Nov. 7. What is a voter to make of this?
Adding to the intensity is that 2018 will be a year of potentially momentous change in county government.
Consider: On the County Council, three of seven spots open up this year. Two current members — Mel Rapozo and JoAnn Yukimura — have termed out and are running for mayor; Derek Kawakami is stepping down from the council to run for mayor.
Mayor Bernard Carvalho is terming out after 10 years in office — more than any mayor in county history. Unlike his predecessors, Carvalho has not publicly anointed a successor, meaning that the mayor’s race with seven candidates is theoretically wide open. At this point, Kawakami and Mel Rapozo seem clear leaders.
And, on top of all that, the police and fire chiefs have announced plans to retire. So those two critical public safety agencies will be in the throes of new leadership during this election year.
The Kauai Chamber of Commerce and Filipino Chamber of Commerce have thrown up their hands in frustration and decided there are too many candidates to put on meaningful debates. The Community Coalition Kauai organization hopes to sponsor a series of forums in four different locations during July. The process may come across as the political equivalent of speed dating, joked Anne Walton, the group’s leader.
Pity the voter trying to find out enough about 24 different people to decide on which seven to elect to the County Council.
To make this a little easier, I offer an approach. Of the candidates for County Council, 11 have no website. Because it is simply impossible to run for public office with any credibility in 2018 without understanding that online information for voters is vital, I eliminate all of them as serious candidates. Some are on Facebook. That doesn’t count because social media does not allow the same broad scrutiny that comes from a website.
Those rejected by this criterion include Heather Ahuna, Ted Daligdig, Billy DeCosta, Norma Doctor Sparks, Richard Fukushima, Cecilia Hoffman, Shaylene Iseri, Nelson Mukai, Wally Nishimura, Shirley Simbre-Medeiros and Harold Vidinha.
Then there are four incumbents: Arthur Brun, Mason Chock, Ross Kagawa and Arryl Kaneshiro. Although Kagawa, inexplicably, also has no website, the truth is that incumbency is an undeniable advantage. Their records are in full view. So they do not figure in this analysis, either.
Two other candidates fall into an “other” category: Kipukai Kualii and Felicia Cowden. Kualii has served on the council previously and is widely known in that context. Cowden is a radio talk show host whose programs are archived by KKCR.
That leaves a handful who present the biggest challenge to voters. This column is commentary, and does not pretend to be news, which leaves me free to identify four candidates about whom voters should find out as much as possible and consider strongly.
They are Juno Ann Apalla, Luke Evslin, Adam Roversi and Milo Spindt.
They have in common a view that the County Council’s primary challenge in the next two years is addressing the vexing problems of growth management, the housing crisis and trying to put the strongest elements of the new General Plan Update into action. Those are, without question, where the focus should be.
Thankfully, no diversionary issues loom in the background, as the GMO-pesticide debate did in the last two elections. That’s a welcome development.
First, Apalla, who ran two years ago and finished strongly but did not win. She later ran unsuccessfully for the board of the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative. She’s young — turning 30 this week — female and represents the Filipino community, an important political and cultural force.
The council will lose its only woman with the departure of Yukimura. Apalla is smart and quick. The voter registration button at the top of her website’s main page — a small detail — says a great deal. She understands how important it is to engage Millennial voters like herself.
She sees housing and fair income distribution as key challenges she would try to address. She is not afraid of potentially controversial points of view, such as her opinion that the Pacific Missile Range Facility represents not an incursion of military occupation on Kauai, but a key to strengthening the technology base of the island.
Evslin may be described accurately as something of a policy wonk — with that intended as a compliment. He also knows about challenge. All in the same year, he’s running for County Council, moving from an off-the-grid yurt to a real house, welcoming his second child (whose due date is one day after the election), running a business and completing a master’s degree at USC.
He was involved in development of the Strategic Plan Update and believes translating the plan into meaningful ordinance legislation will be the council’s biggest opportunity.
“The plan was the impetus for a lot of possible change,” he said. “Housing, growth management, traffic and tourism are the dominant themes. All of the plan is meaningless unless it’s implemented.”
Roversi has perhaps the most unusual background of the viable candidates. He’s a deputy county attorney, but worked for many years before that in construction. He’s also worked on a farm. His family has decades-long ties to Kauai.
He said he’s running because after he graduated from the University of Hawaii’s William S. Richardson School of Law, he joined the county attorney’s office believing he could work for change from within the system. He found out he couldn’t.
Roversi understands that all any candidate can do is anticipate the immediate two-year term. So, he said, priorities have to be selected carefully. Kauai must manage growth more intelligently, he said, and the General Plan Update is key to achieving that goal.
“It can’t just sit on the shelf,” he said.
Somehow doing a better job of taming inflation in home prices is key, Roversi said, even if that means a variant on rent control.
Spindt shares the view that the first term for a councilmember requires a narrow focus.
“You have to focus on what can happen in a two-year time span,” he said. “A big part of my focus is on affordable housing. The rest of the time, the council will be forced to focus on the budget and other issues that come up.”
He believes shifting to higher housing densities may be key — especially in Lihue. In that, he would find common cause with Councilmember Arthur Brun — if Brun is reelected.
“This could be a very pivotal year in our government,” Spindt said. “The change in mayor could and probably will take us in a very different direction. Many of our administrative and appointed officials have been in office for a very long time. We could see some big changes.”
Allan Parachini is a journalist and a former PR executive. He is a Kilauea resident.