State Rep. Bertha Kawakami, D, south and west Kaua’i, Ni’ihau, filed papers yesterday on Kaua’i to run for re-election.
She seeks re-election to the newly reapportioned 16th House District, which includes all of Ni’ihau parts of Koloa, including the Po’ipu Beach area, and Lawa’i, and all of west Kaua’i beyond Lawa’i.
Republicans JoAnne S. Georgi, John R. Hoff and Alfred P. Sarmento also took out papers to run for the 16th District House seat, though none have yet filed papers for that office.
Hoff found out he had been redistricted out of the 16th District, and recently filed papers to run for County Council.
Should Kawakami’s bid be successful, it would mark the incumbent’s eighth consecutive term in the House.
Kawakami was first appointed to office by then-Gov. John Waihe’e in 1987, to fill the vacancy left by her late husband, Richard Kawakami, who died in office shortly after becoming Speaker of the House.
“I am deeply honored to have served the people of Kaua’i and the state of Hawai’i through such difficult economic times,” said Bertha Kawakami.
“With the same energy and enthusiasm that I felt when I first entered politics, I will continue the arduous task of improving education, diversifying and strengthening our economy, and promoting the health and welfare of our citizens,” she added.
In spite of the duration of her tenure at the State Capitol, Kawakami is not a career politician. Her background has been primarily in education, beginning as a teacher at the elementary and intermediate grade levels for the Kaua’i district of the state Department of Education.
After obtaining her master’s degree in education at New York University, she became vice principal at Eleele School, then principal at Kekaha and, later, Eleele School again.
She became Kaua’i district DOE educational specialist for curriculum development in language arts, then Kaua’i deputy district superintendent just prior to being appointed to the Legislature.
Vice chair of the House Finance Committee, Kawakami is also vice chair of the House Human Services and Housing Committee, and member of the House Health Committee.
She also sits on the Joint Senate-House Investigative Committee for the Felix Consent Decree.
Since the last election in 2000, Kawakami said she has worked hard to support agriculture on Kaua’i, including backing state-funded loans and grants.
Although she was successful in getting a bill passed to extend unemployment benefits for former Amfac sugar workers, the measure was vetoed by Gov. Ben Cayetano.
Kawakami has also been involved in education and health care issues, and was able to get funding for Hanapepe Public Library and Kauai Veterans Memorial Hospital.
Kawakami has also been instrumental in getting the state to initiate a master plan for the Kokee and Waimea Canyon State Parks.
In the 2002 legislative session, Kawakami authored a bill that would deny or suspend any state professional or vocational license of any individual who refuses to repay a student loan administered by the state or federal government.
The rationale, according to Kawakami, is that “too many defaulters are treating these government loans as gifts, and their failure to repay results in less money available for current students struggling to finance their education.”
The bill is scheduled to be signed into law later this month.
As a result of the elimination of the “canoe district” that joined parts of Kaua’i with Maui, the new 16th House District no longer includes ‘Oma’o, most of Lawa’i, or upper Koloa.
To view detailed maps of the new district on the Internet, go to www.state.hi.us/elections/ and click on 2002 Political Districts and Correlating Maps. You may also call the state Office of Elections, toll-free at 1-800-422-VOTE (422-8683), for more information.