Mayoral candidates speak out at Lihu’e business forum

LIHU’E – You had to get to the final questions to find much difference in responses from the four candidates for Kaua’i mayor at a forum held by Lihue Business Association yesterday.

Organizers asked the candidates what their priority issue is if elected, and what keeps them awake at night when thinking about Kaua’i.

Independent candidate businessman Dennis Nimkie, said if elected it will take him around 120 days in office just to get rid of the garbage, lawsuits, illegal development issues, Rice Street problems, and other issues left over from the previous administration.

“Every voice counts,” said County Councilman Randal Valenciano, a Democrat, echoing his campaign slogan and philosophy. “We want people to believe they have a voice,” and are listened to, by local government officials, he said.

His independent campaign will ensure all will have a voice, said Valenciano, who added that implementing the updated Kaua’i General Plan will be a priority if he is elected.

Not much keeps Valenciano awake at night when thinking about the island’s present and future, for he feels lucky to live on Kaua’i, the place he chose to raise his children.

County Councilman Bryan Baptiste, a Republican, said the biggest problem is balancing the island’s two greatest resources, the human and natural ones. Humans need to work to increase job opportunities to improve the quality of life, and laws are needed to prevent urban sprawl and protect the natural environment, he said.

What keeps Baptiste up at night is the “bunker” mentality created when people are fighting battles against each other. “We all love this island,” and in battle people lose sight of what’s most important, he said.

Knowing, respecting and supporting neighbors, and knowing that local government will listen and respond to their concerns, would be very important factors in a Baptiste administration, he added.

County Council Chair Ron Kouchi, a Democrat, said worrying about the island that will be left for his children and the children of others, keeps him up at night. Issues he’s concerned about include the impact of growth on the quality of life, he added.

In the end, the council chair said, he hopes a Kouchi administration will leave behind an island where his children want to live. Further, he feels the island’s long-term, solid-waste disposal solution is incineration. Finally, a Kouchi administration would be based on citizen participation.

The candidates, appearing at the LBA meeting at Hawaiian Classic Desserts on Rice Street, share similar views on a variety of issues facing the island.

Most support the Kaua’i Island Utility Co-op’s attempt to purchase Kauai Electric, with Baptiste offering no position on the issue.

Most also support an expanded Lihue Airport, with Kouchi stating that with advances in aircraft technology the existing runways can now accommodate long-range passenger aircraft.

Several questions dealt with Kaua’i’s youth: “How are you going to address the youth?” and “What kind of role model will you be for the youth?”

Valenciano said he’d support a move to put police officers in the middle schools if part of their mission would be prevention and deterrence. The councilman said he supports programs that provide opportunities for young adults to return to the island for meaningful employment.

His children will pattern their lives on how he conducts his life, and elected officials, business leaders and parents are all role models. Making family and family values important is what a positive role model can do, said Valenciano.

“Maybe we can’t solve the world’s problems, but maybe we can solve some on Kaua’i,” he said.

Kouchi said the county must acknowledge a responsibility to the island’s youth. He likes Mayor Maryanne Kusaka’s adding an office of children and youth to the county administration.

Problems in recruiting and retaining police officers contribute to problems with the island’s youth, so making the Kauai Police Department a good place to work is important, Kouchi said. Other opportunities for youth need to be created like the new YMCA facility in Puhi, he said.

The island has a unique atmosphere and social makeup, and young people don’t always think adults listen and care, said Nimkie. “They must be listened to,” said Nimkie, who as mayor would convene a youth council made up of a cross section of young Kauaians including those not necessarily on the honor roll at school.

Police on campus won’t solve youth problems, and may even make them worse, said Nimkie. “It’s a community and family issue,” and the county needs to provide activities for youth. Governmen needs to work with the community in providing the activities, he said.

If the county administration can find $5 million for the Lihu’e gateway project, it should be able to find money for youth activity centers, said Nimkie. Youth need to be given purpose, he added.

Baptiste said strengthening communities, creating partnerships with families, communities, schools, the police, and other stakeholders, while including the youth in those discussions, is critical. “You have to give them a voice.”

Children have to be empowered to provide input, he said. “We lead busy lives,” but the children must know and understand that they’re important and valued, Baptiste said. “They need to be part of that solution.” Go home, hug your children, and talk to them. That’s a start, he told LBA members and guests.

In planning for the future, Nimkie said the tough decisions of today are necessary because of poor planning and “Band-Aid” fixes of the past. Instead of planning five or 10 years into the future, long-range planning for 30 years and more from now, is necessary, he said.

Nimkie used the Kapa’a bypass, or relief road, as an example. He said it will take seven years for planning and design prior to construction, and by then the 25-year vision for traffic relief the road is planned to address will be seven years old. “Bad planning,” he said.

Valenciano said implementing specific action ideas in the county’s General Plan will go a long way toward preparing the island for the future.

Baptiste favors putting the public first, encouraging citizens to get involved in long-range planning matters, and enlisting experts in their various fields to help plan the island’s long-range future.

The result, as discussed in the General Plan, should be a higher quality of life, where future generations can enjoy the island’s natural resources without having to work three jobs to afford to live here, Baptiste said.

Kouchi said the island’s blossoming high-technology sector allows young Kauaians to return to meaningful work on the island, and the General Plan is the road map for the island’s future.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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