Mayoral candidates talk about life after leaving the council

The three current members of the Kaua’i County Council who are candidates for mayor recently talked about what it’s like to run against people who are not only co-workers, but also friends, along with other issues.

Chair Ron Kouchi, and Councilmembers Bryan Baptiste and Randal Valenciano are giving up their council posts at the end of November, all to run for mayor, while Councilmember Gary Hooser will be off the council by virtue of his campaign for the state Senate seat now held by fellow Democrat Jonathan Chun.

Q: Are you concerned about the “brain drain,” or “experience drain,” with four councilmembers leaving the council after their current terms?

“There are qualified candidates coming on board, in fact some of the new candidates actually have experience as elected officials,” Valenciano said. “I think that it’s good that periodically there is some change. I think that, in any event, the mayor and the council are going to work together. There are good people running for office. I don’t think the council’s going to fall apart, or anything like that. I think there are good people running; good candidates. It’s a new opportunity, a chance for change.”

“I would like to think that I was a good councilmember and I served the community well,” said Kouchi. “You’d like to think that you’d be hard to replace, but sometimes change, fresh looks at ideas,” are good things, he said. “There’s some people with good experience running. I think that there’s some good choices on the ballot, and whoever is elected will do a good job representing Kaua’i. So I’m not that concerned about” any kind of experience void connected with having several new faces on the council, he said.

Baptiste said, “I think change can bring good and change can bring bad. But, I think, overall, that I’m excited to see that we may have some people with new ideas, new energy, and I think we have corporate knowledge there. With the three returning council people, with their wealth of knowledge, they can help direct the new people. I believe that new people bring new ideas and excitement and energy, and I think that’ll be a good thing.”

Q: Is it difficult to campaign when opponents aren’t just co-workers who you see on a weekly or more frequent basis, but also friends?

“I think what we’ve tried to do is stay on good terms throughout the election,” said Baptiste. “I think there are four good people running for office, and it’s gotta be about what you have to offer, and not what someone else doesn’t offer. I think giving people the choices in the type of leadership that they want (is a good thing), and for me, I’m not going to get into any of the stuff that focuses on the deficiencies of another candidate. I’m going to just focus on what I have to offer, and present that. And I think all of the candidates are good men.”

“The difficulty has been for our employees in the council staff as well as the county, to have three people that they know and like, and they’re forced to make a tough choice,” Kouchi said. “I think it’s been difficult for voters, because there are people who have supported more than one of us in the past, to have to make a choice. So far, I haven’t found it to be difficult to campaign, because each one of us have been running on why we think that we deserve to get a vote, and we haven’t taken the approach of why you shouldn’t vote for someone else. I’ve been impressed with how well the candidates have kept their professionalism and, most importantly, the politics has not spilled over into how we’ve done (council) business. Everyone’s come to the council meetings and put the politics of the campaign on the side. The politics have been left outside the room, and we’ve come in and done the best job for the people of Kaua’i, and not jeopardized that. That, to me, has shown the best qualities of everyone.” From the start of his campaign, Kouchi told supporters he wouldn’t engage in or tolerate negative campaigning, against his “friendly rivals.”

Valenciano has known Kouchi since high school, and has worked with him for 12 years on the council, and has served on the council alongside Baptiste for three terms. “I think one of the things that’s made it easier for us to run a campaign when we know the other people is we’ve tried to keep our focus more positive, and to run a positive campaign, to tell people that this is what we’re doing,” said Valenciano. “In doing that, it makes it easier to run your campaign. And it’s a type of campaign we wanted to run in the first place, to try and be more positive, to tell the people this is what we’re doing,” and what he can do as mayor, “as opposed to trying to knock down everybody else. The focus has been more on the positive aspects of campaigning, and not so much on the negative. So it makes it easier to run a campaign. And by and large everybody has handled themselves in a professional way.”

Q: If elected, would you consider having the two councilmembers who lose serve as appointed officials in your cabinet?

“At this point, I haven’t talked to anybody about any positions,” Kouchi said. “So it’s more a matter of would they be interested? We’re going to accept applications and consider anybody out in the community. I would say that they would be treated fairly, like anyone else. We’re not intending to exclude anyone from expressing an interest, and if they express an interest to at least look at a resume and to consider it.”

“Well, I think I’m going to open up the process to people who apply. It’s kind of presumptuous,” said Baptiste, to say he’d hire any of the other candidates should he be elected, because he doesn’t even know if they’d be interested in serving in appointed positions. “We’re going to surround ourselves with the most qualified people that we can, that can do the job, and that I can work with,” and that can help his administration achieve its goals and visions, he said.

“One of the things that I haven’t done is, I haven’t promised anybody any position,” said Valenciano. “So I’m not sure that they would be interested at all. I don’t want to make that assumption. But we’re going to open it up to see who wants to be part of our administration. Part of it is to make sure that they understand what we’re trying to accomplish, and they’re willing to work towards that end. From a philosophical perspective, we have to have some consistency. I cannot be headed in direction A and somebody else is headed in direction B. I need to make sure that we match philosophically.”

– TGI Business Editor Paul Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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