Candidates meet with senior citizens

In what was the first candidates’ meeting with Kaua’i’s senior citizens during the 2002 election campaign, candidates for state and county elective offices pledged to continue to help them if elected.

Office-seekers promised to continue to support legislation and programs that have allowed the elderly to buy prescription drugs at affordable prices, provided homeowner exemptions and improved public services. Other candidates pledged to continue to improve long-term care services.

About 120 senior citizens attended a “coffee-hour” session on Tuesday that was sponsored by senior citizens at the Lihu’e Neighborhood Center in the Isenberg Tract. Some candidates also talked about their ties to Kaua’i and their families.

The candidates offered these comments:

– Ron Kouchi, mayoral candidate and chairman of the Kaua’i County Council, said he will not forget the many “doors of opportunities” past generations of Kaua’i have opened for the island’s younger folks, including himself.

In their younger and more productive days, Kaua’i’s’ senior citizens made contributions and sacrifices that have made Kaua’i what it is today, Kouchi said. The power of government is in the hands of senior citizens, who pushed for shared government funds to expand the Lihu’e Neighborhood Center, he said.

In his 20 years on the council, he said he has pushed for legislation to improve the quality of life on Kaua’i, he said. Most recently, he introduced a bill to give property tax relief.

– Councilman Bryan Baptiste, a mayoral candidate, is the son of the late Anthony C. Baptiste, one-time chairman of the Kaua’i Board of Supervisors in the late 1960s and a state legislator.

As mayor, Baptiste said he will work hard for the community and that his actions as mayor will be based on “honesty and integrity.”

He said he has backed legislation to help senior citizens and residents, one proposing a sewer credit and another proposing property tax reform.

Baptiste said he will forge relationships between government and residents to make Kaua’i an even better place to live.

– Gary Hooser, a democratic candidate for Kaua’i’s senate seat and a two-term councilman, said he wants to do more for Kaua’i as a state legislator.

Hooser said voters should look at his track record, his experience in government and business (he is president and co-founder of the Kapa’a-based H & S Publishing company) and values tied to family life.

His elderly in-laws live with him, and he said “I know what it means to be a senior. I know the importance of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, of the high cost of prescription drugs.”

– Rosie Holt, a Republican candidate for the Senate seat, told the audience she would work to eliminate the general excise tax on food and Medicare.

Holt served four years as chair of the Kaua’i Republican Party before stepping down to help her husband, Ronnie Holt Sr., who became ill and required medical help. Holt retired from the Kaua’i Police Department after 30 years of service.

– Ezra Kanoho, an incumbent Democrat running for House District 15 who has held office for nearly 16 years, said he also supported legislation that provides help to people without prescription drug coverage and low-income folks. He said he also supported two laws that address the “spiraling cost” of long-term care.

– Mina Morita, an incumbent Democrat running for House District 14. Because Morita had a commitment on O’ahu and could not be present, Barbara Robeson, a former Kaua’i County Planning Commission member, spoke for her.

She said Morita has supported legislation to curb the high cost of prescription drugs, protect senior citizens from telemarketing schemes, protect benefits of retired government workers and has continued discussion to improve long-term care service.

– Bertha Kawakami, incumbent Democrat running for House District 16, sits on the House committees of health and human services. She said she too supported legislation to lower costs for prescription drugs and to improve Medicaid-related services.

– Jose Felix-Keamoai, a Republican challenger for House District 16, said he wants to eliminate taxes on medical and health services and taxes people pay for doctor visits.

-Ray Paler, a candidate for the Kaua’i County Council, said Kaua’i is lucky because its elderly citizens have passed their wisdom and knowledge onto the next generation.

If elected, he said he would work hard to “instill family values and our way of life.”

– Ernest Moniz, who is running for a council seat, is a Kaua’i County Fire Department battalion chief with 32 years of firefighting experience. He said he feels connected to senior citizens because his father and mother have interacted with other senior citizens at neighborhood centers for 25 years.

He said he wants to ensure senior programs are properly funded. The county is chartered to provide police, fire and lifeguard services and to help all residents, including senior citizens.

– Mel Rapozo, a former Kaua’i police officer and private investigator now running for a council seat, said the life challenges that face Kaua’i’s elderly are “very important to me.” Rapozo said drug use has to be stopped before homes of senior citizens are burglarized.

– Joe Munechika, a former councilman, is running for a council seat.

Munechika said he and the late councilman James Tehada successfully push through legislation allowing ohana housing, which benefits seniors. Munechika also backed legislation that gave property tax exemptions for senior citizens.

– Daryl Kaneshiro, an incumbent councilman seeking a third term, is the son of “Sugar” Kaneshiro and Dorothy Kushikan, was born in Waimea and grew up in Koloa.

His grandfather, Ushi Kaneshiro, came from Okinawa to Kaua’i to work for the plantations.

Kaneshiro said he wants to bring the “traditions and values that I was given by my parents and grandparents.”

Reaching that goal for him as a councilman, Kaneshiro said, could mean more young people returning to Kaua’i from college or jobs in the mainland. He said he would welcome the return of his college-age son to Kaua’i.

Kaneshiro is a businessman and rancher, and was a cabinet member in the administration of the late-Mayor Tony T. Kunimura in the 1980s.

– Rhoda Libre, who is seeking a council seat, said issues of the seniors should be among the top priorities of the new council. The elderly need more services and information on how to access them, she said. Ocean waters where many senior citizens fish and use also should be kept clean.

– Jay Furfaro, who is running for a council seat and is a member of the Kaua’i County Planing Commission, said his ties to Kaua’i run deep. His family is from the North Shore, he was recruited by Grace Guslander, onetime owner of the Coco Palms Hotel in Wailua, to work on Kaua’i 31 years ago, and he is now general manager of the Radisson Kauai Beach Resort.

He also sat on the board of the Kauai Economic Development Board and served on the Kauai Citizens General Plan Commission.

– Kaipo Asing, who has served as a councilman for 20 years, told the audience that he believes he is worthy of another term.

Asing said he has “taken the time and has studied the issues” and has taken stands. “I believe that I have proved to you that I have done the job that you want me to do, that you elected me to do,” Asing said.

– Ray Chuan, who is running for a council seat, has been member of the AARP for 30 years. He has been an educator and a research scientist in California in other lives.

His desire is to maintain the island’s rural lifestyle. He has pushed for preservation of public access, called for more public participation in government and has lobbied for a freeze on property assessments.

-JoAnn Yukimura, a former mayor and council member, is seeking a council seat. She said she first got into politics some 25 years ago, then wearing “long hair, granny classes and mini-skirts, and “now I have white hair and am beginning to join your ranks, but I really appreciate the relationship we have had.”

Yukimura said her mother and father are active seniors, that, as mayor, she started the Sunshine market, patronized by the elderly as well, started the Kaua’i Bus, also used by senior citizens, and plans to expand the system.

Yukimura also said she supported the expansion of the Lihu’e Neighborhood Center. She said “her issue from the start is preserving our island and the kind of lifestyle (shaped and forged by senior citizens when they were younger) we have, and I know it is something you want for your children and grandchildren.”

Clyde Kodani, a well-known Kaua’i engineer, spoke on behalf of Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, a democratic candidate for governor. She wasn’t able to attend the meeting, but she cares deeply about Kauai’s seniors, Kodani said, noting one of “her priorities is to reduce the drug cost (for medication)” for the elderly.

Staff Writer Lester Chang can be reached at mailto:lchang@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 225).

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