Kuali‘i: A new voice for old-time Kaua‘i

With his grassroots election campaign in full swing, Lihu‘e resident KipuKai “Leslie” Kuali‘i can be found out in the community telling voters why they should pick him on Nov. 4 to serve on the Kaua‘i County Council.

The long-time labor organizer and activist said in an interview this week that he wants to give back, especially to the “struggling and disadvantaged.”

“I spent a lot of time away while I was on the Mainland working for other social justice causes,” said the 46-year-old Kuali‘i, adding that he returned to be with his family on-island and continue his work here.

The first-time candidate said solid waste, traffic and affordable housing are the top three issues he will tackle with creative solutions.

“But I also want to make sure we’re doing all we can to help our kupuna and our children,” he said. “We need to make sure we’re giving the children enough options so they are not resorting to drugs and alcohol … a horrible problem that affects most of our families.”

Kuali‘i, a Democrat, said he will bring a level head and a cooperative spirit to the seven-member legislative body.

“Often it seems like they’re bickering a lot, and I’m sort of a middle-of-the-road moderate person who can work with all kinds of people,” he said. “I know it’ll take a team, too, and I can help.”

Kuali‘i said he’s a passionate community organizer dedicated to helping others, and brings more than 20 years of experience in labor, political and community campaigns to the council.

“Coming from a large working-class family, I know firsthand about the struggles our people are facing, and I understand the importance of protecting our island’s natural and food resources,” he said.

Kuali‘i said his campaign slogan, “A new voice for old-time Kaua‘i,” is about returning to resourcefulness or sustainability and reconnecting with traditions and values — especially malama ‘aina (caring for the island) and malama kekahi i kekahi (caring for each other).

He said he grew up in the lo‘i kalo (taro patches) and lo‘i pa‘akai (salt beds) of Hanapepe.

“We’re going door-to-door to meet voters to share information on the existing homeowner property tax exemption credits available to homeowners, especially seniors, the disabled and those earning less than $40,000 a year,” he said. “We’ve been having a lot of fun with the campaign so far. My entire ‘ohana, especially Mom and Dad (Patricia Carvalho and Wilfred Kuali‘i of Puhi) have been working really hard.”

His sister, Debra, took the lead on a talk story fundraiser Tuesday at the Lihu‘e Neighborhood Center.

Kuali‘i, a Kamehameha Schools graduate, earned a business administration degree from the University of the Pacific.

He is the coordinator of AKAMAI Mahi‘ai, a community economic development project creating an agricultural training and agribusiness center, developing local leaders and bringing additional resources to Anahola.

He also serves on the statewide Boards of the Hawai‘i Alliance for the Community-Based Economic Development, Hui Kako‘o ‘Aina Ho‘opulapula and the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement.

The primary election is Sept. 20. The general election is Nov. 4.

For more information, visit www.kualii.org

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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