• Derek Kawakami
• Ronald Kouchi
Editor’s note: The following seven questions were posed to the 22 candidates for Kauai County Council. Two candidates a day will have their answers reprinted in their entirety until all candidates’ answers have appeared.
1) Define what future development on Kaua‘i means to you. Please use specifics.
2) What is your vision of the island in 10 years?
3) What specific credentials do you have for being a County Council member? Why are you the best for our county? Again, let’s get specific. What positions of power have you held in the past? What connections do you
have that will benefit the county?
4) How will you work with the other six members of the County Council if elected? Would like some specific tactics and strategies you would use to act on the county’s behalf within the larger group.
5) What is your history? Born and raised here? Mainlander? Family? Residence? Career? Education?
6) What does open government mean to you?
7) What is the single, most important issue to you?
1) I think one thing that is in the back of everyone’s mind is development and the change that it brings. The only constant thing in life is change. We need to address growth and change while maintaining our rural character. We need to plan for growth in areas that are suitable for it and we need to preserve areas that are culturally, visually, and agriculturally important. Development and traffic go hand in hand. Traffic ties into the need for people to drive their vehicles to access necessary services. There is a saying that is gaining popularity amongst traffic engineers that “Trying to reduce traffic by widening lanes and building more roads is like trying to cure obesity by loosening our belts.” Unfortunately, at the state that we are in, adding lanes and building more roads is a necessity. It is important to plan proactively when addressing development so that we create communities where our people can work, shop, send their kids to school, and access essential government services within their respective communities. We need to strike the right balance of increased growth, resource management, infrastructure, waste management and public safety. Frustration arises when any of these components are out of sync. It is a constant juggling act.
2) According to the Kauai General Plan’s vision for 2020, I envision that in 2020 Kaua‘i will be:
• A vital modern society formed by the people and traditions of many cultures
• An island of distinctly individual towns and communities, each with its own unique history and character
• A community that values its historic places and where people practice and draw strength from ancient languages and cultural traditions
• A rural place whose population size and economy have been shaped to sustain Kaua‘i’s natural beauty, rural environment and lifestyle
• A community which cares for its land and waters, leading the way with best management practices in the development of roads and other public facilities and in its land development and environmental regulations
• An agricultural center, producing a wide range of crops, food and forest products for local consumption and export
• A resort destination whose government and industry leaders respect the island’s residents and their need to have a community life where visitors are not always present and who find effective ways to protect residents’ customary use of special places for religious and cultural observances, fishing, gathering, hunting and recreation and
• An island whose government supports the labor force and small business owners, firmly holding to essential policies and regulations while eliminating unnecessary red tape.
3) At the age of 28 I was elected to the Board of Directors for KIUC where I served as second vice-chairman of the board, the chair of the strategic planning committee, chair of the nominating committee, member of the policy committee and member of the government relations and legislative affairs committee. I was appointed by our Mayor Bryan Baptiste to the Charter Commission. I am currently serving as a director for our Kaua‘i Police Activities League, Lihue Business Association, and also as a food and agriculture committee member for Kauai Economic Development Board. I was the campaign co-chair for Sen. Inouye’s 2004 Kaua‘i campaign. My experience with KIUC has given me experience as a member of a policy-making body and has made me realize that in order to transform political vision into public action, good policy making is necessary. I have had many opportunities to work with our county representatives, state representatives as well as our representatives in Congress. As of Aug. 25, 2008 I have been endorsed by HGEA, SHOPO, and ILWU.
4) Anytime you are put in a situation where one must work with others certain challenges arise. Different priorities, different beliefs, and of course different egos. My experience in the private sector has taught me how to work collaboratively with different parties in order to achieve a common goal, how to deal with different personality types and that at the end of the day, a good idea is a good idea. I think the biggest strategy a new councilmember can do is to listen and learn as much as he or she can. My first nine months at KIUC could have been seen as unproductive to some because I did very little speaking and much more listening and learning. Learning the history, learning what issues are on our plate now, doing the homework, asking staff and fellow directors for help on understanding the process and procedure. Like anything else in life, if you walk in thinking you know all the answers then you had better know all the answers or be prepared to be completely ineffective. But if you come in knowing that as a councilmember you are one of seven and you need to convince at least three other councilmembers on the who, what, when ,where why, and how, well then that is where you can start doing things that will benefit our people.
5) My father is from Waimea and both of his parents are from Japan. My grandfather H.S. Kawakami was a businessman who was very active in his community and taught his children and grandchildren to be thankful, give back to the community and to never forget where you come from. My mother is from Huleia and her parents were born here as well. My grandfather Mutsumi Kashima worked with Shell Oil as a truck driver and my grandmother Dora worked as a chambermaid at Coco Palms and in the pantry at Kauai Surf. They ran Halenani Saimin Shop and were farmers who grew papayas, ginger, and Samoan taro tops. The sold their produce to Yukimura Store, Eagle Produce and Mahelona Hospital. My grandparents both had eighth grade educations. They firmly believed that they needed to give their children more opportunity than they had and sent all four of their children to college. The values that have been passed down to me from the prior generations make me who I am today. I am a product of our public school system as well as having earned a Bachelor of Business Administration from Chaminade University. I am a husband to Monica Kawakami whose family are the Lizamas and Debuscas. I am a father of two and I will pass on those same values to them.
6) To me, open government means that citizens have access to public records, are allowed to present written and verbal testimony, are allowed to attend open meetings that have been scheduled and posted so that citizens have a chance to attend, and that decision making by government officials are made out in the open. Open government means that decision makers have an open mind and make themselves available to the public for input and feedback. Open government strives to help the people participate in the policy-making process through education, information, and interaction.
7) When the economy is good, tourism is booming, the county is getting the revenue it needs from property taxes, our people are working, there is money being made and spent. But as we head towards a downturn in the economy, the county will struggle to find the money it needs, people start getting their hours cut, and growth slows down. This is where government must differentiate between its wants and needs. The present state of the economy is temporary and we will get over this. But we are in a situation where finding answers to the problem is going to require us getting it done with less money available. That requires creativity, resourcefulness, the ability to prioritize our efforts, and we are going to have to bring everyone to the table, government, private sector and community.
1) Future development on Kaua‘i translates to both an opportunity and a challenge to ensure that such development provides meaningful jobs, economic stimuli, and housing opportunities to all the residents of Kaua‘i without having a negative impact on our environment and quality of life. I believe that by practicing and implementing “smart growth” principles, we can support development that is sustained by adequate infrastructure improvements that are provided by the development itself and does not rely on government subsidies and does not overtax the existing infrastructure that services our community.
It is also imperative that any future development must be consistent with the existing Kauai General Plan, Regional Development Plans, Affordable Housing Ordinance, and all other applicable zoning ordinances and laws. Equally important, any future development must respect and compliment the historical development of our community without causing detrimental effects on the important and vital social values that we all seek to preserve and to perpetuate.
Finally, our fragile environment must never be compromised by the prospect of development so that we lose or diminish the very essence of our Garden Island community and quality of life that we all want to preserve for ourselves and for all future generations.
2) My vision for the island of Kaua‘i in 10 years is that we have made significant progress in providing that delicate balance between the need for economic development and the preservation of our environment and quality of life.
Within 10 years, I would like there to be a stable and diversified economy on our island that can withstand the national and international vagaries of economic crises and the unpredictability that we face today. There should be opportunities for our youth, both in terms of quality jobs and housing that allows our children to remain home if they choose to do so, rather than be forced to relocate to another island or the Mainland as they search for the best possible future and quality of life.
In 10 years, I would hope that we have solved or made significant strides towards solving our housing crisis, traffic problems, solid waste issues, and overall infrastructure problems so that we have a solid foundation to support reasonable growth and development in the decades that follow.
In conclusion, my vision would be largely realized if my two sons and their friends could graduate from college and return to live on Kaua‘i.
3) I have served almost 12 complete terms, or 21 years, as a member of the Kaua‘i County Council. In that time, I was chairman of the council for six terms, or 12 years. In addition, as a member of the County Council, I served in the National Association of Counties for 10 years, as a member of the board of directors, and for three years, I served as vice chair of the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Steering Committee of NACO.
During my tenure as a member of the Kaua‘i County Council, I have established innumerable and invaluable contacts with elected officials and representatives in both state government and in Washington, D.C. In that capacity, I have successfully lobbied for legislation and funding that have greatly benefited the county during my 211/2 years as a member of the County Council.
I believe that my position as a councilmember during this time has given me both the experience, knowledge and the leadership skills necessary to best understand and oversee the daily operations of county government since 1982. As such, I am uniquely qualified to work together with other councilmembers to best serve the people of Kaua‘i.
4) I have always taken great pride in the fact that I have a strong belief in developing consensus with my fellow councilmembers on the council. I think this is best evidenced by the fact that the council has seen fit to elect me as the chair of the council for six of my 12 terms. In my opinion, this alone objectively demonstrates that my colleagues have agreed that I have the experience, knowledge and leadership skills to best work with all members of the council in a way that allows the entire council to work effectively as a body, and at the same time, respecting the relative positions and points of view of each individual member of the council.
I firmly believe that this form of consensus building and teamwork best underscores one of the key strengths I am able to bring to the council. Equally important, by working together in partnership with our friends in both state and federal governments, I believe that we can all best serve the interests of the people of Kaua‘i.
5) My father, Mitch Kouchi, who was born and raised on Kaua‘i, was attending Los Angeles City College when I was born in Los Angeles in 1957. My family returned to Kaua‘i in 1961, where I have resided ever since. I was married to the former Joy Tanimoto in 1987, and we have two sons, Dan, age 18, and Egan, age 16. Although I was raised as a child on the Westside throughout high school, I have resided in Lihu‘e since 1982.
I graduated from Waimea High School in 1975, and I subsequently attended Drake University. My employment career began as a legislative analyst with Rep. Dennis Yamada during the 1982 session of the state Legislature. Thereafter, I worked as the director of the Koloa Neighborhood Center in 1983. Having always been interested in government, I decided to run for elective office in 1983, and was successful in being elected to the County Council in 1983. For 211/2 years, I have served as a member of the council.
Finally, from 1988 to 2004, I was a registered representative of The Equitable, and from 2005 to the present, I am the director of community relations for Shell Land and Marine, LLC.
6) I believe that my past actions as council chair speak louder than any words I now commit to paper, because I am very proud of my past service as chair when I aggressively pursued the institution of open and fair meetings, with an emphasis on transparency in the decision making process that clearly satisfies both the spirit and the intent of the State Sunshine Law and our own County Charter. I firmly believe that as elected officials, we cannot adequately and responsibly serve the people if they do not clearly see and understand the process of decision-making at council meetings. To do otherwise would only increase the peoples’ mistrust of government and underscore the suspicion of many people that decisions are being made in “smoke filled” rooms beyond public scrutiny and oversight. Thus, I will continue to work with my fellow councilmembers to ensure that all meetings are truly “public” in every sense of the word where all decisions are made in a lawful manner and that we are always mindful of our responsibility to maintain a government process that is open, honest and responsible to the needs of the people in this community.
7) Clearly, the single, most important issue to me is the future welfare, health and security of my wife, two sons, and my family and friends. Thus, in response to this issue and challenge, I believe that my ability to help manage and nurture a county government that best serves the welfare of all of the people of this community. In this way, I know that I can help foster a legacy that recognizes traditional values, while at the same time, responds to the ever-changing needs of the future. This can only be accomplished by developing lasting and meaningful partnerships between government, nonprofits, and the private sector, with the support of the entire community, to help develop an environment that is most conducive to responding effectively to the many challenges that face us all.
I have every confidence that our community can pull together in difficult times to solve any problems that face us, and that I can contribute in my own way as a member of the County Council to work together with all segments of our community to find common goals and solutions that are most responsive to our island’s needs.