Politics can often be a game played best by the jaded. Fundraising, backroom dealings and compromised ideals, all essential tools of the trade for effective policy makers, can suck the fun out of the experience. But for first-time Kaua‘i County Council candidates, the world is their oyster.
“It has been absolutely incredible,” said a clearly energized Linda Pasadava.
“It’s been a really exciting campaign,” agreed KipuKai Kuali‘i. The way things have changed in the last several months, with the mayoral campaign being part of it, it’s added to the excitement and made for a lot more citizen engagement.”
“I’ve learned that the people of Kaua‘i right now are really really interested in government,” Scott Mijares said. “They have a sense of frustration, but they’re still optimistic. We have a very strong spirit here, and I think that the people of Kaua‘i are going to have a say-so in what happens. They’re determined to have their voice heard and it will be heard.”
Fighting with five current or former council members and a handful of other experienced candidates for seven seats, the campaign trail rookies tried to apply their full range of life experience, and ended up learning a lot about both themselves and the political process.
“Campaign-wise, there are a lot of subtleties that you don’t know about unless you’re a candidate,” explained Christobel Kealoha. “Which public appearances to make, how to meet people, the dynamic of campaign groups. Different people that want different things are all part of the reality.”
“I’ve learned so much about the issues, studying and research in preparation for the candidate forum,” said Pasadava. “It’s been very very enlightening and satisfying to learn more about the issues that we all deal with on the island.”
“You have to wake up really early most of the time, and have a full day of meetings, and talking to people and touching people. You have to be on the ball,” Lani Kawahara concurred.
Some found an easier way to make the point.
“I’ve learned how hard it is,” Bob Bartolo laughed.
Every candidate for public office has his or her own pet issues and own reasons for seeking election, but the first-timers had many similar reasons for their first foray into politics.
“I had decided that I was going to step down from the Kilauea Neighborhood Association after 10 years, and I wanted to continue to serve my community because I saw so many issues that weren’t being dealt with,” Pasadava explained. “I felt the best way to serve my community was to run for council.”
“It sounds corny, but it really is through a sense of duty, a sense of responsibility. That’s basically what it came down to for me,” Mijares said.
“I saw there were three openings, and saw we had a council that had been bickering, and they were consistently arguing over such minor items, and they weren’t working in cooperation with the mayor’s office, and they weren’t getting anything done,” Bartolo said. “We saw an opportunity to finally get in there and do something.”
Without knowing if they would be experienced council members in two years time, the candidates offered nuggets of advice to those considering a first-time run in 2010.
“First I’d say ‘do it.’ It’s been an amazing experience, very positive. Give people the chance to look at you as a candidate and see if you can contribute to the leadership of our county,” suggested Mijares.
“I would definitely encourage them, because we need more and more candidates from diverse backgrounds. Start early and work hard,” said Kuali‘i. “There’s so much going on on Kaua‘i with so many different community groups that care about Kaua‘i and are working for Kaua‘i, you just have to get out there to get involved in other people’s causes and make them your causes.”
“I would tell them to be very sure that that’s what they wanted to do. A friend of mine said to do a gut check, and know why you’re doing it. For me, it wasn’t about me, it was for the people who want new representation on the council,” Kawahara said.
“Know and understand the issues. You have to know and understand what’s important to the community. The government is in place to take care of the people’s business,” explained Ken Taylor. “If I’m sitting on the council, it’s not what I think should be or shouldn’t be, it’s what the people want and deserve.”
“I would tell them, put out your abilities that are there and focus on what your strengths are, and tell people about that,” Kealoha said. “We say we want change, but what kind of change? What change can you do?”