Campaigns down to the wire

After months of knocking on doors, shaking hands, holding signs, kissing babies and talking story in an attempt to woo potential voters, candidates vying for a wide range of government positions have entered the home stretch and will find out their election fates after polls close Tuesday night.

Among the hotly contested races is the special election to take over the remaining two years on the term of the late-Mayor Bryan Baptiste.

Former mayor and current County Council member JoAnn Yukimura and Parks and Recreation Director Bernard Carvalho are using their final days on the campaign trail to push the themes that have marked their candidacies.

“The debates are done, the forums are done, we’re truly just grassroots now,” Carvalho said in a phone interview yesterday. “It’s really reaching out to the people now and talking story, that’s what we’ve been focusing on, spreading aloha.”

While Carvalho has played up his penchant for teambuilding and openness, Yukimura has touted her experience as a valuable asset.

“I just think that in these critical times, we need to think of our future more than ever, and we need strong, clear leadership,” Yukimura said by phone yesterday. “I feel I can provide that and have provided that. I hope that I’ll have the opportunity to lead this community and work with the community to address the challenges we face.”

In the Sept. 20 primary election, Carvalho finished first with 7,144 votes, 39.8 percent of the 17,941 ballots cast, while Yukimura’s total of 5,374 represented 30 percent. Council member Mel Rapozo garnered 4,360 votes, representing 24.3 percent, in the primary in his bid for mayor. Where those votes will go Tuesday is anyone’s guess. Rapozo has yet to endorse either candidate and he did not respond to a voicemail yesterday.

“I think the primary showed I was second, so it’s a tough race. Every vote is going to count, and I’m trusting the people of Kaua‘i to make the right choice,” Yukimura said.

Carvalho, a former professional football player, said, when asked of his chances, that his campaign is “shooting for the super bowl, standing on the 10 yard line and looking at the end zone. Complacency is unacceptable. We feel we have what Kaua‘i needs as a team, and we’re going to do it.”

Yukimura, Rapozo and Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who ran unopposed for and will become County Prosecutor upon the Dec. 1 retirement of Craig De Costa, vacated three of the seven County Council seats.

The four remaining incumbents, chair Jay Furfaro, Tim Bynum, Ron Kouchi and Daryl Kaneshiro, all finished in the top five of the primary election, and are among the 14 candidates vying for the seven slots.

When asked yesterday how he felt about the impending election, Bynum said he was, “excited, I always am. These are uncertain times for people. Getting past this election will bring some sense of ‘OK, we know who our leadership is going to be.’”

Kouchi was similarly hopeful that he would be voted into the council for another term.

“I’ve been fortunate enough to win council elections before, and I’m optimistic that people will give me a chance,” he said yesterday. “We’ve done our jobs well as candidates, and whatever happens Tuesday, the great thing about living here is that the transition occurs peacefully.”

A fifth candidate, Bill “Kaipo” Asing, served on the council for 24 years before being named mayor in July. Running for another term on the council, Asing placed behind only Furfaro in the primary.

The other nine candidates, in order of the primary election voting results, are Derek Kawakami, Dickie Chang, Lani Kawahara, KipuKai Kuali‘i, Ron Agor, Christobel Kealoha, George Thronas Jr., Rhoda Libre and Bruce Pleas. Eight other candidates were eliminated on Sept. 20.

According to the Kauai County elections division, at the conclusion of early voting yesterday, early voters totalled 5,114 this year, a 46.7 percent increase over 2006’s total of 3,486.

As of late yesterday, the elections division had received 6,294 absentee ballots back out of a total of 7,592 sent. That is an 82.9 percent return, but absentee ballots will continue to come in through election day. The total ballots requested represents a 35 percent increase over 2006, when 4,911 were sent.

While the county races are considered non-partisan, elections for positions in the state and federal governments are organized in a Democrat-versus-Republican (and third party) style. Due to a heavier concentration of registered Democrats on Kaua‘i, those candidates with a (D) next to their names are considered favorites in their bids for re-election.

While the trio of state representatives hailing from the Garden Isle, Hermina Morita (D-14), Jimmy Tokioka (D-15) and Roland Sagum (D-16) are running unopposed for their seats, state Senate Majority Leader Gary Hooser (D-7) and U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-II) look likely to return to their posts despite challenges.

“I take nothing for granted, and with the support of the voters I hope to continue my work on the issues facing island families,” Hirono said yesterday through a spokesperson.

Hooser echoed that sentiment

“In the past, people have supported me strongly and I’m hopeful that support will continue, but I’m not taking anything for granted,” he said yesterday.

Republican JoAnne Georgi, for her part, said Hooser’s stances on a wide range of issues does not represent his constituency and said she is confident she can buck the trend.

“Absolutely, I’m going to win,” she said yesterday. “(Hooser) thinks because he’s a Democrat he’s going to automatically get elected. A friend told me that people will vote democratic unless they have a good reason not to. This year, people have a reason to not vote democratic.”

While the primary election results point to additional terms for the incumbent Democrats — for example, Hooser earned more than five times the number of votes as did Georgi — the voter turnout Tuesday will likely dwarf that of the primary due to the race at the very top of the ticket.

The presidential aspirations of Hawai‘i-born Barack Obama, D-Ill., inspired record turnout during primary elections nationwide. Polls project Obama to handily defeat John McCain, R-Ariz., in Hawai‘i and members of the Democrats’ Hawai‘i campaign have said they hope to rack up the largest victory margin in the nation.

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. until 6 p.m. statewide, and many government doors will be closed as General Election Day is a state-designated holiday.

County of Kaua‘i offices will be closed, along with all refuse transfer stations and the Kaua‘i Resource Center, according to a press release. All HI-5 redemption centers normally open on Tuesdays, the Kekaha Landfill, as well as Puhi Metals Recycling Center will remain open, and residential refuse pick-up will also continue as scheduled. The Kaua‘i Bus will be operating on a modified schedule.

In addition to filling the multitude of positions up for grabs, voters will be deciding on a number of issues directly when they vote on ballot questions pertaining to amendments to the County Charter and the possibility of a convention to overhaul the state constitution.

Six ballot questions will ask voters to decide issues like the logistics of county elections, the application of the State Sunshine Law in council executive sessions, conflicts of interest, the establishment of a county auditor and revisions to the General Plan.

Discussion of a constitutional convention has largely been split along party lines, with minority Republicans, led by Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, pushing for a convention and Democrats opposing.

Under the state constitution, voters are asked every decade whether to have a constitutional convention, or “ConCon” as it is often called, to review the state’s principal governing document. The last constitutional convention was in 1978. Voters opposed calling conventions in the 1980s and 1990s.

For further information, visit www.kauai.gov/elections

• Michael Levine, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or via e-mail at mlevine@kauaipubco.com

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