Rumors swirl over Morita’s replacement

LIHU‘E — Will it be Kawakami? Furfaro? Hooser? Bronstein?

Residents have already started speculating on who will become the next 14th District representative in the state Legislature.

Some prominent names among Kaua‘i Democrats have been rung through the rumor mill since Thursday’s announcement of Rep. Mina Morita being picked to chair the Public Utilities Committee.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s appointment of the veteran state lawmaker is subject to Senate confirmation. If confirmed, she would have to step down as a top environmental representative in the House, a seat she has held for 14 years.

Kaua‘i County Council Chair Jay Furfaro said the candidate has to reside in District 14 — Kapa‘a, Kealia, Anahola, Hanalei and Waipouli — on the day of the appointment.

Furfaro, along with Councilman Derek Kawakami, former state Sen. Gary Hooser and attorney Harold Bronstein are all rumored to be serious contenders.

Furfaro and Bronstein live on the North Shore. Kawakami lives in Kapahi. County records show Hooser’s residence is in Wailua Homesteads, outside the District 14 jurisdiction.

Kawakami spoke openly about his aspirations. He said he would be “absolutely” interested in the position, and has been contacted by supporters, family and some members of the Democratic Party.

“Right now it’s an opportunity, and as young guys we’ve got to seize the opportunity as it presents itself,” said Kawakami, explaining that the process is much different from running a campaign because at the end it will be the governor who will pick a name out of the three recommendations.

“First and foremost, I need to figure out how to get on that list and do what I’ve got to do to increase my chances of being picked,” Kawakami said.

When asked if he would be considering representing District 14 in the Legislature, Furfaro said it was a “little too early” to discuss it.

“They haven’t even had precinct meetings yet,” Furfaro said. “The confirmation of Mina is absolutely the first step.”

Furfaro said he ran against Morita in 1998. At that time the North Shore was a canoe district — a district covering portions of more than one basic island unit — linked with Hana on Maui.

Furfaro said he won on Kaua‘i, which accounted for two-thirds of the district’s votes, but lost in Hana, where the remaining votes came from. In 2002 Furfaro was elected to the County Council and never ran again for the House.

The council chair said his name is in the “rumor mill” because he has resided on Kaua‘i’s North Shore for many years and had a bid for the House seat more than 10 years ago.

“Right now I’m the chairman of the council,” said Furfaro, adding that he’s giving a lot of focus to his current job. “We’ve got the economics right on our radar screen.”

In March Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. is expected to release the county’s proposed operating budget for Fiscal Year 2012, which starts July 1. The council will have approximately two months to tweak and make decisions on Carvalho’s proposal.

Bronstein and Hooser could not be reached for comment by press time.

The replacement process

“The chairperson of the District Council is the one tasked to initiate a ‘call for candidates,’ conduct meetings, and submit a list of three nominees for a House seat vacancy,” said Steven Nishimura, chair of the Kaua‘i Democratic Party.

Nishimura said the District 14 chair would have 21 days from the official note to forward the names to state Democratic Party Chair Dante Carpenter, who then would have three days to submit the list to Abercrombie.

“Susan Wilson is the chairwoman of District 14 and has the experience and knowledge on managing this procedure,” Nishimura said.

Once the governor receives the recommendations, he has 60 days to fulfill the requirement and complete the process, according to Nishimura.

In case Furfaro would leave the council to replace Morita, Vice Chair JoAnn Yukimura would not automatically become the new chair. Furfaro said the body would reconvene and choose a new chair together.

If any member of the council leaves before their term is up, the council would have 30 days to choose a replacement, which would not necessarily be the eighth candidate with the most votes in the last election, Furfaro said. KipuKai Kuali‘i finished eighth last November.

Furfaro said the council would have to reach a simple majority to agree on a replacement. If a decision couldn’t be reached in 30 days, the mayor would appoint a new council member.

Furfaro said Morita has done an “outstanding job” in the Legislature, and will do the same at the PUC.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or


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