LIHUE — As a former pastor, Thomas “Butch” Kahawai admits that he did not think that he would ever go into politics.
But after guiding congregants at Kalaheo Missionary Church for about 12 years, beginning in 1992 when Hurricane Iniki devastated the island, Kahawai knows a lot about bringing hope to people and restoring faith.
“It was a very chaotic time, but I think it was a uniting time as well because neighbors came together,” Kahawai recalled on Monday. “At the church I was at, we began offering free meals for the community. In a way, it was a blessing that came out of a disaster because we all helped each other and became united as a community.”
Having faith in the state’s legislative process, on the other hand, has not always been easy, Kahawai said.
The Oahu native, who was born and raised in Nanakuli, said he has tried to convince others to run for political office but explained that “there seems to be a lot of apathy amongst our young people.”
“I’ve called on legislators, old friends and all of that but I thought maybe I needed to get involved so I can be a voice for other people,” the 71-year-old Hanapepe resident said. “I think I’ve lost a lot of confidence in the legislative process and the legislators themselves, especially since we have one of the lowest voting rates in the whole United States. It seems like voters have lost confidence and I’m running to try and restore it so people know that their voices are heard and know that they have someone who is going to listen to them.”
Kahawai, a Democrat, officially filed his nomination papers on Friday to run in this year’s election for a state House District 16 seat now held by fellow Democrat Daynette “Dee” Morikawa.
Her district currently spans along the Westside of the island from Koloa to Niihau.
When he is not busy serving as a resident manager for Steadfast Housing Development Corporation on Kauai, Kahawai can be found volunteering his time at New Hope Kauai at Kapaa.
If elected, Kahawai said he wants to increase the Legislature’s attention on education and find equitable solutions to the ongoing debate on genetically modified organisms and pesticides statewide.
More importantly, Kahawai said he wants to bring people back together again at a time when issues have caused polarizing divisions in the community.
Kahawai, according to county election records, has been the only person to express interest in running for Morikawa’s seat.
The last day for candidates to file their nomination papers is on June 3.
• Darin Moriki, county government reporter, can be reached at 245-0428 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @darinmoriki.