Sides form in debate over term limit repeal

LIHUE — Sides are starting to form in the debate over whether to repeal term limits.

But before the Kauai County Council decides whether to put the issue before voters in the 2016 election, members of the public will have an opportunity to offer their opinions on an issue voters decided in 2006.

A public hearing is set for 1:30 p.m. Aug. 19 at the Historic County Building on Rice Street in Lihue.

At this point, it is too early to tell which way this situation will play out.

Council Vice-Chair Ross Kagawa is leading the effort. On Wednesday, he officially introduced a resolution that, if approved by a supermajority of the Kauai County Council, will put a proposal to end term limits for councilmembers on the 2016 ballot.

Because the resolution amends the County Charter, it needs a minimum of five votes in favor from the seven-member body in order to pass. Getting to that five-vote threshold could be a challenge, but if the council does vote to support the plan, the mayor does not have the ability to veto the resolution.

So far, Councilmember Gary Hooser is the only one who has definitively said he is against repealing term limits, which were approved by voters in the 2006 election by a margin of more than 2-to-1.

“I will not be supporting going against the will of a great majority of the voters who said they want term limits,” Hooser said. “I think the community spoke loud and clear on this issue in the past.”

Hooser said he supports term limits because they prevent the buildup of too much political power and help create space for a new generation to step into leadership roles.

Kagawa, however, said that the situation today is different than it was when term limits were put into place.

“In 2006, we had very limited candidates … who could successfully defeat sitting councilmembers. That has changed,” Kagawa said. “I’m very concerned that term limits could keep some very important people, like Mel (Rapozo) or JoAnn (Yukimura), from continuing to serve.”

Kagawa said that 24 candidates ran in 2014, and that two incumbents were defeated. He also pointed out that no member of the council has ever served eight years and been forced out of office due to term limits.

Neither Council Chair Mel Rapozo nor Councilmember JoAnn Yukimura are facing term-limits in the next election, but they are both in their third terms and only have the potential to serve one more. Currently, councilmembers may serve no more than four consecutive, two-year terms before they are prohibited from seeking re-election. A councilmember who is term-limited out of office is eligible to run again in the following election, and if elected can serve for another eight years.

The position of mayor would still be limited to two, four-year terms.

Rapozo did not say which way he is leaning in this case, although he did give some insight into his thinking. At the meeting Wednesday, Rapozo said he would not have supported the idea of repealing term limits prior to the previous election, but seeing multiple incumbents defeated showed him that voters have the ability to remove someone from office without term limits.

Yukimura previously told The Garden Island that term limits is an issue that voters need to decide, but she added that voters already did decide in 2006, and questioned why the council would try to undo that decision.

Hooser said the issue is being driven entirely by the council.

“The public is not clamoring for this,” Hooser said. “I believe it is very self-serving for this body to vote to give itself more power. That’s what this resolution does.”

Councilmember KipuKai Kuali’i took issue with that point, and said the resolution by itself does not repeal term-limits; it only gives voters the option to decide for themselves.

“All we are doing is giving voters the chance after 10 years to vote again on whether they want to see term limits continue, or term limits end,” Kuali’i said.

Kuali’i publicly said he is 100 percent in support of the resolution, and told TGI that he views term limits as undemocratic because it limits voters’ choices.

“I, of course, support the voters having the right to vote on whether there should be term limits or not. Though personally, for me, my vote would be for none,” Kuali’i said.

With Kuali’i’s declared support, that puts the tally at two votes in favor of giving voters the option to repeal term limits, and one against. For those playing the speculation game, Rapozo seems to lean in favor, and Yukimura seems to lean against, but neither has committed to a position.

Councilmembers Mason Chock and Arryl Kaneshiro haven’t said which way they are leaning.

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