LIHUE — Term limits for councilmembers will stay in place.
As expected, a plan to repeal term limits fell one vote short in the Kauai County Council on Wednesday.
Councilmembers Ross Kagawa, Arryl Kaneshiro, KipuKai Kuali’i and Mel Rapozo voted in favor, while Councilmembers Mason Chock, Gary Hooser, and JoAnn Yukimura voted against.
In most circumstances, four votes would have been enough for passage, but because the plan, sponsored by Council Vice-Chair Kagawa, would have put a proposal to amend the county charter on the 2016 election ballot, a five vote supermajority was needed.
And going into Wednesday’s session, Kagawa knew he didn’t have enough support. As previously reported by The Garden Island, Kagawa predicted he would lose on this issue unless he could get one of the three councilmembers who previously voiced opposition to switch and cast a crucial swing vote.
In his remarks prior to the vote, Kagawa seemed to hope Yukimura would be magic number five. Kagawa mentioned that Yukimura herself had brought up the issue for discussion in council four years ago.
But the approach did not work, as Yukimura quickly made clear that she was against repealing term limits, which voters overwhelmingly approved in 2006 by a more than two-to-one margin.
“Unless there is compelling evidence that there has been a change of heart in the community… I don’t know why we would spend,” time and money on this issue, Yukimura said.
“Being introduced by a councilmember, the proposal does take on the appearance of self-interest,” Yukimura continued, and said that it would have been better if the idea had come from a citizen initiative or the Charter Review Commission. She added that the idea to repeal term limits would have had “more integrity” if it also applied to the offices of mayor and county prosecutor.
In July, Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. made the same point when the told The Garden Island that if councilmembers were going to repeal term limits for themselves, then they should repeal it for the mayor’s office as well. He added that if voters approved of the idea, he would consider running for a third term.
But even if Kagawa had secured a fifth vote in favor, repeal was far from certain: the issue still would have had to go before an electorate that overwhemingly approved term limits in the 2006 election.
Furthermore, there didn’t seem to be much passion from voters to make a change; a public hearing on the matter drew no one who spoke in favor or submitted written testimony in support of the plan.
Currently, councilmembers may serve no more than four consecutive, two-year terms before they are prohibited from seeking reelection. 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. Maui and Hawaii Island also have term limits for council members.
The earliest that any sitting councilmember will face term limits is 2018.
Councilmembers Rapozo and Yukimura are both serving their third term in office and are eligible to serve one more term if re-elected.
Councilmembers Gary Hooser and Kagawa are serving their second term; Councilmembers Arryl Kaneshiro and KipuKai Kuali’i are both in their first terms.
Councilman Mason Chock is also serving his first elected-term in office, but he could potentially serve more than eight years because he was originally appointed to the position to fill a vacancy, which does not count against him for term-limits.
Interest in changing how Kauai County government is structured is high, at least among council members. A council subcommittee is studying switching to a county manager form of government. Kuali’i has also told TGI that if the term limits repeal failed, he would consider introducing a plan to change the way councilmembers are elected by switching to a hybrid system, where some councilmembers are elected in an at-large, islandwide basis, and others are elected by district.
Kauli’i did not specify a timetable for when he might introduce such a plan, because he said he wanted to wait to see what happened with term limits first.