Politically, the state of Hawaii and the County of Kauai are solidly blue. All partisan state and federal elective offices have been, are now, and almost certainly will be in the hands of Democrats. The excitement from these election realities is limited and perhaps accounts for the fact that only 35 percent of Kauai registered voters actually voted in Kauai’s primary election last month, a near-record low.
The temperature in the Kauai nonpartisan primary was similarly tepid with no mayoral election and only one race, for prosecuting attorney, being resolved. Section 1.03 of the Kauai Charter provides for the primary election to limit the number of candidates for County Council to 14 (two for each at large office) but as only 13 candidates had filed for election the primary simply served to advance all 13 to the general election in November. Rather futile!
The apathy of Kauai voters about the nonpartisan County Council election is highly regrettable as there are a significant number of major issues which the council should address and resolve.
Sadly, the council and its leadership seemed to be unable to prioritize and have the cohesiveness to resolve major matters such as the county landfill, Kapaa traffic woes, property tax reform, wastefulness or worse in the public works department, a county manager system and a moratorium or limit on new development until infrastructure needs are met. Instead, the council clutters its agenda with far lesser issues.
A contributing factor is that the council has lost meaningful touch with the views of county citizens. County Council procedural rules have stymied an effective dialogue between the council and citizens who testify, which in turn sharply limits the number of citizens who bother to express their views.
What good is it to present testimony when the council shows little recognition and little tolerance for views not their own.
The consequence is that council members are no longer representing their constituents, they are acting blindly in accordance with their own personal views and prejudices. Currently, the council is in its election year stall, where nothing of importance is acted on.
A prime example of the mismanagement of a resolvable issue was the treatment given by the present council to the county manager matter. After a nearly year-long review, the council leadership had created a definitive proposal with only two significant issues remaining — the status of the manager under civil service laws and a severable issue as to council member terms.
At this point, the council leadership failed to seek citizen input for the solution of the issues and the necessary council votes for submission of the question to the electorate eroded away.
Even then, the opportunity for a citizen vote on the question could have been salvaged if the council leadership had proposed that members be asked to set aside their personal views and answer the question whether the citizens should be deprived of the right to vote on the proposal..
Council members are now and have been for some time elected by traditional means. Voters select candidates more because of name recognition and ethnicity than because of merit or qualifications. Candidates and their supporters wave signs at roadsides, printed placards are posted haphazardly and candidates hold fund-raising gatherings.
A better way is needed so that the public can make their voting decision on their evaluation of the candidates expressed positions. The Aug. 30 TGI article by Janos Samu offers some very good ideas. Other frustrated citizens have presented suggestions. One or more candidates forums at which all candidates give their views on major issues should be held. Neutral trusted parties such as The Garden Island should conduct these sessions, present hard questions and require responsive statements from candidates.
It is equally important that citizens should be involved and make efforts to inform themselves on the vital questions of concern to the well being of our island.
We critically need to have an elected council that is oriented to examining the important issues before our county and is prepared to act in accordance with the will of our citizens to resolve them.
Walter Lewis is a retired attorney who lives on Kauai and writes a regular column for The Garden Island.