LIHUE — The County Council, by a 5-2 vote, opted to give voters the opportunity to decide whether to do away with term limits for councilmembers.
The charter amendment introduced by Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa in late January needed five votes in order to pass council and go on November’s ballot.
On Wednesday, Councilmembers Mason Chock and JoAnn Yukimura voted against the resolution, while the other councilmembers voted in favor of it.
Pulling up the November 2006 election results, Kagawa illustrated councilmembers who were voted out and termed out of office during the previous race.
“So do we need term limits to give new people a chance? I think the facts show we don’t need term limits. People are free of choosing who they want and who they want to get out,” said Kagawa.
Sitting on the council is not a safe seat, he said. It’s a hot seat because you cannot predict the outcome of any election.
Recognizing long-term Council Chair Mel Rapozo and JoAnn Yukimura, Kagawa said he does not view them as career politicians.
“I view them as public servants who have put their lives, their families on the line for the betterment of Kauai,” he said.
Councilmember Arryl Kaneshiro voted in favor of having this measure added to the ballot because he said of all the islands, Kauai has one of the fairest systems.
“We take the top seven vote getters and the top seven vote getters get to be in council,” he said. “To say we’re selfish because we want this, we’re not the ones that’s going to get it to be in place. Our thing is putting it on the ballot and the people vote whether they want to get rid of term limits or not.”
Reading a written statement, Yukimura said she was voting against the resolution because term limits apply to the president of the United States, the governor of Hawaii, the mayors of all counties in Hawaii and the other county councils in Hawaii.
She pointed out that China recently changed its constitution and removed presidential term limits, thus allowing President Xi Jinping to potentially rule indefinitely.
“I don’t think that’s the right direction,” Yukimura said.
Resting after a certain period of service is healthy, she said, and open-ended political incumbency is not healthy for society. A break, she said, could lead to new perspectives and allow new people to step up.
“Also, the people voted overwhelmingly, 13,266, to 6,139 to establish term limits in 2006,” she said. “I don’t see anything justifying changing the law along the lines of what’s being proposed.”
Councilmember Arthur Brun backed the resolution.
“I think this is a good resolution, we’ll leave it up for the people and the people will vote if they want term limits or not,” he said.
Councilmember Derek Kawakami said when he’s out in the community opinions of term limits are split.
“There are some people that really think that term limits are a good thing that for all the mentioned reasons of taking a break or allowing new blood, all of those are arguments that have come up, but there’s also a segment of the population that says, ‘Hey, I wish that so and so could serve. I show up and I vote because this particular elected official is on the ballot,” he said.
What the council is really there to discuss, Kawakami said, is whether the voters of Kauai and Niihau want the opportunity to vote on term limits again.
“Most people say absolutely. Whether they’re for it or against it, the one overwhelming response that I’ve had when I frame the question, ‘Would you appreciate having the opportunity to vote on this measure,’ not too many people have told me no, I don’t want to vote on it,” Kawakami said.
Rapozo said the irony is not allowing the public to vote for their person, because they are taken off of the ballot because of term limits.
“This is just to put it back on the ballot,” he said.