Up until yesterday, most residents when asked would have said it was a “three man race” for the office of Kauai mayor, if asked today, most would agree that it has now become a three man and one woman contest.
This is not to denigrate the other two candidates who are also in the race, as the truth is there are 4 men and 2 women who have declared themselves candidates for Kauai mayor in the 2018 elections: Derek Kawakami, Debra Kekaualua, Lenny Rapozo, Mel Rapozo, Clint Yago and JoAnn Yukimura.
But elections are normally won or lost on name recognition, and in reality the general voting public is familiar with only a few of these names. Barring unusual circumstances that launch one of the lesser names forward into the spotlight, the race for Mayor will be dominated by those candidates who have a baseline of name recognition from the start.
To be clear: Either Clint Yago or Debra Kekaualua could also become Kauai’s next mayor, but the odds are heavily, heavily stacked against them.
However, it is without question that the announcement of councilmember and former Mayor JoAnn Yukimura throwing her hat into the ring, has made this contest a whole lot more interesting. With solid credentials and a long and strong history on issues pertaining to environmental protection and managed growth, she is a formidable addition to the race.
The nature of Kauai’s nonpartisan mayoral race is such that barring someone achieving “50 percent plus 1” in the Aug. 11th primary (which ain’t gonna happen in this race), the top two vote getters will then face off in the General Election on Nov. 6.
My guess is that JoAnn Yukimura will be one of those two who survive the Aug. 11 showdown.
Many residents have, for the past several weeks, bemoaned the perceived lack of choice among the three men who have thus far dominated the discussion: Councilmember and former state representative Derek Kawakami, Council chair Mel Rapozo and the County Parks Director Lenny Rapozo.
None of the three are viewed as particularly “progressive” nor have any of them demonstrated an inclination to go to the mat in support of environmental protection (or go to the mat on anything frankly). In terms of tangible accomplishments, Yukimura can cite a long list (Sunshine Markets, The Bus, Affordable Housing Projects etc), while the others will be hard pressed to do the same.
In politics, tangible accomplishments are political gold, but often hard to come by as the day-to-day mundane business of running government, passing budgets, paving roads (or not) consumes the majority of time and energy.
In past elections, I learned the phrase “What is Chinatown saying?” which translates to what are the odds of various candidates winning (yes, apparently in Chinatown gamblers give odds and people bet real money on real political races — all very illegal).
My guess is that last week “Chinatown” would have been giving the nod to Derek Kawakami who benefits from a family legacy of success in business and in politics, and is the more genteel and polished of the group. And, my guess is that they would also have placed Mel Rapozo as coming in second in the primary. Then both would have faced off in the General Election with the third-place finisher Lenny Rapozo’s voters then swinging to … Mel Rapozo?
My how things have changed in a single day. The question now becomes, “Who does Yukimura pull from?” If we assume she is one of the two that makes it through the primary, who will be the other?
Critics and armchair quarterbacks will in the coming months attack, belittle, throw stones and point out oftentimes with unnecessarily harsh directness, the shortcomings of each candidate, all of whom are, of course, imperfect human beings like the rest of us. This is the ugly but some would say necessary part of the political process.
My hope is that our community can dwell on the positives. I for one am thankful and offer my respect to each man and woman who has chosen to put their name forward and run for this office, and the others under contention as well.
Like residents throughout the island, I will also be asking questions and weighing the answers against the history each brings to the table.
For today however, as a friend used to say, “It’s fun to speculate.” And yes, it is fun indeed.
But at the end of the day, it is serious business as to who will lead our county as mayor for the next four years. Today, we can have some fun and speculate. But tomorrow, we must ask each candidate the tough questions and examine each candidates past accomplishments and actions. Then, we must make a choice based on that close examination.
Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.