Today being the first post-election meeting of the Kauai County Council is sure to be non-eventful on its surface. But the sub-currents are no doubt running strong, even as the winners are gracious and the losers act like all is OK.
Kauai voters issued five very strong statements on Nov. 6.
Councilmember now Mayor-elect Derek Kawakami won in a landslide over Council Chair Mel Rapozo.
Councilmember Mason Chock finished as the top vote-getter strongly ahead of Councilmember Arryl Kaneshiro.
Councilmember elect and first-time candidate Luke Evslin by a large nearly 2,000-vote margin, leaped ahead of incumbent Councilmember Ross Kagawa into the number-three slot.
Voters resoundingly defeated the “Kagawa Resolution” that attempted to remove existing council term limits (19,146 no to 4,143 yes).
Voters selected an unabashedly strong progressive and clear voice for environmental protection in Felicia Cowden who gained the number seven slot above numerous other contenders.
These dynamics plus the re-election of Arthur Brun and the return of former Councilmember KipuKai Kualii will make for an interesting and I believe positive future.
The first major decision of “choosing the next Council Chair” will be made “behind the scenes” between now and “swearing in” which occurs on Dec. 3. While the Sunshine Law prevents more than two councilmember’s from discussing this issue in private, many sitting councilmember’s will likely ignore or forget this detail, and it does not apply to those who have yet to be sworn in.
Speculating on “who will be the next chair” is something local political pundits are already deeply absorbed in.
Through a process of elimination the speculation quickly narrows to a choice between CM Mason Chock and CM Arryl Kaneshiro. Through further analysis it becomes clear that CME KipuKai Kualii is likely to be the “swing vote” and thus has the power to determine the outcome.
A quick overview: The new chair must be someone with experience on the council which excludes Luke, Cowden and Brun who is also relatively new and without deep experience. The new chair must also be someone who is seen as someone who “get’s along well with others” and has the demeanor and credibility to manage the group. This eliminates Kagawa and leaves only Chock, Kaneshiro and Kualii. With Kualii being the new guy coming back in, it seems reasonable for the choice to come down to either Chock or Kaneshiro.
The block of votes that now support Rapozo as chair include Kaneshiro, Brun, Kagawa. Remember the magic number is four, which equates to a majority of the votes.
It seems reasonable to speculate that Kaneshiro, Brun and Kagawa will continue to stick together. It also seems reasonable that Evslin and Cowden will lean toward supporting Chock with whom they share a common constituency base and tend to lean more toward community-based decision making and environmental protection.
Hence, it is likely IMHO that we have in place essentially a three-three tie for the chair’s position, with Kualii being the swing vote that could push the majority in either direction. While on paper and via public statements Kualii seems to be a strong progressive and environmentally friendly voice, historically he has often sided with the positions of Kagawa, Kaneshiro and Rapozo.
Each of the top two contenders bring a different skillset to the table and each views the world through a remarkably different lens. As we all do, both have an inherent bias formed via their childhood upbringing, ongoing life experience and the current professional roles they now serve in.
Chock, who owns and operates a leadership training and development program, is deeply involved in community involvement. He is active in leading and/or participating in numerous projects around the island that seek to restore native habitat, and that support Hawaiian cultural values and practices.
Kaneshiro, who is an executive with one of Hawaii’s largest landowners, Grove Farm, has a business accounting background and would bring a strong skill set to the table as the council deals with budget issues.
Chock spends his professional life outside of the council surrounded by both grassroots community as well as those aspiring to be community leaders. He is trained as a facilitator and is the ultimate calm voice and adult in the room, working well with people from all walks of life. Chock’s past actions and statements would lead one to conclude that he views the world through a community-based lens and leans toward community based decision making and environmental protection.
Kaneshiro spends his professional life working in real estate development and land management. His employer is directly impacted in major ways by the decisions made by the County Council.
Whether it be the way the county manages and taxes agricultural land, or via zoning and regulations governing development and construction, The Grove Farm Land Company has a major stake in the decisions made by the Kauai County Council.
Kaneshiro via his past public statements and actions clearly views the world via a Chamber of Commerce and land development lens that sees government as an impediment to development.
Thus, the two primary contenders for Council Chair, offer clear and distinct choices.
As the top vote getter during the recent election CM Chock definitely demonstrates a strong level of community support and is eminently qualified to serve the role.
CM Kaneshiro as the “heir apparent” to the outgoing Rapozo faction also finished a strong number two at the ballot box. He will likely have the business community pushing hard on his behalf and is also fully capable of being the chair.
With two qualified candidates, at the end of the day it comes down to whose biased world view will most benefit our children and grandchildren?
Or actually and much more pragmatically, it comes down to whomever can garner 3 additional votes in support of their Chairmanship.
Like you, I am counting on all seven Councilmembers looking at the pluses and minuses of each contender for the job, and making a wise choice that benefits the long term interest of our island community.
Public hearing heads up!
A public hearing on Bill 2725 bill is being held today, Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 1:30 p.m. in the Council Chambers at the Historic County Building. If you feel Kauai is in a housing crisis and a long-term affordability policy is an essential component to the solution, please send email testimony to CouncilTestimony@kauai.gov and/or testify in person at the public hearing!
Bill 2725 will establish a policy of long term affordability for housing that is either developed with state, county or federal (taxpayer) monies and/or required as a condition of zoning. If passed into law, Bill 2725 will prevent such housing from being sold into the market after a number of years. Instead, if a qualified family chooses to leave the affordable housing unit, that unit will be available to another qualified family.
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.