• Editor’s note: The Garden Island sat down with all 14 candidates running for seats on the Kaua‘i County Council. Profiles will run in no particular order throughout the month of October leading up to the election.
KAPA‘A — A bucket-list dream of his, Richard Fukushima is making his third and final bid to join the Kaua‘i County Council.
But this time around, he’s rerouted his campaign.
“At the beginning, my platform was veterans, senior citizens and education, but now I have to readjust,” he said on a Monday afternoon in September. “To me, we have to get back to normalcy first, then we can worry about everything else.”
A father of three, grandfather of eight and great-grandfather of two, he lives with four generations of his family in the same Kapa‘a house he’s called home for most of his 75 years.
A Vietnam veteran, Fukushima served in the U.S. States Army security service for six years, and the Hawai‘i Army National Guard for 21 years. After returning to Kaua‘i, he’s held nearly every job imaginable in the tourism industry, from waiter to auditor, onto positions at five different airlines, and then a job overseeing libraries on the island.
Fukushima says he’s never been a “yes man,” and has been fired from more of those jobs than he’d care to admit, but that’s the fight he’s willing to bring to the table. “I’m very vocal. I say what I want.”
About the council, Fukushima doesn’t pretend to be the solution. “It’s a bureaucracy. It’s not the people. It’s the system itself. No matter who is in there, you have the same results.”
He doesn’t want to “come off the bat” and say everything he wants to do or see changed in the coming years if he is elected to the council.
“You can’t really answer hard questions about the Kaua‘i government until you get in there,” Fukushima said. “You can have an opinion, yeah, but that’s the wrong approach for me.”
Fukushima ran for council in 2016 and 2018, but this time around he’s reaching more than before, reading local laws and finding platforms he agrees with, like the ‘Aina Aloha Economic Futures initiative the current council adopted last month.
“If you’re not totally into the government or up to date, how can you answer it?” Fukushima said. “To me, it’s about being honest. It’s not being crooked for self-gain. It’s for everybody. If everybody’s contributing to the pot, they pay taxes, they do this.”
An auditor and former manager, Fukushima said “to get back to normalcy” somebody needs to take a red pen to the county’s operating budget.
“You have to realize you need money to do anything,” he said. “You look at the county budget, … salaries should be 30% or less to run a business. What I would do is look into the budget, review the budget and cut the budget.”
However, he still cares about that core: veterans, senior citizens and education, which have all been affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everybody knows the virus is there,” he said. “There are people who deal with elderly people.” Like Fukushima, who takes care of his older brothers by taking them shopping.
“You have a lot of people who are really afraid and then they just get all shook up,” he said. “They don’t want to go anywhere. And yet you see people go shopping at Walmart, Costco, like nothing happened, but they closed down the schools.”
For three years, Fukushima worked at Coco Palms, until he was fired. He wants Kaua‘i to diversify, and reestablish itself, not away from tourism, but back to a more sustainable base. He believes there needs to be more focus on infrastructure, construction and roads.
“Moneywise you can’t really build,” Fukushima said, noting he’d like to see somebody lobby for federal funds to get construction projects moving forward.
The youngest of 13 siblings, which Fukushima can only say growing up was “interesting.”
“I give credit to my mom with her third-grade education. She controlled the budget with whatever she had,” he said. “She’s a special person I looked up to. She was very kind, she always shared. Never refuse what people give you.”
A craftsman at heart, he shares that spirit through his hobbies. Fukushima finds joy in sewing, quilting, baking and cooking.
“I started baking over 20 years ago. Annually started off baking for people who wanted cookies to give away as gifts,” he said. “I think a couple of years ago I came out with 300 gallons of cookies per month.”
He’s skilled in Japanese, Korean, Filipino and Hawaiian cooking, learning skills and seasonings from his family and those around him.
This is a final run for Fukushima, who came in at twelfth position with 3,016 during the primary election in August.
Retired, he loves to keep busy.
“I’m even looking for a part-time job to keep me involved,” he said.
And maybe that’s a council seat.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.