Meet the candidates: KipuKai Kuali‘i

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Incumbent councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i sits on the beach front of Kumu’s Camp in Anahola, while appreciating the scenery.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Incumbent councilmember KipuKai Kuali‘i throws up the shaka with his ohana Kawika Lovel Kuali‘i, Kaina Lovel Kuali‘i, and Jacalyn Tomacder.

  • Stephanie Shinno / The Garden Island

    Incumbent Councilmember Kipukai Kuali‘i stops for a minute to smile before he goes back into his volleyball game with his family and friends on Kumu’s Camp in Anahola.

• 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.

ANAHOLA — Incumbent Kaua‘i County Council candidate KipuKai Kuali‘i, 58, of Anahola, not only serves as a voice for Kaua‘i’s people, but he also has a mean volleyball serve.

“I love volleyball because it is a fun competitive game where folks need to work together closely to achieve success,” Kuali‘i said on Sept. 17 at Kumu’s Camp. “Folks also need to encourage one another. Communication, collaboration, and attitude is key. I also love how the sport has brought my family, friends, and community together over the years.”

Kuali‘i first got on the council in 2011 to fill then-council member Derek Kawakami’s seat when he moved onto the legislature, was reelected back into office in 2014 and in 2018, where he serves today.

“It has been a little interesting for me because I been on and off the council,” Kuali‘i said. “But when in 2012 when it was time for re-election I didn’t get reelected. I came in eighth and just missed it.”

Kuali‘i’s main focuses are the county budget, affordable housing, agricultural sustainability, resiliency, and the youth treatment center.

“My focus has always been to me the biggest job of the council every year, the budget,” Kuali‘i said. “We have to be as efficient as possible and be fiscally responsible. I feel that is our biggest obligation because that is the people’s money. Their hard-earned tax dollars.”

Kuali‘i said by growing up working-class poor, he understands that every dollar is meaningful. He said it’s hard to come by, so it needs to be spent wisely.

“Budget, tied to budget is our economic recovery,” Kuali‘i said. “So we have to stay solid as a county because we are a contributor to our economy. We are one of the largest employers on Kaua‘i. I think it’s really important that we do a good job with the budget. Cutting where we can, so we don’t have to layoff people. Layoffs would be sad and tragic.”

Kuali‘i said one of the things he is concerned about right now is housing.

“We are working now on the housing policy and that’s a big deal,” Kuali‘i said. “I hope we pass the amendments we are working on and get the bill passed before the next term. But in the next term, there is still a lot of work to do, affordable housing is a huge issue.”

Kuali‘i said a lot has been done or being done to help Kaua‘i’s agricultural sector also.

“I think that’s really important not only to keep our farmers going but to think about how to keep food on the island,” Kuali‘i said. “I mean food is so important. As we have more difficulties and perhaps maybe fewer barges are coming in, then we have to be more self-reliant.

“The cool thing too is that because of COVID-19, a lot of people started their own home garden,” said Kuali‘i.

Kuali‘i said he has also been respectfully been questioning the county’s prosecuting office of the next steps for the youth treatment center and is hopeful for it to return back to the purpose of which it was created in the first place.

Kuali‘i’s explains the values he learned from his Hawaiian dad, Wilfred, and his Portuguese mom, Patricia Carvalho Kuali‘i.

“The most valuable thing I learned from my dad, was that he was so resourceful,” Kuali‘i said. “He was the person that didn’t let the water run, he always turned off the light, and he always thinking about conserving energy and things like that. So it was just ingrained in me from when I was a little boy to be that way. By your personal habits do the best you can to respect the environment.”

“My mom had a heart of gold, talk about humility,” Kuali‘i said. “I think of humility as a Hawaiian value, but I pretty much learned it from my mom who was Portuguese and from the nuns at my catholic school.”

According to Kuali‘i, his dad was a paniolo on Kipukai Ranch, where he met his mom who was often going into the ranch with her dad, a mechanic.

“Kipukai Ranch is over the mountain by Kipu,” Kuali‘i said. “That is how I got my name. That’s where my parents met and fell in love. They lived there for a few years before I was born, and then we moved.”

Kuali‘i emphasized the “Aloha” spirit and what it means to him.

“Aloha is the root of everything,” Kuali‘i said. “And that whole local cultural value about ‘family comes first,’ we live it, day in, day out, we are a very close family.”

In addition to being a councilmember, he also works as the Director of Operations for YWCA in Lihu‘e. Kuali‘i went to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, and earned his business degree.

Kuali‘i got involved with the labor and LGBT movement while working for the City of West Hollywood. Kuali‘i also lived in Washington D.C. from 1999 to 2001 and became the first executive director of Pride of Work, a constituted group of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the umbrella organization of all the national unions of America.

“That was quite an honor and quite a ride,” Kuali‘i said. “The beautiful part is prior to that, six months to a year, I met my then significant other, Joe Carillo, my spouse now, my rock, and my backbone. When you are a community organizer, and when you are trying to do things outside of the home, it’s such a blessing to have someone inside the home to just take care of everything.”

Kuali‘i said he looks forward to returning the love and do it all for his spouse when he retires.

“I think I make up for it with the genuine aloha and caring for people,” Kuali‘i said. “And I always tell people too, I never imagine getting into politics. All my work in community organizing was always more behind the scenes and kind of locking arms with others and working on the struggle. Whether it be labor rights, gay rights, or social justice movements.”

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