LIHU‘E — With newly appointed state Rep. Luke Evslin heading to O‘ahu, the remaining six members of the Kaua‘i County Council now must select a replacement to fill his vacant seat.
The council will choose their new colleague on Wednesday morning by a simple majority vote, based on nominations from sitting members.
Two candidates have expressed interest in the role to The Garden Island — former council member Ross Kagawa and environmental scientist and community organizer Fern Anuenue Holland. In the November 2022 general election, Kagawa finished eighth with 9,967 votes. Holland finished ninth with 8,808.
Kagawa, who served on the council from 2012 to 2020, said his main issue is addressing the cost of living, especially ballooning housing costs.
“How do we help our local residents see a future on Kaua‘i? A lot of them are moving to the mainland and we’re losing a lot of good residents who want to be here but can’t afford to,” said Kagawa. “It’s gonna take working with the federal government and the state government, and I believe I have a lot of those connections from working with them over previous years.”
Holland has recently been a leading voice in opposition to a Coco Palms hotel development, advocating for a Native Hawaiian cultural center on the site of the ruined buildings. In an email to sitting council members on Monday, Holland requested that she be considered for the seat.
“I know you can consider (an appointment) based on who adds to the nature of the inter-workings and effectiveness of the Council as a whole in a way you truly believe will help get things done for Kaua‘i. I believe I would do this well,” Holland wrote.
“Council member Evslin and I are both passionate about addressing the affordable housing crisis and working hard to get things introduced and accomplished. We have a commitment to environmental stewardship and addressing the threats of our growingly uncertain climate and world. We support local agriculture strongly and have worked to actively expand local food production and our local economy.”
While the candidate who finished eighth in the most recent election is typically given preference in such appointments, it is not guaranteed.
At the most recent such appointment in November 2013, Mason Chock was selected over KipuKai Kuali‘i to replace Nadine Nakamura, who left the council to become the county managing director. Kuali‘i had placed eighth in that year’s election, while Chock had not run. Chock was appointed at a uniquely contentious point in county politics, a day before a crucial vote on Bill 2491, which introduced regulations and disclosure requirements on the agrochemical industry. The bill drew hundreds of testifiers, in what Kagawa, a council member at the time, called “one of the most publicized bills in county history.”
After his appointment, Chock joined other members in support of the bill, overriding then-Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s veto in a 5-2 vote.
“There’s a history and custom of giving the eighth vote-getter preference, but there’s no law to that effect,” said Gary Hooser, a former council member who voted for Chock’s appointment. “The choice should go to the most qualified person, looking at the council as a whole, their strengths and weaknesses, representation of the community, and not just simply the next vote-getter.”
In 2011, the council unanimously voted to appoint Kuali‘i to the spot vacated by then-council member Derek S.K. Kawakami, who had resigned his post to join the state Legislature. In that instance, Kuali‘i had also finished in eighth place in the most recent election.
In a message to The Garden Island, county council member Felicia Cowden said she felt “the selection should reflect the election.”
“This new council session is less than three months into the process, and there has not been a circumstantial change since the election,” said Cowden. “The voters’ choice for the eighth position needs to be held in respect.”
If council members cannot agree on a replacement within 90 days, the mayor will fill the vacancy instead. The meeting to decide the council member will occur at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Historic County Building, after the regular council meeting at 8:30 a.m.
Source: The Garden Island