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Kaua‘i democrats nominate progressive slate for statehouse seat

LIHU‘E — Kaua‘i Democrats have nominated former County Council Vice Chair Mason Chock, current County Council Member Luke Evslin and nonprofit director Nikki Cristobal as potential replacements for the state House seat vacated by former state Rep. Jimmy Tokioka.

Though the names of the nominees have not been officially released, The Garden Island has confirmed the list — initially reported by Honolulu Civil Beat — with multiple sources involved in the selection process.

The nominees are relatively young and progressive, with all three emphasizing sustainability and affordable housing in their applications obtained by The Garden Island.

“I feel really good about all three nominees,” said Raymond Catania, a District 16 voting member from the left wing of the party. “I think any one of them would be much better than what we have now. A step forward for protecting the environment and for workers’ rights.”

A longtime representative, Tokioka resigned the District 16 seat that includes Lihu‘e, parts of Wailua and the South Shore, to accept a job as state Department of Transportation Airports Division deputy director in the administration of new Gov. Josh Green. The recently elected Democratic District 16 Council was tasked with submitting three names to Green for a replacement. Green will have 60 days from Tokioka’s resignation to appoint a new representative from the list.

The council interviewed four candidates last week before members voted on the slate. The fourth candidate was Tommy Oi, a businessman and former aide to state Rep. Dee Morikawa. Each of the roughly dozen members could cast three votes.

“It really was a wonderful display of people in the community getting together on short notice,” said District 16 Council Vice Chair Mark Ombrello.

The nominees

Cristobal is the founder and executive director of the Kamawaelualani nonprofit, which is focused on education about Kaua‘i’s Kanaka ‘Oiwi (Native Hawaiian) culture through public arts and experiential learning. She served as the primary investigator in the Missing &Murdered Native Women and Girls Task Force, which released a report on the subject last month. If chosen, this would be her first experience in elected politics.

“We definitely need more young wahine representation in the state Legislature,” Cristobal said. “Right now, only 35 percent of the state Legislature are women, and less of that are women of color.”

She added, “People are very concerned about the fact that our young people and Kaua‘i residents are being pushed out. If I’m elected I’m going to fight for people who come from similar backgrounds as myself: low-income, first-generation college students. If I get in there I’m going to fight to keep us here or bring us back.”

Cristobal advocated eliminating the tip credit — also known as the tip penalty — which allows businesses to pay tipped workers sub-minimum wage.

Evslin was elected to the Kaua‘i County Council in 2018, where he has introduced nearly 30 pieces of legislation with a particular focus on affordable housing policy.

The council member touted his public policy experience and his eschewing of campaign funds during council races in his application.

“As trust in politicians continues to decline, I remain committed to not accepting any corporate PAC money and have upheld that commitment through every one of my previous three elections,” wrote Evslin.

Evslin also advocated for pro-education measures, like eliminating the use of mandatory standardized testing and increasing flexibility over curriculum. If selected, his county council seat would be filled by a vote of the remaining council members.

A former firefighter, Chock was initially appointed to the Kaua‘i County Council in 2013, where he served until he was required by term limits to step down last year. He is now a board member for multiple nonprofits and community organizations, including I Ola Wailuanui, the group that aims to purchase the former Coco Palms Resort property from hotel developers and build an environmentally conscious Native Hawaiian cultural center on the site.

His application advocated for “less extractive business practices” to protect the natural world.

”We need policy changes that will keep everyone more accountable to how we interact with our environment,” he wrote.

The selected candidate will enter the Legislature, which convened Wednesday, mid-session.

Kaua‘i Police Department Assistant Chief Bryson Ponce, who previously announced his plans to seek the position, withdrew his candidacy due to rules related to his retirement from KPD.

Ponce reported that he was required to wait a full year from his retirement date to still collect his police pension while holding an elected position. He plans on running for the seat in the 2024 election.

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Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or gscrimgeour@thegardenisland.com.
Source: The Garden Island

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