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Kaua‘i politics – ‘It’s fun to speculate’

The inaugural meeting of the new council was held only yesterday, so the thoughts, plans, scheming and campaigning for 2022 start now.

To be sure, there is likely to be lots of movement across all Hawai‘i in the 2022 elections. Due to reapportionment that occurs every 10 years, disruption of the political status quo literally comes with the territory as district lines are redrawn.

Every one of the 25 state Senate seats will be up for election, as will be all 51 House seats. The governor and lieutenant governor positions are open, as is the office of mayor.

Due to term limits, Kaua‘i Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro and Vice Chair Mason Chock will be “termed out.” They each are likely even now thinking about what future opportunities might be right for them. Those who have contemplated making a run for public office are likewise encouraged by the knowledge that at least two new candidates will be elected to the 2022 Kaua‘i Council.

My guess is that former Councilmember Vice Chair Ross Kagawa is also contemplating where he might possibly run and win. Will it be a run for a House seat, perhaps, or back to the council?

I know firsthand that once you get the bug, it’s hard to shake it loose.

All three, plus former Mayor and now Councilmember Carvalho, are likely giving serious thought to 2022 and considering the various options. Throw into the mix former Council Chair Mel Rapozo and possibly former Councilmember and Mayor JoAnn Yukimura, and you have six experienced politicos arguably champing at the bit to “run for something.”

Few incumbent state legislators will have a lock on re-election in 2022, and all seats are vulnerable. The general lack of progress and do-nothing perception, the ongoing unemployment debacle, increasing numbers of houseless and those without health insurance, and the fact that the Legislature failed to reconvene in an emergency special session are all lining up as opposition talking points.

It is mind-boggling that the Legislature has not reconvened to at least enact the legislation needed to “fix” the face-covering mandate, allowing for jaywalking-like tickets instead of the crazy, $5,000 fines now in place. While in session they could also have removed the state income tax from unemployment benefits and provided additional grants, loans and/or tax credits to small business — but they didn’t.

There is so much work to do, and from the Legislature it’s just crickets.

Holding online COVID informational briefings with the high mucky-mucks and not even allowing the public to email in their testimony, thoughts and suggestions is at worst meaningless political posturing and, at best, rude, arrogant and politically tone-deaf.

The 2022 elections will judge state legislators to a great extent on what they didn’t do in 2020 and 2021. That will be the discussion, and every seat will be vulnerable to the argument.

The coconut wireless is also is sending out a steady stream of positive messages touting the popularity, both locally and statewide, of our own Kaua‘i Mayor Derek Kawakami.

Due to his excellent track record in dealing with the pandemic here on Kaua‘i, Kawakami is seen by most as being unbeatable in a bid for reelection. However, there is also growing speculation that he is considering a leap to the governor’s seat.

And why not? His political stock and favorability rating statewide is probably far higher than any other contender at the moment, including that of Lt. Gov. Josh Green and outgoing Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell (two known contenders for governor in 2022).

Unlike the general perception of his potential opponents, he is young, self-effacing and competent. Kawakami literally grew up on the knee of the late former U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, he is seen as a successful businessman, an avid waterman and a local boy through and through.

He may, of course, decide to sit tight as mayor, but such a decision means he would likely be waiting for eight more years, and no telling what his star may be like at that point in time.

Should he make that move, you can bet that many would scramble for the opportunity to take his place as Kaua‘i’s next mayor. The names Chock, Kaneshiro and Rapozo come to mind, but my guess is that there might be more.

Ambition is not a bad thing. Most who serve in public office love the work, want to continue doing it and want to do more. Ultimately the people choose.

There are the knowns and the unknowns, and it is the unknowns that really throw things for a loop. When it comes to politics and elections, you just never know what’s around the next corner.

A good friend of mine, who was by my side through many past campaigns and who engaged with me in many a roadside political conversation, was fond to say “it’s fun to speculate.”

And yes, I confess, it is indeed fun.


Gary Hooser is the former vice chair of the Democratic Party of Hawai‘i and served eight years in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kaua‘i County Council, and was the former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawai‘i Alliance for Progressive Action and is executive director of the Pono Hawai‘i Initiative.
Source: The Garden Island

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