LIHU‘E — After a near-unanimous vote Wednesday, Ross Kagawa is back on the Kaua‘i County Council.
Kagawa will replace new state Rep. Luke Evslin, who was appointed by Gov. Josh Green to fill Jimmy Tokioka’s vacant seat in the state Legislature last week.
The former county council member and teacher was the eighth vote-getter in the November 2022 general election, leading most council members to view him as the logical choice for Evslin’s replacement.
“I’m excited to work with this new council,” Kagawa told The Garden Island after his appointment. “We got some problems coming up. I gotta rush myself to get familiar. We got a lot of work ahead.”
The issue of female representation weighed heavily on the meeting, with the two alternatives to Kagawa both being women.
About 10 community members showed up wearing ferns in their hair to support the ninth-place vote-getter — environmental scientist and community organizer Fern Anuenue Holland.
Holland has championed environmental and Native Hawaiian causes, most recently taking a leading role in the effort to turn the Coco Palms development into a Native Hawaiian cultural center.
“For the last 10 years I’ve showed up for the community, even if it wasn’t my official capacity to do so,” Holland told the council on Wednesday. “I’m a passionate, local girl that just wants to serve the community. And so it’s my responsibility to be here today to put my name forward.”
In her testimony, Nikki Cristobal — a nonprofit director and one of the candidates nominated alongside Evslin for the state Legislature seat — made the case for Holland.
“You have the opportunity to appoint somebody who represents the interests of people who don’t typically vote,” said Cristobal. “On our island, we know that a lot of Kanaka Maoli don’t vote. We know that a lot of younger women and a lot of younger people in general (don’t vote). These people aren’t voting because they don’t see themselves reflected in the system.”
Kaua‘i is the only county in the state to have never had a female majority, and currently only features one female member. No more than two women have ever served on the council at one time.
Also putting her name forward was 10th-place vote-getter Lila Balmores-Metzger, a female self-defense instructor. In her speech to the council, she referenced a campaign event at the YWCA when most of the sitting county council members had professed that they were “male feminists,” and advocated that they consider either her or Holland.
Council Member Felicia Cowden, the one female member of the council, pushed for Kagawa’s appointment, though she acknowledged it would be nice to work alongside another woman.
She credited instances when, working with Kagawa on a previous council, she had disagreed with him, but later came to realize he was correct.
“He’s straightforward,” said Cowden. “And he calls it out. And, usually, when he’s calling it out, he’s really coming from his truth, for what I think is a really important check and balance.”
In the discussion, Council Member Billy DeCosta clarified that he does not view himself as a feminist.
“The strong women don’t need to be recognized,” he said. “My wife, a Kamehameha (School) graduate, runs the show at home. Ross’s wife runs the show at home. But they’re so strong that they allow Ross and I to look like we run the show in public. I’m telling you right now, there’s a lot of powerful women in this room that don’t need the recognition.”
He added, “If the voters wanted more women on the council, they would have put more women on the council.”
Hanging over the meeting was the most recent county council appointment in 2013, when Mason Chock was selected over KipuKai Kuali‘i, who was the eighth-place vote-getter in the most recent election.
The move happened just a day before a critical vote on Bill 2491, which intended to regulate the agrochemical industry. Chock was supportive of the measure, while Kuali‘i was uncommitted. After his appointment, Chock joined other members in support of the bill, overriding then-Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s veto in a 5-2 vote.
In 2011, Kuali‘i was appointed to a vacant county council seat as the eighth vote-getter in the most recent election.
Kuali‘i called the 2013 appointment “nasty bad politics,” and voiced his support for Kagawa, saying it would have been “hypocritical” not to based on his personal history.
“It’s the only right, fair and just choice,” said Kuali‘i. “If Fern received 1,160 votes, that would put her ahead of Ross and I would be happy to support her. I believe if Fern sticks with it, as I did, I will see (her) on the council very soon.”
Neither Holland nor Metzger received a nomination, as Kagawa was nominated first and was approved in 5-1 vote.
Standing alone against Kagawa’s nomination was new council member Addison Bulosan, who referenced a “dream where the underserved and underrepresented are represented.”
Kagawa is expected to take over Evslin’s responsibilities, chairing the Finance and Economic Development committee.
Guthrie Scrimgeour, reporter, can be reached at 808-647-0329 or email@example.com.
Source: The Garden Island
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