[image title=”Incumbents Win Round One” size=”full” id=”201″ align=”right” alt=”Incumbents Win Round One” linkto=”full” ]

Maui Weekly | Thursday, September 25, 2008 |Trisha Smith

Candidates take last opportunity to speak before primary at KCA “speed dating” format forum. “We can make a difference on smaller levels.”

Over 150 concerned voters attended the Kihei Community Association (KCA) Community Meeting on Tuesday evening, Sept. 16, at the Kihei Community Center (KCC) for one last look at candidates before the Primary Election on Saturday, Sept. 20.

Members of KCA began the meeting by revealing that a conceptual design plan for the high school in Kihei is in the works. Then KCA President John Miller addressed the importance of voting, and discussed how national elections usually outshine state elections, but that in Maui County, “We can make a difference on smaller levels.”

“There are challenges ahead of us. We’re ready to take on challenges head-on,” said Miller. “Maui’s going to be a better place to live, tomorrow.”

The forum featured races for the nine County Council seats, plus regional state positions, including Senate District 5 (West and South Maui) and House District 11 (South Maui). Danny Mateo (Moloka‘i) and Michael Victorino (Wailuku, Waihe‘e, Waikapu) both are running unopposed for council.

The candidates were asked to give a brief speech before the “speed dating” format forum began.

“I want to continue to be your strong, savvy voice in state legislation,” said Sen. Roz Baker, District 5 (West and South Maui).

Baker will face Republican Jan Shields in the General Election after a Primary Election landslide win over her party opponent, political rookie Bart Mulvihill. Shields, a nurse, has been very persistent in campaigning for more medical care in Kihei and Lahaina, as well as school improvements.

Rep. Joe Bertram III in District 11 (South Maui) received the greatest applause from “his” community as he promised to continue “to love Kihei, whether I’m in the ocean or the office.”

Bertram’s party opponent, Michael Gingerich, insisted his “youthful energy is very vital” to Maui’s politics, but lost in the primary. Bertram will meet Republican George Fontaine in what is sure to be a heated race as Fontaine, a former police captain, exhibits a great amount of political potential and couth.

The timer ticked as voters questioned candidates face-to-face. Contenders had only eight minutes per group to convince citizens why they should represent Maui County as they replied to questions on such issues as transient vacation rentals (TVRs), water, development and energy conservation.

The hot topic of affordable housing—especially in South Maui—was on everyone’s mind, and a variety of dollar amounts were mentioned. Community participants were heard laughing at responses as some candidates considered over $300,000 as “affordable.”

“That is just insane,” said a concerned Kihei citizen. “Hardly anyone can afford that.”

“We need a specifically based land trust system where the state can support ‘real’ affordable housing,” said Fontaine. “We built for a niche market that’s just not there anymore. We need to take the speculation out of the market.”

Incumbent Councilwoman Jo Anne Johnson will most likely serve West Maui during her last term after receiving an impressive 11,106 primary votes. At the KCA forum, her soft-spoken challenger, Chayne Marten, actually thanked Johnson for her guidance during his campaign. Although Al Fukuyama has been absent from numerous forums, he scored a spot in the General Election.

Norman Vares and Joe Gannon fell short Saturday, as Don Couch and Wayne Nishiki will compete in November for the South Maui Council seat. Former Councilman Nishiki may have his hands full during the remainder of the campaign, as Couch’s persistent push for the seat earned him a respectable number of votes in the primary—nearly 6,000.

“I have the experience and the balance to do right for South Maui,” said Couch. “If you truly want change, you can’t go back to the past.”

When discussing TVRs, all of Lana‘i’s prospects were in favor of community, not state, regulation.

“We need to let individual communities plan their own updates,” said John Ornellas. “I wouldn’t try to tell Kihei what to do, but I think I should be trusted to do right by the people of Lana‘i.”

Ornellas squeezed into the final ballot next to seasoned politician Sol Kaho‘ohalahala. Ornellas will have to step up his campaigning to defeat Kaho‘ohalahala, who received nearly 10,000 votes. They beat out three others for a chance to take command of term-limited Riki Hokama’s seat, both campaigning to alleviate current tribulations in Lana‘i’s job market and water supply. “We need to seriously look at alternative ways to make water,” said Kaho‘ohalahala.

“I live on and love that island (Lana‘i),” said Ornellas.

Other nonpartisan council candidates were invited to participate at the KCA forum that were not on the primary ballot, but are on their way to the general election.

East Maui Councilman Bill Medeiros may have a bigger challenge than he thought with opponent Lucienne de Naie. Although Medeiros has strong roots in the rural Hawaiian community, his opponent has a multi-layered background in water, land use and energy, as well as serving as executive assistant for Councilmember Michelle Anderson in South Maui. De Naie’s ties in East and South Maui could make for an interesting race.

“I have great knowledge of many issues,” said De Naie. “I would love to put my expertise and caring to work for you.”

The 2008 Primary Election produced a low voter turnout—out of the 82,422 registered, only 21,047 (13,285 precinct, 7,762 absentee) voted last Saturday, according to the Office of Elections. For the complete 2008 Primary Election results, visit http://hawaii.gov/elections.

Former councilmembers and incumbents took command in round one, but anything can happen in the weeks before the general on Tuesday, Nov. 4.

The KCA will host a General Election “speed dating” format forum on Tuesday, Oct. 21. For more information, visit www.gokihei.org or call (808) 879-5390.