Today being the first post-election meeting of the Kauai County Council is sure to be non-eventful on its surface. But the sub-currents are no doubt running strong, even as the winners are gracious and the losers act like all is ok.
Kauai voters issued five very strong statements on November 6th.
Councilmember now Mayor Elect Derek Kawakami won in a landslide over Council Chair Mel Rapozo.
Councilmember Mason Chock finished as the top vote getter strongly ahead of Councilmember Arryl Kaneshiro.
Councilmember Elect and first time candidate Luke Evslin by a large nearly 2,000 vote margin, leaped ahead of incumbent Councilmember Ross Kagawa into the #3 slot.
Voters resoundingly defeated the “Kagawa Resolution” that attempted to remove existing council term limits (19,146 NO to 4,143 YES).
Voters selected an unabashedly strong progressive and clear voice for environmental protection in Felicia Cowden who gained the #7 slot above numerous other contenders.
These dynamics plus the re-election of Arthur Brun and the return of former Councilmember KipuKai Kualii will make for an interesting and I believe positive future.
The first major decision of “choosing the next Council Chair” will be made “behind the scenes” between now and “swearing in” which occurs on December 3th. While the Sunshine Law prevents more than two Councilmember’s from discussing this issue in private, many sitting Councilmember’s will likely ignore or forget this detail, and it does not apply to those who have yet to be sworn in.
Speculating on “who will be the next Chair” is something local political pundits are already deeply absorbed in.
Through a process of elimination the speculation quickly narrows to a choice between CM Mason Chock and CM Arryl Kaneshiro. Through further analysis it becomes clear that CME KipuKai Kualii is likely to be the “swing vote” and thus has the power to determine the outcome.
A quick overview: The new Chair must be someone with experience on the Council which excludes Luke, Cowden and Brun who is also relatively new and without deep experience. The new Chair must also be someone who is seen as someone who “get’s along well with others” and has the demeanor and credibility to manage the group. This eliminates Kagawa and leaves only Chock, Kaneshiro and Kualii. With Kualii being the new guy coming back in, it seems reasonable for the choice to come down to either Chock or Kaneshiro.
The block of votes that now support Rapozo as Chair include Kaneshiro, Brun, Kagawa. Remember the magic # is 4, which equates to a majority of the votes.
It seems reasonable to speculate that Kaneshiro, Brun and Kagawa will continue to stick together. It also seems reasonable that Evslin and Cowden will lean toward supporting Chock with whom they share a common constituency base and tend to lean more toward community based decision making and environmental protection.
Hence, it is likely IMHO that we have in place essentially a 3/3 tie for the Chair’s position, with Kualii being the swing vote that could push the majority in either direction. While on paper and via public statements Kualii seems to be a strong progressive and environmentally friendly voice, historically he has often sided with the positions of Kagawa, Kaneshiro and Rapozo.
Each of the top two contenders bring a different skillset to the table and each views the world through a remarkably different lens. As we all do, both have an inherent bias formed via their childhood upbringing, ongoing life experience and the current professional roles they now serve in.
Chock who owns and operates a leadership training and development program is deeply involved in community involvement. He is active in leading and/or participating in numerous projects around the island that seek to restore native habitat, and that support Hawaiian cultural values and practices.
Kaneshiro who is an executive with one of Hawaii’s largest landowners, The Grove Farm Land Company, has a business accounting background and would bring a strong skill set to the table as the Council deals with budget issues.
Chock spends his professional life outside of the Council surrounded by both grass-roots community as well as those aspiring to be community leaders. He is trained as a facilitator and is the ultimate calm voice and adult in the room, working well with people from all walks of life. Chock’s past actions and statements would lead one to conclude that he views the world through a community based lens and leans toward community based decision making and environmental protection.
Kaneshiro spends his professional life working in real estate development and land management. His employer is directly impacted in major ways by the decisions made by the County Council. Whether it be the way the County manages and taxes agricultural land, or via zoning and regulations governing development and construction, The Grove Farm Land Company has a major stake in the decisions made by the Kauai County Council. Kaneshiro via his past public statements and actions clearly views the world via a Chamber of Commerce and land development lens that sees government as an impediment to development.
Thus, the two primary contenders for Council Chair, offer clear and distinct choices.
As the top vote getter during the recent election CM Chock definitely demonstrates a strong level of community support and is eminently qualified to serve the role.
CM Kaneshiro as the “heir apparent” to the outgoing Rapozo faction also finished a strong #2 at the ballot box. He will likely have the business community pushing hard on his behalf and is also fully capable of being the Chair.
With two qualified candidates, at the end of the day it comes down to whose biased world view will most benefit our children and grandchildren?
Or actually and much more pragmatically, it comes down to whomever can garner 3 additional votes in support of their Chairmanship.
Like you, I am counting on all 7 Councilmembers looking at the pluses and minuses of each contender for the job, and making a wise choice that benefits the long term interest of our island community.
- **UPDATE – After the above piece was written and published, I was informed by several individuals who had spoken to him that Councilmember Elect KipuKai Kualii was leaning in support of Grove Farm Land Company executive and Councilmember Arryl Kaneshiro to be the new Council Chair and Councilmember Ross Kagawa as Vice Chair. This news comes as a surprise to many of Kualii’s supporters who are progressive and “green” in their politics. To hear that he is supporting the two most pro-development and least progressive members of the Council to control its leadership comes as a shock to many in the progressives and environmental community on Kauai. To be clear this issue is still in flux as the actual vote will not occur until December 3. FURTHER UPDATE: There is a “meeting before the meeting” (is complicated and I will explain later why they do this) scheduled by the Council on Monday November 26th in the Council Chambers at the historic county building. Public testimony can be made at 3:30pm and/or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org But best to show up if you can. Please spread the word!
First published in the The Garden Island newspaper (TGI) November 14th, 2018