After months of speculation, Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. on Wednesday cleared up the rumor that he was thinking of running for higher office.
He wants to be Hawaii’s next lieutenant governor.
The Democrat made his announcement at the Capitol in front of the Queen Liliuokalani statute. The only mystery was which office he would seek — governor or lieutenant governor.
The term-limited mayor said he contemplated challenging Gov. David Ige. Carvalho acknowledged to reporters that he had considered “all options,” but he described the LG position, after talking with family and friends, as the “best fit.”
He also said he hoped to work closely with whoever wins the governor’s office but made no indication of who he prefers. U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa announced last month that she would challenge Ige in the 2018 Democratic primary.
“As lieutenant governor, I will work with the governor as a team,” he said, sidestepping a question about how Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui had been iced out of the Ige administration.
Carvalho, 56, made clear education is a top priority for him, and that he prides himself on his ability to bring people together to solve problems.
“I enjoy talking to people,” he said, and encourages everyone “to come to the plate.”
He said the consistent message he hears from constituents is that they feel ignored — “no voice, no bridge, no action,” something Carvalho said “concerns me deeply.”
Carvalho was elected mayor of Kauai in 2008 to complete the unexpired term of Mayor Bryan Baptiste, who died in office.
Carvalho was born and raised on Kauai and graduated from Kapaa High School in 1979. He was active in school clubs and organizations, including — “of course,” he said — the Hawaiian Club.
“Which, by the way, I’m Hawaiian,” Carvalho said.
He graduated from the University of Hawaii Manoa in 1983 with a degree in communications and public relations, and two years later went to work for the Kauai County Recreation Division.
“I enjoy talking to people.” — Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.
In his campaign announcement Carvalho noted his more than 30 years in public service. Besides education and family, he cited other key issues, all ones familiar to Hawaii politicians: energy, transportation, homelessness and the environment.
Carvalho played football at UH Manoa on a full-ride athletic scholarship and later played pro football for the Miami Dolphins. His community work includes serving as a member of the State Fatherhood Commission, and as president of Kamehameha Schools Association of Kauai.
Carvalho joins Big Island state Sen. Josh Green and Oahu state Sens. Jill Tokuda and Will Espero in seeking the state’s No. 2 job — a largely powerless position that officiates over name changes and usually acts as the chief executive when the governor is out of state.
Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa has said he is running for LG, too. In April he told Civil Beat he expected Carvalho would run for governor, and that the two would make a great team. Now they are competitors for the post.
Tsutsui, a Maui native, is not seeking re-election. He had considered running to replace Arakawa as Maui mayor, but last week took his name out of the running.
One potential defining issue in the LG’s race is the funding of the Honolulu rail project.
Espero supported the special session bill approved in early September, as did Tokuda, whose voting history on rail is more complicated. At one point, as chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, she opposed extending Oahu’s general excise tax surcharge to fund the troubled project. The surcharge was eventually extended for three years beyond its 2027 sunset date.
Green opposed Senate Bill 4 because it also increased the hotel tax on all islands for 10 years to help pay for rail.
Carvalho is similarly opposed to the increase in the transient accommodations tax. Asked Wednesday if it would be a campaign issue, he reiterated his opposition but said that he supports the rail project.
Mayor and council seats are nonpartisan.
While it’s a low-profile gig, lieutenant governors have often gone on to higher offices.
Former lieutenant governors Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono now serve in Congress, while John Waihee and Ben Cayetano were elected governor.
Supporters break into song at Carvalho’s campaign announcement: