Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 6 General Election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.

The following came from Derek Kawakami, a candidate for Kauai Mayor. The other is Mel Rapozo.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the General Election Ballot.

Candidate for Kauai Mayor

Derek Kawakami
Party Nonpartisan
Age 41
Occupation Kauai County Council member
Residence Lihue


Community organizations/prior offices held

2006-2008, elected board member, Kauai Island Utility Cooperative; 2008-2011, Kauai County Council member; 2011-2012, gubernatorial appointment to state House of Representatives (District 14); 2012–2014, elected member of state House of Representatives (District 14); 2016-2018, Kauai County Council member.

1. The April flooding demonstrated some homes and infrastructure are particularly vulnerable to heavy rain. Should this change the county’s approach to development, and if so, how?

During a trend of reduced long-term rainfall, we have seen concerning increases in short-term pulses of severe downpours with flooding. Our planning department is already looking into planning approaches to coastal flooding due to rising sea levels, and I will task the agency to include in their deliberations ways to address catastrophic storm-related flooding. It is already part of our platform to design and implement infrastructure projects to manage storm water runoff and to expand our planning process to better understand, mitigate and ultimately reverse the effects of global warming on Kauai.

2. Are changes needed in how the County Council is run, and if so what are they?

Our community has had discussions about changing term lengths, term limits, districting of Council seats, whether some or all Council members should be required to avoid outside work and changes in Council rules. Those discussions will and should continue, but I would prefer as mayor not to dictate solutions. Those are issues to be decided by the elected members of the Council and by our larger community.

3. Kauai County recently implemented a 0.5 percent GET surcharge for public transportation. Do you support this decision? Why or why not?

The unprecedented traffic congestion on Kauai harms our economy, threatens our environment, slows emergency response, inconveniences our residents and generally makes life on our island more difficult. I supported this measure on the County Council, because our island desperately needs to resolve our crushing traffic issues. That doesn’t mean we should just throw money at it. I have proposed a targeted approach to helping solve the traffic mess.

4. There is a desire to grow the economy through new development yet also a need to protect our limited environmental resources. How would you balance these competing interests?

We aspire to have a robust, diversified, and stable economy with secure jobs with living wages. That doesn’t happen automatically. It requires careful attention, good planning and a multi-pronged approach. A strong economy is far more than a policy of simply promoting development. It requires attention to education, to improved efficiency in delivering county services, expanding recreational opportunities, relieving traffic congestion, addressing housing shortages and generally improving the quality of life on our island. Every planning decision needs to start with the question, how does this make life on Kauai better?

5. What would you do, if anything, to strengthen police accountability?

We have a unique opportunity to carry public safety into the next generation with the retirement this year of Chief Darryl Perry, who has led the Kauai Police Department for more than a decade. Under our charter, the selection of a new chief is a responsibility of the citizens of our island, through the Police Commission. It is one of the key decisions leading to matters of public safety and police accountability, and it is not a mayoral appointment.

Our department is accredited through the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies, which requires both self-assessment and reviews by off-island experts in public safety. The department has been doing more and should continue to do more to involve the community in addressing the complex approaches to policing. I will support the men and women of our police department in every way possible to help them best serve our community.

6. What specific steps would you take to strengthen Hawaii’s lax lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure laws?

Lobbying, ethics and financial disclosure regulations need to be simple, clear and accessible. And currently, they are not. Much of the responsibility in these areas is within the authority of the legislative branch, but I would work diligently to ensure that the executive branch does its part.

7. Would you support eliminating Hawaii’s high fees for access to public records when the request is in the public interest?

Absolutely. Creating barriers to public information is contrary to good governance.

8. Voters complain their elected officials don’t listen to them. What would you do to improve communication?

My campaign has been built on a foundation of respect and responsibility and I plan to continue that positive approach into the administration. I have been accessible and open as a member of the Hawaii Legislature and on the County Council, and residents can count on me to carry that approach forward.

9. What more should Kauai County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?

There’s no silver bullet. Certainly, mitigation and adaptation are parts of the approach, including such measures as moving development out of areas likely to flood, establishing green belts in inundation zones and developing strategies to protect critical infrastructure. Flooding, as we have seen, may be the most common effect of climate change.

We need to bring our community along, too, on directly addressing the causes of climate change. Education and empowerment are key. That may include more emphasis on electrification of transportation, alternative energy resources, increased use of energy efficiency technology in our businesses and homes, better recycling programs and encouraging the minimization of waste, supporting local food production, and much more.

Our Kauai Island Utility Cooperative, on whose board I was privileged to serve, has been a global leader in the cost-effective shift to renewable energy. In 2008, as a board member, I led the efforts to ensure that 50 percent our local electricity would come from renewable energy by 2020. We need to build on that strength and carry the mission forward into the other sectors of our community.

10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?

There are so many issues facing this community and our state. This survey has not mentioned one of the most serious ones: housing. This is an immediate, islandwide crisis. I will immediately launch shovel-ready projects, and push for new housing in the Lihue area, where most jobs are. That may involve increasing density in the urban core and changing the mix of new housing to include more smaller units for young adults and kupuna. We expect to dramatically increase the use of partnerships to grow our housing base islandwide and to control soaring prices for shelter.