LIHUE, Kauai — When the newly constituted Kauai County Council holds its first meeting later this year, one thing is certain: It will include at least three new faces — or possibly two new faces and one former council member.
On Nov. 6, voters will select seven winners from a field of 14 council candidates. Three of those seats are open due to either term limits or resignation from the council to run for mayor — or, in one case, both.
No matter what, this will be the most significant Kauai County election in memory with so many vacant seats. Two of those outgoing members are running against one another for mayor, with neither of them being endorsed by the popular current mayor, Bernard Carvalho.
Several vacancies on the Kauai County Council have created a crowded field of candidates for the November election.
Allan Pararchini/Civil Beat
For sure, the new council will inherit a challenging fiscal environment, as well as the need to balance growth with retaining Kauai’s rural character, combatting climate change and enacting ordinances to implement the county’s recently updated General Plan.
Economist Paul Brewbaker, a frequently quoted authority on public sector growth and finance issues statewide, warns against the new mayor or council relying too much on advocates of limited — or zero — growth. Current Kauai issues include opposition to a proposed dairy farm in Mahaulepu, the fight over transient vacation rentals and controversy over the role on the island of the Pacific Missile Range Facility.
There is also a growing preoccupation with the relentless growth of tourism, and the accompanying realization that Kauai is beyond its visitor carrying capacity.
“My own impression as an economist is that Kauai risks becoming the next Molokai, if it actually follows these paths,” Brewbaker said. “For the moment, tourism is too big for this actually to happen on Kauai, but be careful what you wish for.”
In the primary, five candidates had more than 5 percent of the vote: incumbents Ross Kagawa, Mason Chock, Aryl Kaneshiro and Arthur Brun and newcomer Luke Evslin.
Evslin may be the biggest surprise. He moved from obscurity to outpolling Brun, former council member Kipukai Kualii and activist Felicia Cowden. Kualii was elected in 2014, but was only in office for two years. Kaneshiro, Chock and Kagawa are mentioned most often by insiders as potential chairs.
Evslin has gained support in some unexpected quarters, such as winning the endorsement of former council member and nonprofit executive Gary Hooser. Hooser led the failed fightthat began in 2014 against genetically modified organism farming. That’s significant because Evslin has been clear that he has no quarrel with GMOs.
Political newcomer Luke Evslin is one of 14 candidates vying for seven seats on the Kauai County Council.
Allan Parachini/Civil Beat
Hooser also supported Cowden and Adam Roversi, an assistant county attorney who just made the cut of the 14 people who moved from the primary to the general election. Cowden and Roversi are both North Shore residents.
Cowden’s vote share was 3.4 percent. Significantly, perhaps, four others were clustered just behind her, at 3.2 percent. They are Norma Doctor Sparks, Billy De Costa, Juno Apalla and Shaylene Iseri.
Cowden ran poorly in her first attempt to win election to the council in 2014, but in this year’s field — in flux as it is with uncertainty about the next council’s direction — she moved from 12th to sixth. She is also known as host of a talk show on KKCR, the homespun North Shore community radio station.
In elections since 2010, only one or two candidates who did not finish in the top seven in the primary have displaced any of the top seven finishers. This year, five candidates polling more than 5 percent of the vote and others clustered tightly together below them suggests that displacing one any of those top vote-getters will be difficult.
In the August primary, four incumbents and one former council member finished in the top seven, along with two — Evslin and Cowden — who have never held elected office. Evslin had never run for anything before as he tries to balance life as a politician and a parent whose second child is due on Election Day, a public policy graduate student at the University of Southern California, part owner of a canoe manufacturing company and a new homeowner whose current digs are a yurt.
Ross Kagawa’s future may be slightly uncertain ever since a story appeared recently in The Garden Island reporting his use of racially tinged, highly colorful language in an email exchange with a constituent.
Still, economist Brewbaker bets that questions of growth, tourism and planning will dominate voters’ thinking. Many continue to think you can have it both ways with both zero growth and economic prosperity.
“How one runs for office on Kauai” in view of the balance between eating cake and having it, too, said Brewbaker, “is a mystery to me.”
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