In the November 2016 election Oahu voters were asked if they wanted to loosen the term limits for the offices of mayor and City Council.
The main argument in favor of allowing three consecutive four-year terms rather than just two was that experience matters. The counter-argument was that more time in office could lead to corruption.
Few voters weighing in on the charter amendment question that year likely noticed that the three-term cap would also apply to the city’s prosecuting attorney. Even fewer were likely aware that the Honolulu prosecutor actually has no term limits.
It’s a good bet they’d like to slap them onto the prosecutor position as well, now that the current prosecutor has gone on paid leave after receiving a target letter in a federal investigation of public corruption related to the Kealoha trial. Katherine Kealoha was Kaneshiro’s former deputy.
Mayor Kirk Caldwell will complete his second and final full term next year along with five City Council members who are also leaving office because their time is up: Ron Menor, Kymberly Pine, Ikaika Anderson, Joey Manahan and Ann Kobayashi.
Such is not the case with Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro, who was first elected in 1988 and returned to office in 1992.
He ran again and won in a 2010 special election to fill the remaining two years of Peter Carlisle’s fourth term as prosecutor. (Carlisle was elected mayor that year.) Kaneshiro won a new four-year term in 2012 … and again in 2016.
Bottom line: The Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney’s Office has been run for over 30 years by either Kaneshiro or Carlisle.
Carlisle says he is running again in 2020, although he will need to convince a Circuit Court that he is eligible. The charter says that an elected prosecuting attorney must have been actively involved in criminal cases for at least three of the 10 years preceding the election.
Civil Beat does not endorse candidates, but we would like to see term limits for the prosecuting attorney. It’s a matter of fairness and consistency — and the need for new blood.
All four Hawaii counties have term limits for mayors and council members, but like Honolulu they differ when it comes to prosecutors. Kauai and Hawaii counties elect a prosecutor but set no term limits. Maui’s is appointed by the mayor and approved by the council.
Another reason for limiting Honolulu’s prosecuting attorney to two four-year terms is to send a message that voters demand the highest ethical standards in their elected officials. There are a lot of serious questions in that regard about Kaneshiro.
His future remains in legal limbo. But the mayor and City Council should ask voters to make certain that future prosecutors do not stay in office as long as he has.
They can do so by approving Resolution 19-35 introduced by Councilman Ron Menor in February that calls for amending the city charter by establishing term limits for prosecutor. The question could be put before Honolulu voters in the 2020 election.
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The members of Civil Beat’s editorial board are Pierre Omidyar, Patti Epler, Jim Simon, Richard Wiens, Chad Blair and Jessica Terrell. Opinions expressed by the editorial board reflect the group’s consensus view. Chad Blair, the Politics and Opinion Editor, can be reached at email@example.com.