LIHUE, Kauai — Three incumbent County Council members and former Mayor Bernard Carvalho held strong leads Tuesday in an election that was so serene it attracted little interest as it vied with the drama of the presidential race.
Council Chair Arryl Kaneshiro and Council members Luke Evslin and Mason Chock were the top three vote-getters, according to the latest round of results released early Wednesday morning, followed by Carvalho, whose election to the council had been presumed for months.
Carvalho served two terms as mayor before running unsuccessfully in 2018 for lieutenant governor. He is one of the most popular political figures in recent Kauai history.
“Mahalo Kauai and Niihau, for your love and aloha,” Carvalho said in a statement.
The newly constituted council will have its work cut out for it immediately as it struggles to make budget cuts to reflect shrinking revenues in the current fiscal year. Special challenges are an $11 million cut to the county’s transient accommodation tax revenue and trying to maintain police and fire services in the face of severe fiscal constraints. Next year’s budget promises pain in virtually all aspects of county operations.
Council members Felicia Cowden and KipuKai Kualii, along with challenger Billy DeCosta filled out the seven-member council as votes were tallied.
In an emailed statement late Tuesday evening, Kaneshiro said, “I am humbled and thankful to the residents of Kauai and Niihau for believing in me and giving me the opportunity.”
In another emailed statement, Kualii said, “I’m very happy to finish in a solid position again. And, I look forward to working hard for our people and for our islands.”
In another emailed statement, Chock said “We are in one of the most trying times in our lives as a human race and despite the insurmountable challenges we face as a community, I couldn’t be prouder to be from this mokupuni o Kauai.”
Cowden, a North Shore community activist who appeared to be poised to win reelection, said in another email that “now is the time to create a more self-reliant island that has a leadership role in adapting and guiding our new choices rather than reacting to what happens.”
Candidates chasing the seven frontrunners include Jade Battad, a minister and wedding officiant who has a long history of community service, and Addison Bulosan, a chiropractor with strong support from the Filipino community.
A Quiet Election Season On Kauai
The election results came after a campaign season that, largely due to COVID-19, had seemed remarkably subdued, even for Kauai. Campaign signs seemed to be fewer in number, with fewer sign clusters scattered around the island.
Sign-wavings seemed smaller than normal. On many occasions, even prominent incumbents were seen standing alone along one of the main highways.
COVID-19 precautions also ensured that the amount and quality of dialogue among the candidates was constrained. Candidate forums were replaced by Zoom meetings in which candidates struggled to unmute themselves. Forum organizers commonly gave candidates the questions they would be asked in advance and there were no opportunities for viewers to pose questions themselves.
Inadvertently, the frustrations of the forums underscored how ungainly public debate events are on Kauai, since it remains the only county where council members do not run in defined districts. On Maui and Hawaii islands, forums tend to focus only on candidates running in a particular district and viewers were able to pose questions themselves. On Kauai, on the other hand, such forums are all hands on deck events.
Campaign contributions also appeared to be limited by COVID-19 conditions. Incumbent Luke Evslin, for example, emphasized in Facebook posts that he didn’t want contributions at all and noted that he’d stored bumper stickers and road signs in his garage since the last election and would use up that supply.
“There is a long and difficult road ahead and I’m honored and humbled for this opportunity to continue to serve the people of Kauai and Niihau,” Evslin said in a statement issued early Wednesday.
State campaign finance filings show that Evslin did not report any contributions. Many of the other 13 candidates showed donation totals below that of normal election years.
Some large businesses, like landowner Alexander & Baldwin, whose giving is often in increments of $1,000 and more, apparently sat out the 2020 race entirely.
However, on Kauai a large donation is considered anything over $500. Totals examined by Civil Beat were from contribution reports current as of Oct. 26.
Continuing a practice instituted about two years ago, the Kauai Chamber of Commerce arranged one-on-one interviews recorded by Hoike Kauai Community Television, the island’s public access provider. While 12 candidates participated, two — Richard Fukushima and Shirley Simbre-Medeiros — did not respond to multiple invitations to appear, the chamber said. Both had been seen as extreme long shots.
Kauai voters appeared keen on passing all the charter amendments before them. The proposals include qualifications for the police chief and other county managers as well as new rules on ethics disclosures.
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