In his recent blog, local political pundit, activist, and former state senator from Kauai Gary Hooser proffered the notion that government is controlled by those people who show up to vote.

badge for Election 2022 Candidate Forum

As elections in Hawaii are often decided by a turnout of less than 50% of the registered voters, Mr. Hooser’s plea to citizens to exercise their right to participate in the democratic process is a clarion call for us to decide which leaders will govern us.

I wholeheartedly concur with the idea that the government is controlled by those people who show up to vote. So much so that I would like to suggest a corollary: Government is also controlled by those people who run for office.

And that is why I am running for State House District 13.

My personal story is one of a citizen advocate, a community activist. And how, as a Native Hawaiian woman in her early 30s, I realize that the current chapter in my story is about the natural evolution of a community activist into a role in governance.

The rich historical examples of these personal trajectories are plentiful and myriad in scope. On Molokai, where I was born, raised, and have lived my entire life, Uncle Walter Ritte is an apt example. An iconic activist for more than five decades, he has also run for various offices in order to serve his community in a leadership capacity.

From Mahina Poepoe's campaign website.
From Mahina Poepoe’s campaign website. Screenshot/2022

And of course there is Hawaii-born President Barak Obama, a community organizer in Chicago prior to pursuing a seat in the Illinois State Senate.

These transitions from community activists to legislators are organic segues. For me, being a legislator is a part of, not apart from, my community work. They are both about serving the people.

I have no ambition to be a career politician. My compelling ambition, my identity, is one of advocating for the health and well-being of my community and the environment.

Familiarizing oneself with my decade of community work ( will hopefully reveal that it’s my calling, my kuleana, my time. It’s who I am.

Candidate Forum

Whether I am stewarding Kūpeke Fishpond, coordinating a climate resiliency summit, leading the successful effort to set a zero cap on short term vacation rentals, working as the legislative analyst for our Maui County Councilmember, providing access to health care by serving as vice-president of the Molokai Community Health Center, or running for office, it all reflects my deep and unwavering dedication to serving the community and aina.

I have been in the trenches as a community advocate fighting for water to be restored to our streams. I am in the elements restoring a fishpond, pohaku by pohaku.

I petitioned the Navy to stop training in our nearshore subsistence gathering grounds. I advocated for the successful funding of a $500,000 plan that will prepare my community for climate change and sea level rise impacts.

I have no ambition to be a career politician.

I am working diligently with my community on an effort to buy Molokai Ranch. I helped to develop Ho‘ahu, a renewable energy cooperative that is working to bring energy equity to Molokai.

Shouldn’t we as voters seek to elect candidates who have demonstrated a genuine commitment to public service?  Shouldn’t we put our trust in, our vote for, those candidates with a history of getting the job done?

So, as I sit here composing this piece for you to meet the candidate in Civil Beat’s Candidate Forum, I hope that you have truly met me, Mahina Poepoe, as I seek the office of Hawaii State House Representative for District 13.

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author