UPDATE: Results released around 9 a.m. Sunday show that Nara Boone is now leading over Dave DeLeon in the race to represent Makawao-Haiku-Paia on the Maui County Council, paving the way for her to face Nohe U‘u-Hodgins in the November election. 

Former judge Richard Bissen and Mayor Michael Victorino are leading with the most votes in the race to become Maui’s next mayor, according to results released early Sunday.

Maui County locator map

Although some votes are still being counted, it appears that Victorino will face Bissen in the November general election, according to the preliminary count. Bissen was leading with almost 34% of the vote, while Victorino held 30%.

In what some longtime political observers have called Maui’s most competitive mayoral contest in history, this year’s race drew a field of eight candidates, four of whom — Bissen, Victorino and council members Kelly King and Mike Molina — are prominent Maui County leaders, with years of experience in their respective branches of government. King had 16% of the vote and Molina had 5.2%, according to results early Sunday. Political newcomer Kim Brown held 7.2% of the vote.

Photo of Maui 2022 primary candidates
Richard Bissen, left, and Michael Victorino were leading in the race to become Maui mayor. 

When the first results were announced Saturday evening, cheers erupted at Maui’s Binhi At Ani Filipino Community Center, where at least a couple hundred of Bissen’s supporters gathered to celebrate. Many of them wore Bissen T-shirts, plastered with his campaign slogan, “Kamaʻaina Prosperity.”

Bissen credited his campaign’s success to his volunteers, who’ve helped run one of Maui’s most active campaigns this election season.

“When voters give you their vote, what they’re really doing is giving you their trust,” Bissen said. “They’re giving you their hope, and we’re here to provide hope to people.”

“The least I can do is work as hard as I possibly can,” he added.

Richard Bissen celebrated his lead in the Maui mayoral race with a couple hundred supporters at a campaign party Saturday night. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

Maui County’s mayor serves a four-year term, and this election marked the first since the pandemic began. Victorino’s time as mayor has been defined by how he handled the community’s worst public health disaster in generations — and how he responded to the crisis exacerbating Maui’s already astronomical cost of living.

“I’m thankful that the people of Maui County, in retrospect, are beginning to understand what we did during this pandemic,” Victorino said during an interview with Akaku, Maui’s community television group. “We still accomplished getting housing built.”

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino is seeking a second four-year term. Screenshot/2022

Saturday’s primary narrowed down the races to the top two candidates with the most votes. Those two will then face each other for a final time in the November general election.

All the county races are nonpartisan, meaning candidates don’t run as Democrats or Republicans. The mayor is the chief executive of the county, charged with hiring and firing directors of county departments and running the government on a day-to-day basis. The council, meanwhile, controls the purse strings and shapes county laws and policy direction.

Voters Pick Top Candidates For Council

Voters also chose who they felt is best qualified to represent them on the Maui County Council. Residents weighed in on the four primary races on the ballot that had more than two candidates. In November, they will decide who they want to fill all nine seats.

Residents stand in line to vote at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center on Saturday. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

In South Maui, where King has served for the last six years, residents cast the most votes for Tom Cook and Robin Knox, who’ll head to the general election. Cook, a contractor, ran to be South Maui’s representative in the 2020 election but lost to King. Cook had 35% of the vote based on returns early Sunday. Knox, an environmental scientist and small business owner, had 31% of the vote. Dennis O’Shea trailed with 12%, so won’t advance to the general.

For the Makawao-Haiku-Paia seat, which is currently held by Molina, results released early Sunday morning shifted the makeup of the candidates who had appeared likely on Saturday night to move forward to the November election. Political newcomer Nohe U‘u-Hodgins still held 30% of the vote, but progressive candidate Nara Boone took the second spot, with 19% of the vote. Dave Deleon, who is now retired but once worked for former mayors Linda Lingle and Alan Arakawa before becoming the government affairs director for the Realtors Association of Maui, had 18% of the vote.

In Upcountry, incumbent Yuki Lei Sugimura, who was first elected as a council member in 2016, held a commanding lead with 52% of the vote. Voters in November will be asked to choose between Sugimura and Jordan Hocker, a researcher and advocate for working families, who had 19% of the vote. She edged out Renee Cruz, who had 14%.

In Kahului, incumbent Tasha Kama also held on to a slim lead with 22.8% of the vote. One of her challengers, Buddy James Nobriga, whose family owns Maui Soda & Ice Works, was following close behind her, with 22.1% of the vote. Carol Lee Kamekona, who’d been backed by Maui’s progressive movement, had 17% of the vote.

An election ballot drop box in Maui County. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

For the last four years, the Maui County Council has been steered by a majority of progressive representatives, who’ve enacted a number of bold policies ranging from raising taxes on second homes to enacting a temporary moratorium on the construction of new hotels, which some council members are pushing to make permanent.

Some residents have celebrated the changes as a shift away from a status quo that prioritized the interests of developers and the tourism industry, while others have seen their policies as a blow to Maui’s businesses and major economic drivers. One thing, however, was clear: Political donors who wanted to shift power away from the progressives poured thousands of dollars into campaigns for candidates who might change that balance if elected.

The slate of progressive candidates had been trailing in early voting totals on Saturday evening, but a wave of almost 11,000 voting results released early Sunday pushed their totals ahead. Now, Maui County voters will be asked again to decide the fate of the council — and whether progressive candidates continue to shape its path forward — in the general election.

“We were sitting here, waiting all night long and it looked like money would win,” said Dick Mayer, a retired economics professor and longtime political observer. “That to me, is the major story there.”

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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