Retired Judge Richard Bissen is on his way to serving as the next mayor of Maui County after defeating incumbent Mayor Michael Victorino in a race dominated by their differing plans to solve the community’s most pressing problems, ranging from the lack of available housing for residents to the overpopulation of axis deer.

Maui County locator map

Preliminary results released around noon Wednesday showed Bissen led the race for mayor with 60% of the vote. Victorino, who was seeking re-election to another four-year term, held 38%.

When the first batch of results came in on election night, hundreds of Bissen supporters at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center pavilion erupted in whistles and cheers, with many wearing his campaign t-shirts that read “Kamaʻaina Prosperity.”

That’s how Bissen described his vision for the future of Maui County over the course of his campaign, focusing on bringing new ideas to solve an array of challenges, including the soaring cost of living and the exodus of Maui’s longtime families.

Retired Judge Richard Bissen spoke to supporters on election night while waiting for results to come in. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

“Tonight was about thanking every one of you,” Bissen told his supporters and volunteers. “Tomorrow, if we win, our focus is going to be our future and our future generations.”

Throughout the course of the election season — which started out with eight people vying for the job as mayor, four of whom were accomplished government leaders — Bissen launched one of the most active campaigns. On election night, volunteers and supporters showered Bissen in lei, which piled around his neck up to his ears. He carried a couple dozen others over his arm as he moved throughout the crowd. 

“We made our case to the public,” he told them. “We made our case to the voters.”

Voters line up ready to vote at the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in Wailuku. Ryan Siphers/Civil Beat/2022

A mile away from Bissen’s party, Victorino gathered with his supporters outside the Kahului Shopping Center. He had tried to win voters’ backing by promising to build on the progress made in his first term as mayor, in which he steered the county through the pandemic and the ensuing economic disaster that followed when 35% of Maui workers lost their jobs. 

With the county out of the worst of the public health crisis, Victorino promised in recent months to work on restoring the balance between local residents and tourists by focusing on economic diversification, boosting affordable housing options and protecting Maui County from climate change. 

On election night, he said in an interview with Akaku Maui Community Media that he would help the next leader of Maui County have a smooth transition into the role.

“I’ve been honored to serve this community,” Victorino said. “Whatever happens, I’ll do my best to make sure this community is taken care of.”

Mayor Michael Victorino spent election night with supporters at the Kahului Shopping Center. Ryan Siphers/Civil Beat/2022

The preliminary results showed voters across Maui, Molokai and Lanai were on their way to making other massive changes to both the makeup of the leadership in charge of their local government and how it runs on a day-to-day basis.

Besides choosing the candidate they believed was best qualified as chief executive of the $1 billion local government, residents were also responsible for selecting who should serve as the nine representatives on the Maui County Council and whether the county should make more than a dozen changes to its charter, which is the document that serves as its constitution.

Maui County Council

Although the mayor is charged with running the government on a daily basis, the council sets its policy direction — a direction that, in recent years, has been steered by a progressive majority who have sought to dramatically change the county government’s handling of tourism, housing and agriculture.

Based on the preliminary results, it appears that the voters are positioned to shift that power dynamic. Candidates aligned with Maui’s progressive movement were trailing behind their opponents in some key races.

Maui County residents were waiting in line to vote as the polls prepared to close at 7 p.m., Tuesday.
Maui County residents were waiting in line to vote as the polls prepared to close at 7 p.m., Tuesday. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

The council seats in Makawao-Haiku-Paia and South Maui were left open by longtime council members Mike Molina and Kelly King, both of whom launched unsuccessful campaigns for mayor earlier this year. In the South Maui race, preliminary results released around noon Wednesday showed Tom Cook holding 47% of the vote over Robin Knox, who had 38%; Nohe Uʻu-Hodgins, on the other hand, led with 48% over Nara Boone in the race for Makawao-Haiku-Paia. Boone held 37% of the preliminary vote.

Incumbents appeared likely to hold onto their seats, based on preliminary voting results. Maui County Council members are elected on an at-large basis, which means that voters on Maui, Molokai and Lanai can cast votes for all nine representatives.

In the race for East Maui, council member Shane Sinenci was leading with 48% of the preliminary vote, while his opponent, Claire Carroll, had 36%.

For West Maui, meanwhile, council member Tamara Paltin was winning with a landslide 64% of the early vote over Justin Herrmann.

Election signage close to the voting service center in Wailuku. Ryan Siphers/Civil Beat/2022

Longtime council member Alice Lee also appeared to be on her way to winning another term with 43% of the vote in what ended up being one of Maui County’s tightest races in the election. Her challenger, Noelani Ahia, who ran for the Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu seat for the first time, had 42% — a difference of about 500 votes.

In Kahului, incumbent Tasha Kama won 46% of the vote, while political newcomer Buddy Nobriga, had 39%.

Meanwhile, council member Yuki Lei Sugimura secured 55% of the preliminary vote over Jordan Hocker, who had 31% in the race for the Upcountry District.

In the race for the Lanai district, council member Gabe Johnson, the incumbent running for a second two-year term, led with 45% of the preliminary results released Wednesday. His challenger, Riki Hokama, a former Lanai council member who led in the early vote results, dropped down to 39%.

Council member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez was also headed toward winning re-election with 49% of the vote, while political newcomer John Pele had 36% of preliminary voting totals.

Charter Amendments

In addition to shaking up the council, Maui County voters were also on the way to making a number of big changes to the way their local government works. This year, voters were asked to weigh in on 13 charter amendments, 11 of which came from the Charter Commission, which is tasked every 10 years with reviewing the county’s constitutional document and finding possible ways to improve it. Two others were put forward by the County Council.

Based on preliminary results, voters appeared likely to approve creating a number of new government entities tasked with tackling the county’s challenges.

Boosting housing for local residents was a key campaign issue this year. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

Results released Wednesday showed a majority of votes — 59% — in favor of the proposal to create a new Housing Department within the county government. Listed on the ballot as Proposal 1, the measure would divide the Department of Housing and Human Concerns into two departments to create a separate Housing Department, which would be charged with creating housing that residents can both “afford and attain.” The new standalone department would be staffed with a Hawaiian Home Lands liaison and advised by a board made of housing policy and industry experts.

Meanwhile, “yes” votes made up 56% for Proposal 2, which would establish a new Department of ʻOiwi Resources and affirm that the county operate as a bilingual government by publishing all notices in English and Hawaiian. If passed by voters, the new department would be dedicated to overseeing Indigenous resources and managing related county activities, including those involving the Hawaiian language, place names, natural resources, cultural practices and ancestral burials.

Maui County residents were waiting in line to vote as the polls prepared to close at 7 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.
At least a hundred people were in line to vote an hour before the polls closed Tuesday. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

Maui County voters were also asked this year if they wanted to create new entities called community water authorities that would work alongside the existing county water department to manage the islands’ most precious natural resource. The proposal, which had 64% of votes in support according to preliminary results, aims to give communities more local control by establishing regional authorities tasked with overseeing streams and watersheds and ensuring a safe and abundant supply. If passed by voters, the first water authority would be established in East Maui, and the county could look to create others across Maui, Molokai and Lanai in the future.

Almost all of the other charter amendments also received more “yes” votes than “no” votes in the preliminary results, paving the way for their approval. Those include proposals to strengthen Maui’s public records law, bolster government ethics, make the Maui Planning Commission more representative of communities and change the way the county hires certain key officials.

The only measure where “no” votes made up the largest portion was No. 10A, which was the council’s version of a charter amendment that would create an independent nomination board and change the way the county hired certain key officials. The original amendment passed by the charter commission — No. 10 — appeared to win voters’ approval with 42% of votes in support.

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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