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Kaua'i Voters To Choose Council Members, Congressional Member

ballot hawaii ballot election
Noe Tanigawa
FILE - A ballot in the 2020 general election.

Kauai voters are weighing County Council seats, a congressional representative seat, and several charter amendments.  Kaua'i's natural disaster history and its recent successes containing the COVID-19 virus are affecting voter choices.

Kaua'i voters aren't looking at drastic changes in direction on this year's election ballot. Five incumbents led the primary race for the seven member County Council. They are joined by former Mayor Bernard Carvalho, who is making his first run for the council, a non-partisan race.


Laurel Brier, is with the Kauai Climate Action Coalition, and co-founder of Kaua'i Women's Caucus She helped organize a series of candidate forums on Facebook. She says people care about traffic and the economy but they also care about climate change.

"That's why the conversation was interesting, to see the people who see the connection and other people who were, 'Well, we can't worry about climate right now because of our economy.'"

Brier pointed to ideas like profitable composting and re-use businesses as the kind of alternatives that satisfy both environmental and economic concerns.

Johnny Gordines, past president of the Kaua'i Farm Bureau, says for farmers, support means connecting farmers with markets like local hospitals, businesses and schools, establishing a reliable market for ag products. 

"We need to think of alternatives to tourism. We need to build up our agricultural industries so that we can be not just sustainable, but profitable. Because if it's not profitable, it's not sustainable."  

Anahola resident John Harder worked more than 30 years in county and state government in solid waste and environmental management. Harder says he's undecided on two of six charter amendments on this year's ballot. Questions 5 and 6 affect qualifications for county engineer and water board manager, removing the requirement that they be licensed engineers. 

"It's really the balance between opening it up to more qualified candidates and allowing cronyism."

Other proposed amendments seek to set criteria or procedures, and address omissions or inconsistencies with state law.

Harder says Kaua'i's population of 72,300 people makes it, effectively, a small town, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The biggest worry people have is the economy."

Kauai’s history with natural disasters includes, most recently, the catastrophic flooding in 2018. The island has been rebuilding slowly. In downtown Lihu'e, traffic flow has been improved, and the Kress store, among others, is getting a facelift.

Pat Griffin, president of the Lihu'e Business Association, pointed to a recent survey by the Kaua'i Chamber of Commerce. Of 129 respondents, nearly 40 percent of those Kaua’i businesses said they would not make it six more months under current conditions.

"While some of our well-liked businesses, restaurants, are hanging on. there is still general  optimism as we try to stay safe. But we're just taking it one day at a time."

Kaua'i's ballots are going into the mail today. Ballots can be returned by mail or put in ballot drop boxes across the island. Voting in person is allowed starting October 20th at the voter service center in Lihue.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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