Big Island Mayoral Race Pits Prosecutor Against Businessman

Sep 30, 2020

Election ballots will be going out across the state starting next week. On Hawaii Island, what began as a crowded race among some 16 mayoral hopefuls is now a head-to-head battle to the finish line for local entrepreneur Ikaika Marzo and county prosecutor Mitch Roth.

These two candidates come from very different backgrounds. 36-year-old Ikaika Marzo may be
best known for his social media reports during the 2018 Kilauea Eruption. He spent
nearly 10 years building his business Kalapana Cultural Tours and creating opportunities for his Puna

“I can bring people together to get the job done. I have owned my own business. I ran my own commercial fishing fleet. Iʻm also running my own cattle ranch. Not only that Iʻve led kids to succeed with interscholarlastic sports,” Marzo said.

Fifty-five-year-old Mitch Roth has been county prosecutor for eight years. It’s the only islandwide elected office other than mayor.

He’s running to change the way county government operates.

“The big thing that we need to do in government is change our philosophy of government to a government that helps people thrive and succeed versus just permitting them to exist," he said. "Helping people thrive and succeed. What that does is it helps creativity, it helps create jobs. When government sees itself just as a controller then it stifles creativity and it stifles jobs.”

The biggest issue on the island right now is the pandemic and its economic impact. More than  27,000 Big Island residents are out of a job, and most of them are in the tourism industry.

Marzo said getting these folks back to work safely and swiftly comes down to testing incoming
travelers. And not the traditional nasal swab test but a series of cheaper, quicker saliva tests, once approved by medical authorities.

“The incubation period of the virus is six days. So you take the first test wherever you leave from, three days before traveling. And these tests are so cost efficient. It’s like $2 each, and you get the results within 20 minutes. You take the next test at the ticket counter of whatever airlines you’re flying, and then you come to Hawai’i and you quarantine for two more days and take the test at the end of the quarantine. 

"If all three tests comes back negative, you can go right into the community and spend your money."

Roth also believes testing and contact tracing are key elements to reopening tourism safely on
the Big Island. But he was short on specifics. He’s still finalizing his COVID-19 recovery plan but
he says his overall approach can be summed up in three words.

“Reboot, recover, and renew. So reboot, we need to start looking at some of the things that haven’t been working and we need to start working on those things. Recover -- we have to set the stage to get people back to work. But we have to remember that whatever we do, we have to do so in a safe manner. And renew, we need to create the ability to live work and play.”

Marzo plans to keep Mayor Harry Kim on in some capacity to ensure a smooth transition in the
county’s recovery efforts. He also plans to incentivize businesses to move operations outdoors.

“Again it comes down to data, science, and common sense. The percentage of you catching COVID outdoors is a lot less, so why not bring businesses outdoors? I could imagine Aliʻi Drive being closed down and all the businesses doing business on the road on Aliʻi Drive.”

But not everyone wants to go back to their old job. Roth says he plans to invest in education, training, and employment programs to help workers transition. He says county investments in infrastructure could offer jobs in the short term.

“I think one of the big ones that we really need to look at is the technological infrastructure that will allow people to work from home, that will allow our students to study from home, that will allow many of our residents do telemedicine from home.”

Hawaiʻi County saw relatively high voter turnout in the primary election, and many are expecting
the same in the general.