Democrats choose 3 for state Senate seat

About 30 Maui Democrats met behind closed doors to hear pitches Saturday from seven applicants for the vacant Central Maui 5th Senate District seat.

Members of the Senate District 5 Ad-hoc Nominating Committee voted and chose their three highest vote-getters as their recommendations to the governor, but they kept a lid on identifying their nominees to the seat left open by Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui.

Paia Democrat Mary Cochran, an attorney and former member of the state Board of Education, was not part of the panel, but she said she thought the process should have been open, just as it had been with the selection of a successor to the U.S. Senate seat of the late Daniel K. Inouye, who died Dec. 17 at 88 years old.

Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz was picked to serve as U.S. senator in Inouye’s seat, at least until 2014. And Tsutsui, who had been state Senate president as well at Central Maui’s senator, accepted the position of lieutenant governor, opening his seat.

“I guess that’s the way they do business,” Cochran said Saturday afternoon, although she said she was told by someone who had taken part in the selection process at the ILWU Hall in Wailuku that there was a move to open the meeting to the public.

Troy Hashimoto, corresponding secretary for the Maui Democratic Party, confirmed that the selection panel did consider opening the process, but members ultimately decided to maintain an earlier decision to keep it closed.

“It’s not open. It’s not democratic,” said Cochran, who maintained that selecting Tsutsui’s replacement was not only important for 5th Senate District residents in Wailuku, Kahului and Waihee but also for Maui County and the state as a whole.

“It should have been open to everybody,” she said.

Hashimoto said there’s no party rule that the process needs to be open, and each selection panel can determine its own rules on the issue. Minutes of the session were kept and will be released to party members after the selection is announced, he said.

The panel began meeting at 9 a.m. and concluded at 11:30 a.m., he said.

The seven candidates under consideration were:

* Nicanor E. Casumpang Jr., a former International Longshore and Warehouse Union business agent, a member of the Maui Planning Commission, a president of the Filipino Chamber of Commerce of Maui and an unsuccessful candidate for the Maui County Council’s Kahului residency seat in 2002.

* Loretta Giannotti, a businesswoman and lead organizer for Maui, Molokai and Kauai for the 2012 Obama for America campaign.

* Robert George Hill III, a retired Maui Police Department lieutenant and executive director of the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center.

* Natalie A. “Tasha” Kama, pastor, president and administrator for Christian Ministry Church, who has run for political office in the past.

* Gilbert Samuel Coloma Keith-Agaran, current representative for state House District 9, which includes Kahului, Wailuku, Puunene, Spreckelsville and Paia.

* Clifford R. Libed, who spent 14 years with the Hawaii Housing and Community Development Corp. and is a former member of the Maui Redevelopment Agency.

* Mary D. Wagner, business continuity plan manager for Maui County.

They were all determined to be Democrats in “good standing” and residents of the Central Maui Senate district.

State Democratic Party Chairman Dante Carpenter said that the party would submit the names of the nominees to Gov. Neil Abercrombie on Monday morning. The party would not make the names public until after the governor announces his decision, Carpenter said.

On Friday, Abercrombie spokeswoman Louise Kim McCoy said that once the names of the recommended candidates are properly transmitted to the governor “he will make his selection in regular order.”

Abercrombie has 60 calendar days following the first day of the vacancy to make an appointment to the state Senate seat.

* Brian Perry can be reached at