Democrats nominate three for House seat

A handful of Maui Democrats chose three individuals whose names were in the process Saturday evening of being forwarded to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who will select one of the individuals to fill the House District 9 seat left vacant by Gil Keith-Agaran, who is now a state senator.

The names of the three chosen were not released Saturday.

But on Friday, the Maui County Democratic Party released the names of the seven qualified applicants, who include former Maui County Mayor James “Kimo” Apana and former Maui County Council Member Joseph Pontanilla, along with Keith-Agaran’s wife, Kallie.

By law, Abercrombie has 60 calendar days following the first day of the vacancy to make an appointment for the seat in the district, which encompasses Kahului, Puunene, Maui Lani and old Sand Hills.

While Maui County Democratic Party Corresponding Secretary Troy Hashimoto said Saturday evening that the party will give Abercrombie the time he needs to vet the three candidates, the Maui Democrats hope to have an appointment by the time the Legislature begins Wednesday.

“I think we trust the governor will vet all the candidates and pick the one that represents District 9,” Hashimoto added.

Abercrombie has acted quickly on his appointments in the past.

Last weekend, Gil Keith-Agaran, was one of three applicants chosen by Maui Democrats to be considered to fill the seat left open by former District 5 state Sen. Shan Tsutsui, who accepted the lieutenant governor’s position Dec. 27. Tsutsui, as state Senate president, was next in line for the job after Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz was appointed by Abercrombie to fill the U.S. Senate seat of the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, who died Dec. 17.

Louise Kim McCoy, communications director and press secretary for Abercrombie, said Thursday that the governor officially received the three names for the Senate seat Monday and made the appointment later that day.

But she did not address how quickly Abercrombie would make a House appointment.

“Once he gets the names, the governor will make his decision in regular order, in due course,” McCoy said. “If they (Hawaii Democratic Party) repeat what they did last time, even though they met on a Saturday, the names were not submitted officially to the governor until the following Monday.”

Behind closed doors Saturday afternoon, the District 9 council, which is made up of eight members, gathered to interview and to listen to the seven Democratic candidates vying to fill the vacant House seat.

Those applicants were:

* Apana, mayor from 1999 to 2003, businessman and Realtor.

* Anthony Edington, a chef who has worked at various businesses including Westin Maui, Westin Ka’anapali Ocean Resort Villas and Kapalua Bay Hotel.

* Renee-May Kehau Filimoe’atu, Maui Police Department Communications Section supervisor for the emergency 911 dispatch section.

* Alan Fukuyama, Maui island manager for Business Works Hawaii, who has made three unsuccessful bids for a seat on the Maui County Council.

* Kallie Keith-Agaran, an educator and a consultant.

* Pontanilla, former Maui County Council member for the Kahului residency seat, current Maui County Community Development Block Grant specialist.

* Justin Woodson, owner of Woodson’s Eco Auto Wash in Kahului, former Realtor on Oahu.

Hashimoto said that since Kallie Keith-Agaran is the chairwoman of District 9 and Woodson is a precinct president in District 9, they both could not sit in on the applicant interviews and presentations, which could have given them an unfair advantage.

But they were allowed to vote, he said.

Dave Merchant, chairman of the nominating committee, said in a release: “We were extremely impressed with each of the applicants. They were all well-qualified, thoughtful and we would be proud to have had any of them as our representative for House District 9. We thank all of them for their commitment to public service.”

The Maui County Democratic Party also said in a release that it is following state party guidelines, which do not allow the selected names to be publicly released until after the governor appoints an individual to the seat.

The release said that any requests for the selected names can be directed to the Democratic Party of Hawaii or the Office of the Governor.

Last week, McCoy said that it would be up to the Democratic Party of Hawaii to release the names.

A Hawaii Democratic Party official said last week that she was not sure yet if and when the names would be released, but if they were released they would be sent to the media. No names were released as of Saturday evening.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at