Six in running to replace Tsutsui

Six Maui Democrats are vying to replace former Maui Democratic state Sen. Shan Tsutsui, who last week became Hawaii’s lieutenant governor in the wake of the death of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye on Dec. 17.

The applicants to be considered for Tsutsui’s seat are:

* Loretta Giannotti, a businesswoman and one of President Barack Obama’s campaign coordinators on Maui.

* 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.

Applicants had until 5 p.m. Thursday to submit their names to the Maui Democratic Party. Applicants had to be in “good standing” and live in Tsutsui’s state Senate District 5, which includes Wailuku, Waihee and Kahului.

A total of eight people submitted their names to be considered, but two individuals did not meet the requirements, said Justin Hughey, the District 5 State Senate Ad-hoc Nominating Committee chairman.

Party district and precinct officers within the senatorial district will make up the official nominating committee, which will meet Saturday to hear presentations – of up to 10 minutes – from each candidate.

Committee members may vote for as many as three candidates but not more than once for the same person. The meeting is closed to the public.

Hughey said Thursday night that 33 people are eligible to attend Saturday’s meeting, and those who cannot attend may vote by proxy.

Hughey and Troy Hashimoto, corresponding secretary for the Maui Democratic Party, said they hope to have the names of the top three vote-getters submitted to the Hawaii Democratic Party by noon Saturday. They said the names could be in Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s hands by the end of the day Saturday.

Abercrombie has 60 calendar days following the first day of the vacancy to make an appointment to the state Senate seat, Maui Democrats said. Tsutsui resigned his seat and officially became lieutenant governor Dec. 27.

Hashimoto said party rules prohibit them from releasing the names of the three final candidates, but the governor is allowed to do so if he chooses.

Hughey said Maui Democrats received permission from the Democratic State Central Committee, the same group that submitted three names to Abercrombie to fill Inouye’s seat, to release the names of those who applied and qualified for Tsutsui’s old seat.

Hughey said the release of the names Thursday lets those on the list who have not received any media attention a chance to get their name out in public.

“I’m really happy with the process and look forward to Saturday,” Hughey said.

As state Senate president, the 41-year-old Tsutsui was next in the line of succession for lieutenant governor after Abercrombie appointed Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to succeed Inouye in the U.S. Senate.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at