Apana announces bid for House District 9 seat

Longtime politician and former Maui County Mayor James “Kimo” Apana has announced his intent to run for the state House District 9 seat, which covers parts of Central Maui and is now occupied by political newcomer Justin Woodson.

Apana’s campaign, “Friends of James ‘Kimo’ Apana,” announced the Democrat’s candidacy in an email to The Maui News on Friday night, with Apana saying: “It has always been an honor to serve the people of Maui County and I look forward to representing the people of my district in the Hawaii state Legislature.”

Woodson, also a Democrat, said Saturday evening that he “absolutely” intends to seek election to the seat he was appointed to early last year.

Apana, who for more than five years has eyed the seat that covers Kahului, Puunene, Old Sand Hills and Maui Lani, said Saturday that finally the timing is right for him to run.

The Kahului resident said that his wife, Lisa Ann, has recovered from a brain tumor and has given her blessing for him to pursue politics again. Apana, 51, was Maui County mayor from 1999 to 2003. He is currently a businessman and Realtor.

Apana has a history with trying to fill the 9th District seat.

In 2008, Apana filed papers to run for the seat held by fellow Democrat Bob Nakasone, who at the time was battling lung cancer and didn’t think he would run. But later, Nakasone felt well enough to seek re-election and Apana withdrew from the race, calling Nakasone a “respected friend, confidant, trusted colleague and fellow Democrat.”

After Nakasone died in December 2008, Gil Keith-Agaran was appointed to the seat. Apana said that he hadn’t run against Keith-Agaran as he needed to care for his wife, who was ill.

In early 2013, Keith-Agaran was appointed to fill the state Senate District 5 seat held by Maui’s Shan Tsutsui, who was picked to be lieutenant governor in the domino effect that occurred after U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye’s death on Dec. 17, 2012.

That left Keith-Agaran’s seat open. Apana and Woodson were both on a list to fill the void and appeared before Maui Democrats. The Maui group pared down the list and forwarded it to Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

Abercrombie appointed Woodson, a Kahului resident, to take the spot.

Woodson is a small-business owner and former legislative analyst and clerk. He was born and raised in Topeka, Kan., and has resided on Maui for several years. When he was appointed to the seat last year, he told The Maui News that his familiarity with the island goes beyond several years as he frequently came to Maui to visit his now wife, Stacy Suyat Woodson, who was born and raised on Maui.

Prior to moving to Maui, Woodson and his family spent seven years on Oahu, where he worked at the Legislature and as a Realtor and got involved with the Hawaii Democratic Party.

Woodson currently sits on the House committees on housing, finance, health and human services Apana said that he doesn’t know Woodson closely but may have met him at a function once or twice.

Apana touted his experience as mayor and as a former County Council member and said that he would be able to help the state understand the county side of issues.

If elected, Apana said that he would like to decrease classroom sizes for kindergarten through 5th grade for more optimum learning for youngsters.

He would also want to “beef up” Maui Memorial Medical Center, which he said is doing a lot to improve itself but he would like to help the facility more.

Unfunded liabilities are also an issue that Apana said he would like to deal with if elected, noting that if Hawaii doesn’t tend to its liabilities it will make borrowing money harder.

“This is something that bothers me. It will affect our economy and state.”

In an emailed statement Saturday, Woodson said that he wishes Apana “good luck in this upcoming election.”

He said that he plans to use the current Legislature session, which began last week, to work on expanding job opportunities, increasing the minimum wage, protecting the environment and bringing funding to logistical support to educational projects including a new classroom building at Maui Waena Intermediate School and a new weight room and band room on the Maui High School campus.

“I feel I have brought fresh thinking and have been an effective legislator thus far for the community,” Woodson said. “I’m an intricate part of the leadership team under the direction of Speaker Joe Souki and, as a part of that team, was able to accomplish significant progress for the Kahului area.”

Woodson added that he played a role in securing $172 million for the Kahului area, including funds for Kahului Airport, Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kahului Harbor and Central Maui Regional.

The primary election in which both Woodson and Apana will face off is scheduled for Aug. 9.

Candidate filing begins Feb. 3. The deadline for candidates to file nomination papers is June 3.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.