Familiar figures on ballots

WAILUKU – Maui County will see several competitive races in the upcoming elections as veteran council members try to reclaim their old seats relinquished because of term limits and as former Maui Mayor James “Kimo” Apana seeks to get back into politics at the state level.

The slate for this year’s elections was set Tuesday as the 4:30 p.m. deadline passed for candidates to file.

One of those hot races will be decided in the Democratic primary Aug. 9, when Apana faces incumbent state Rep. Justin Woodson, who was appointed to the seat, in the race to represent the 9th House District, which covers Kahului, Puunene, Old Sand Hills and Maui Lani. There is no Republican challenger.

Woodson was appointed to the seat by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in early 2013, the result of the domino effect of political appointments that occurred after U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye’s death in 2012. **Apana and Woodson were both on the list to fill the seat relinquished by Gil Keith-Agaran, who was appointed to the state Senate seat vacated by state Sen. Shan Tsutsui, who became lieutenant governor.

The other competitive contests involve County Council residency seats in Kahului and Makawao-Haiku-Paia.

In the race for the Kahului residency seat, former Council Member Joe Pontanilla will try to recapture the County Council Kahului residency seat he vacated due to term limits from his successor, attorney Don Guzman, who has spent one two-year term in office. Because there are only two candidates for the seat, they will advance directly to the Nov. 4 general election.

Another former council member trying to regain the seat he relinquished due to term limits is Mike Molina, an executive assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa. He will face Ka’anapali Beach Hotel General Manager Mike White, who has spent two consecutive terms as the Makawao-Haiku-Paia member. Also filing papers for the seat, both on the last day, were Alex Haller and Henry Kahula Jr.

The Maui County Council and the mayor’s races are nonpartisan.

In the 9th House District race, Woodson said he knows he’s up against a well-known candidate, whom he respects. Still, he feels confident about his own campaign, his first for this seat.

“I feel I brought new energy to the state House and in working with my colleagues was able to help bring $405 million back to our community and help push through several significant pieces of legislation,” Woodson said.

Woodson, who grew up in Kansas and married Maui girl Stacy Suyat Woodson, added that he believes the community has taken notice of his willingness to work hard, being accessible and engaging with and listening to others.

“I was able to quickly generate momentum in my first two years by building good working relationships and addressing community concerns,” Woodson said. “I have faith the people will vote for that positive new energy to continue.”

Although Woodson said he has been able to quickly generate momentum, he recently was caught up in what he called a “an honest misunderstanding” involving House Speaker Joe Souki. Woodson put out a news release mistakenly saying that he was being endorsed by the Maui lawmaker.

Souki told The Maui News that although he is happy with Woodson’s work as a legislator and appreciates the lawmaker’s support of his leadership, he also has a long history with the Apana family and the former mayor. The speaker said he was not endorsing either candidate in the primary.

Woodson has said that the incident was a “miscommunication” and that he respects Souki and would not tarnish their good working relationship.

“It was an unfortunate situation, but it was truly an honest misunderstanding, so I hope it will not affect the race in a negative way. Speaker Souki and I have a strong relationship and under his leadership the Maui delegation has produced positive results for Maui County and the state of Hawaii,” Woodson said.

Apana said he’s not sure if Woodson’s “misunderstanding” will have an effect on the race, but “it shows he is new to the arena of politics.” The former mayor said that candidates stand on their own credentials and “you don’t have someone else carry you.”

As for the race, Apana said he is “not running against anyone in particular” but is running for the community where he grew up and lives.

He pointed to his political experience in the Democratic Party as Maui County mayor from 1999 to 2003 and as a three-term council member. He also served as a state House budget analyst when Souki was House Finance Committee chairman.

“I’m just offering my expertise to help my county and the state of Hawaii,” he said.

White and Molina bring lots of expertise and experience to their race; together, they have several decades of time on the County Council and in White’s case, also in the state Legislature.

White said he is looking forward to the race.

“I believe my track record as a council member has shown that I am not afraid to ask tough questions and work on behalf of the residents of Maui County in a fair, transparent and independent manner. Maintaining appropriate checks and balances in government is the key to maintaining a strong and vibrant county,” White said.

White has been critical of the Arakawa administration. As chairman of the council’s Budget and Finance Committee this year, White noted that he led the discussion to reduce property taxes for the upcoming fiscal year by more than 9 percent from the initial rate hikes proposed by Arakawa.

Molina, who served on the council from 2001 to 2010, said he was running again because people have encouraged him to seek election to bring “positive changes for Maui County.” He said his passion and public service experience also played a role in his decision to run again. As a council member, Molina said he would work for affordable housing, to ease homelessness, to help working families, to improve the environment, to upgrade the water system and to push for the north shore bypass to alleviate traffic congestion in Paia.

“We anticipate a tough race, but with a strong humble grass-roots effort we feel very good about our chances,” Molina said.

Another executive assistant to Arakawa, Pontanilla said lots of friends and supporters urged him to run again. He said he can bring two views to the council if elected, because he can now see how the county runs from both the administrative and the legislative perspectives.

“It brings for me, a different perspective as far as being a council member and now trying to put those laws into action,” he said. “Sometimes, we got to step back and look at what is being done and what is being required and what it takes to implement (a law). Sometimes, it’s not that easy.”

While working for Arakawa, Pontanilla said he was able to work on improvements to the Lanai Community Health Center and was the Maui County coordinator for the “Tropic Care 2013” event, during which military personnel delivered free medical and dental care and exams throughout Maui County.

As for his race against Guzman, Pontanilla said: “I think both of us are working hard to get elected for the Kahului district seat.”

“I offer the voters of Maui County a real choice,” he continued.

As for Guzman he said: “I’m confident that my campaign will prevail with a favorable outcome, and the voters will once again entrust me with the ‘torch of responsibility’ to move Maui County forward into the future.”

“The hard questions need to be asked in order to make informed decisions in the interest of the community as a whole,” Guzman said. “I question certain things as a part of my decision-making process. My mode of operation is to find the win-win balance in a situation.”

Guzman said he honors the sacrifices of those who came before him and that inspires him to run for office.

“I believe I’m doing my duty to carry the ‘torch of responsibility’ that the voters entrusted me with 18 months ago,” he said.

In a last-minute filing in the race for mayor, Neldon Mamuad, the man behind the popular MAUIWatch Facebook site, will run against Arakawa and five other candidates. Earlier this year, Mamuad filed a federal lawsuit against the county alleging that his First Amendment right to free speech was violated, because he maintained that he had been pressured to stop work on his MAUIWatch Facebook page. The page initially began last summer as TAGUMAWatch, dedicated to commentary and observations of the law enforcement activities of Maui police officer Keith Taguma.

Mamuad, an aide to Council Member Guzman, and the county agreed to a settlement, which called for the county to pay $25,000 in attorneys’ fees and damages, revisions to the county anti-harassment policy and assurances that disciplinary documentation related to Taguma’s complaint of cyber-bullying by Mamuad would not be kept in Mamuad’s personnel file.

Other candidates running for mayor include Beau Hawkes, Alana Kay, Ori Kopelman, Tamara Paltin and Nelson Waikiki Jr.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at

**Correction: State House 9th District race. James “Kimo” Apana was not on a list of names submitted by the Maui County Democratic Party to Gov. Neil Abercrombie for consideration for the 9th District House seat in 2013, according to Michelle Del Rosario, former vice chairwoman of the Maui County Democratic Party and current Hawaii Independent Party chairperson. She said Apana applied for the position, which became open when Gil Keith-Agaran vacated the seat to become a state senator, and was interviewed by a party committee.

The list of names submitted to Abercrombie was not made public.