Woodson says campaigning a ‘daunting task,’ retains his seat

House Rep. Justin Woodson may have been appointed to his 9th House seat when he first made his political debut last year, but he will stay there for the next two-year term by the will of the voters.

The young legislator won the Democratic primary against former Maui County Mayor James “Kimo” Apana with 2,000 votes, or 52.1 percent. Apana had 1,688 votes, or 44 percent. Because no other parties have fielded candidates for the seat, the win means Woodson has captured the seat that serves residents of Kahului, Puunene, Old Sand Hills and Maui Lani.

“I’m very happy, and we give our praise to God,” Woodson said shortly after the final election printout was released Saturday night. “It takes a lot of work to campaign . . . and hav(ing) to run against such a strong opponent your first time around, it was a daunting task and we’re just very happy.”

The 37-year-old made his political debut in January 2013 when Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed him to the Central Maui House seat following a string of vacancies set off by the death of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye in December 2012. After two legislative sessions as a lawmaker, Woodson said he’s learned a lot but is always finding out more about the issues important to his community.

“I’m very appreciative to the community that they’d give me the opportunity to serve them for another term, and I’ll be working very hard and reaching out to everyone just to see what I can do better and how I can better serve them,” Woodson said.

This was Woodson’s first election. Apana, who was elected mayor in 1998 after serving on the Maui County Council from 1993 to 1998, had hoped to unseat the incumbent in the Democratic primary and make a return to the political arena.

Apana could not be reached for comment after the final election printout was released, but he said earlier Saturday night that “Mr. Woodson is a formidable opponent.”

Though the vote had not swung the way Apana had hoped, the Kahului resident said he is still committed to helping people in his community as a Realtor with Windermere Real Estate on Maui.

“I’ll still do things to support my community . . . I always want to help people find their dream home,” Apana said.

When asked whether he intends to run for political office again in the future, Apana said “that is to be determined.”

In another closely watched Maui County race, incumbent state Sen. Roz Baker held off challenger Terez Amato of Kihei, winning the Democratic primary election with 2,579 votes, or 52.5 percent. Amato garnered 2,127 votes, or 43.3 percent.

“I’m delighted with the vote totals,” Baker said shortly after the second election printouts were released at about 8 p.m. “I think it’s an indication that positive campaigning works. Mahalo to all of the folks who came out to support me and voted early and came out today. I’m very excited and look forward to the general election.”

Baker, who has 17 years of experience in the state Senate, will advance to face Republican Jared P. Dubois and Libertarian Bronson Kaahui in the Nov. 4 general election. Her Senate District 6 seat covers South and West Maui.

Fellow incumbent state Sen. Gil Keith-Agaran also came out on top in his race for Senate District 5, which covers Wailuku, Waihee and Kahului. Keith-Agaran garnered 4,991 votes, or 58.1 percent. Challenger Christy Kajiwara Gusman received 2,783 votes, or 32.4 percent.

Incumbent candidates also did well in state House races across Maui County, with both South Maui Rep. Kaniela Ing and Rep. Mele Carroll winning their primary re-election bids.

Ing topped challenger Marie Minichino with 2,256 votes, or 82 percent. He will advance to face Republican Pat Brock in the general election.

Carroll, whose 13th House District seat covers East Maui, Molokai and Lanai, beat challenger Barbara Haliniak from Molokai with 2,374 votes, or 60.7 percent. Since there are no challengers from any other parties, Carroll will reassume the seat.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at echao@mauinews.com.