Baker’s win came by mail
But home districts also provided strongholds for this rematch from 2014
West Maui voters and absentee mail-in ballots were the keys to incumbent state Sen. Roz Baker’s razor-thin win over challenger Terez Amato in the race for the Senate District 6 seat on Saturday night.
The rematch between Baker and Amato, who last faced off in 2014, was the closest Maui County-related race of the night. With all nine precincts reporting, Baker secured 3,394 votes, or 48.6 percent, to Amato’s 3,288 votes, or 47.1 percent, according to final numbers printed at 3 a.m. Sunday. Senate District 6 includes Makena, Wailea, Kihei, Maalaea, Lahaina, Kaanapali, Napili and Kapalua.
Each region backed its hometown candidate in the primary. Baker, who lives in Lahaina, won all four West Maui precincts with 1,452 total votes to Amato’s 1,074. Amato, who lives in Kihei, won four of five South Maui voting precincts with a total of 2,214 votes to Baker’s 1,942.
“That doesn’t surprise me,” Baker said Sunday. “I’ve represented West Maui a lot longer than I’ve represented South Maui, and I live in West Maui. So the people over here probably know me better.”
Baker was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1988, when she represented West Maui, Molokai and Lanai. She began representing South and West Maui when she was elected to the Senate District 6 seat in 2002.
While Amato won the precincts (1,642 to Baker’s 1,424) and absentee walk-in ballot counts (234 to Baker’s 195), Baker commanded the absentee mail-in ballots to make up the deficit (1,775 to Amato’s 1,412).
“My belief is that a lot of the absentees were seniors, and I’ve always been very strong with that group, because of my support for kupuna care and kupuna caregivers,” said Baker, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee. “Plus we have a very active senior group in Lahaina, and I’ve always worked closely with them.”
Amato said she believed early voting “was highly influenced by large amounts of early advertising paid for by corporations and lobbyists funding to my opponent.”
“The Amato team chose to give away food to our kupuna and to work with doctors and teachers,” she said. “Our campaigns could not be more different. A much smaller factor was that as I had a stroke 605 days ago. I could not knock on more than 7,000 doors like I did in 2014. That is not an excuse, in fact, I am proud to have been able to actually walk in on my own two feet to vote.”
Baker won by a greater margin in the 2014 primary, when she collected 2,699 votes, or 52.6 percent, to Amato’s 2,213 votes, or 43.1 percent. Turnout in District 6 this year totaled 6,682, a 36 percent increase over the 2014 primary election, when 4,912 residents cast their votes.
When asked what she thought had changed since 2014, Amato said that “people concerned about health care, the environment and social justice are speaking out more every day.”
“I am happy to shed light on the dark corners of our antiquated plantation-era corporate-controlled political system, simply by citing voting records and campaign spending reports available to all of us,” Amato said.
However, Baker wondered whether the negativity of this year’s campaign — “not by me, but my opponent” — also played a role in dividing voters.
“I don’t know whether that played into that, because I didn’t go and counter her,” Baker said. “I tried to keep it positive and talk about the things I had been doing and wanted to do.”
Amato criticized Baker’s donors often during the campaign, and Baker said she didn’t agree with “this whole notion that if you have a donation from somebody that somebody else doesn’t like, that means you’re bought and sold by them.”
“I totally reject that,” Baker said. “I vote based on the issues, on what’s good for my district.”
In response, Amato said that she was “very proud of the campaign my team ran” and “made certain that I spoke truth at all times with no negativity.”
“It is an honor to stand up for the people of Maui,” she said. “And this is why I came so close with spending only a tiny amount of noncorporate and nonlobbyist donations.”
Baker’s opponent in the Nov. 6 general election, Green Party candidate Melissa “Mish” Shishido, lives in Kihei. When asked how she planned to win over more voters in South Maui, Baker said she will continue “to go to functions, talk to voters, provide information to folks” about South Maui projects she’s been involved in, such as improvements to local elementary schools and legislation to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos and sunscreen containing oxybenzone and octinoxate.
Shishido received 29 votes in Saturday’s primary.
As for whether she plans to run again in four years, Amato said that depends “on donors and volunteers showing they have faith.” She said in the meantime she will continue to advocate for South and West Maui residents, volunteer in the community and regain her walking abilities following her stroke.
Another challenger who closed the gap between herself and an incumbent lawmaker was Tiare Lawrence, facing off against Rep. Kyle Yamashita in the race for House District 12, which includes Spreckelsville, Pukalani, Makawao, Kula, Keokea, Ulupalakua and parts of Kahului. While Lawrence gained ground on Yamashita as compared to the 2016 primary election, Yamashita retained his seat Saturday, earning 3,412 votes, or 50.5 percent, to Lawrence’s 3,173 votes, or 47 percent — a difference of 239 votes. Two years ago, Lawrence collected 2,411 votes, or 44.2 percent, to Yamashita’s 2,763 votes, or 50.6 percent — a difference of 352 votes. With no challengers from other parties, Yamashita will return to the Legislature for a 15th year.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at email@example.com.