Kahului small-business owner and former legislative analyst and clerk Justin Woodson was appointed Tuesday to fill the Central Maui state House seat vacated by Gil Keith-Agaran.
Last week, Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Keith-Agaran to the Central Maui state Senate seat formerly held by current Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui in a domino effect of appointments and vacancies stemming from the death of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye on Dec. 17.
Woodson, 36, of Kahului was appointed by the governor to the 9th state House seat that includes Kahului, Puunene, Maui Lani and the old Sand Hills.
The appointment took effect immediately. The Legislature convenes today.
"I was surprised," Woodson said Tuesday afternoon. "I feel blessed, and I feel humbled. I'm just ready to do a lot of work and work very hard for this community."
Woodson, who was born and raised in Topeka, Kansas, is a 2 1/2-year resident of Maui but is familiar with the Valley Isle much longer. He frequently came to the island to visit his former girlfriend and 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 said education reform would be among the issues he wants to work on while in the Legislature, but he also wanted to speak with his fellow Maui delegation members on what ideas and projects they were looking to get done.
"I know there is a bunch of things in the works, already in motion. I'm going to talk story with them," he said.
Woodson noted that he would support legislation for the Kihei high school to be completed and to assist Maui Memorial Medical Center. He said he's interested in having a new middle school in Central Maui built.
Woodson said he was still on Maui on Tuesday and was trying to find a flight to Oahu for today to be at the opening day of the Legislature.
Woodson will hold the vice-chairman position of the housing committee, according to an announcement from the state House of Representatives on Tuesday. The announcement, released before the governor announced Woodson's appointment, listed the various leadership positions and had left the housing committee vice-chairman position open for the new Maui appointee.
Joe Souki, who appears to have the votes to become state House speaker, said via phone from Oahu on Tuesday that he was "very happy" with Woodson's appointment, noting Woodson had paid his dues as a Democrat, had experience in the Legislature and had pledged his support to help Souki secure the state House speakership, which is expected to be confirmed this morning.
The governor and other lawmakers praised Woodson.
"Justin's experience as a small-business owner and his familiarity with the state Legislature will ensure continued and strong representation for the residents of Maui," Abercrombie said in announcing his appointment.
Fellow Maui state House Rep. Mele Carroll said she was "very excited" for Woodson, who served as an analyst and clerk for her at the Legislature.
"He's a hardworking, very detail-oriented person," Carroll said via phone from Oahu Tuesday afternoon, already busy working at the Capitol.
She added that Woodson had good values and always had an anything-is-possible outlook on life. When Woodson was on her staff, Carroll said he brought with him innovative ideas.
She called him a "breath of fresh air."
"I always knew he was going to be in this building. The sooner the better. He's a team player. . . . I think the constituents of Kahului have a very good representative," she said.
Woodson owns and operates Woodson's Eco Auto Wash. The business is a mobile service that concentrates on the commercial and residential market. The wash uses less water than some other car washes and environmentally friendly products, Woodson said.
Previously, Woodson worked in the real estate industry for Realty Executives Oahu and Prudential Locations LLC, fulfilled analyst and clerk duties for the offices of state Reps. Tom Brower and Carroll and state Sen. Carol Fukunaga, and served as special assistant to the state chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.
Woodson is a former budget subcommittee member for the Maui Economic Opportunity Head Start program, former president of the Young Democrats of Hawaii, and former state coordinator for the College Democrats of Hawaii. He currently serves as vice president of The Gospel of the Alpha and Omega International and volunteers for the King's Cathedral Maui Children's Ministry.
Woodson earned his bachelor's degree in political science from California State University Fullerton.
He and his wife, Stacy, have four children ranging from 1 to 8 years old.
Woodson said he has grown an emotional attachment to Maui through relations in the community such as school and other events, which he called a "blessing."
"I may not be from Maui, (but) I feel that I am of Maui," he said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.