Tsutsui weighing run for Maui County mayor
Decision regarding 2018 election could cause political ripple effect
The political rumor mill is buzzing at the state Capitol and among those vying to succeed Mayor Alan Arakawa.
And, it all stems from Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui — whether he decides to enter the Maui mayor’s race, and, if so, when he would step down as lieutenant governor, and how that could set off a ripple effect through the leadership of the state Senate or House.
On Thursday, the 45-year-old Wailuku resident and former Senate president confirmed that he’s “pretty certain” he won’t seek re-election as lieutenant governor, and he’s thinking about running for mayor.
“It’s something I’m being asked about, almost on a daily basis,” he said. “Lots of people on Maui want me to come home.”
“Maui will always be my home,” he said. “I do miss being there.”
And, coming home is attractive for Tsutsui, who is married and has three daughters ranging in age from 8 to 17 years old.
“I haven’t ruled anything out, but I haven’t made any decisions either,” he said. “My thinking is that in 2018 I do want to come home to Maui . . . In terms of what I intend to do, I haven’t really made up my mind.”
If Tsutsui resigns to run for mayor, there would be a vacancy in the lieutenant governor’s office, and Senate President Ron Kouchi of Kauai would be first in the line of succession. If he declines, next up would be House Speaker Joe Souki of Wailuku.
When asked about the prospect Wednesday, Souki said, “I don’t know.”
“I did show an interest in it,” Souki said. “It’s dependent upon Shan, when he’s going to be leaving.”
There’s no indication when that might happen, he said.
And, it’s dependent on Kouchi, who at first said he wasn’t interested, and then opened the door by saying, “Never say never,” in a column this week by Honolulu Civil Beat.
“There’s a lot of ifs,” Souki said. “If it comes to me, I’d probably look at it. . . . But it’s still in Neverland at this point.”
West Maui Rep. Angus McKelvey agreed.
“It’s up in the air, just all over the place,” he said.
If Tsutsui waits until the filing deadline on June 5, 2018, then there would be only about a half year remaining in the lieutenant governor’s term, and there would be little reason for Souki to give up his position as House speaker, McKelvey said.
If Souki were to leave the House, “Maui’s position would be murky at best,” he said.
Tsutsui earns $148,800 annually as lieutenant governor, according to the Commission on Salaries report and recommendations to the 2013 Legislature. On July 1, his pay increases to $151,776, and on July 1, 2018, it rises to $154,812. That’s nearly $3,000, or about 2 percent, more than the mayor’s recent 12 percent pay increase to $151,980.
Former five-term Maui County Council Member Mike Victorino has eyed the Maui County mayor’s office for years and confirmed Thursday that he’s running for mayor in 2018.
He said he’s heard scuttlebutt about a potential Tsutsui candidacy while at the Capitol lobbying for the Hawaii State Association of Counties.
“Right now, rumors are like fleas. They’re all over the place,” he said. “I’m running. . . . We all got to face each other in the race, and the people decide.”
Victorino said he’s heard that Tsutsui wants to leave his lieutenant governor’s office as soon as the current legislative session ends May 4 and launch his campaign for mayor.
“I say, ‘Whatever, it’s his call,’ ” Victorino said. “I can’t wish him luck . . . I don’t know why he wants to come back to Maui. . . . He’s destined to become governor in the not-too-distant future.”
Victorino said he gives credence to what he’s heard about Tsutsui’s plans from “people I know down here at the Legislature.”
“It’s not like a secret or anything of that nature,” he said. “These are people who know Shan. They all know he’s talking about a change of career.”
Aside from Tsutsui and Victorino, other potential mayoral candidates include Council Member Elle Cochran, who holds the West Maui residency seat; Council Member Don Guzman, who holds the Kahului residency seat; former Council Member Don Couch; and South Maui state Rep. Kaniela Ing.
Cochran announced her intention to run while appearing as a panelist at a gathering late last year.
In a video posted on YouTube by the Hawaii People’s Congress, Cochran said: “In 2018, I’m not going to be a council member any more. I’m going to run to be the mayor of Maui County.”
In addressing the group, she disapproves of Maui County’s budgeting priorities and expresses hope that a progressive movement in the state would pave the way for positive change. She took aim at the political “status quo” that “has this stronghold on the government.”
“We need to switch up this government,” she told the group. “We need to make sure that people are in place to make the right decisions for all of us, not just the select few.”
Attempts to contact Cochran, Guzman and Couch for comment were unsuccessful Thursday.
Ing said that running for mayor is “something a lot of folks have been urging me to do.”
“I can’t rule anything out,” he said.
But, for now, he’s focused on serving his South Maui constituents in the House.
Looking at campaign finances among prospective mayoral candidates, Tsutsui has — by far — the most available.
For the period of July 1 to Dec. 31, he reported having a cash surplus of $240,362, according to Campaign Spending Commission records.
Victorino reported having $8,147. Guzman showed a surplus of $22,613. Couch had $9,235 in cash available, and Ing reported having $36,267. Cochran had $60,662 in debts and a deficit of $57,278.
Victorino said he’s working on forming committees for his mayoral campaign, securing his base of support and launching fundraising “pretty quick,” even though there’s about 19 months remaining before the general election in 2018.
Victorino has a medical history of an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, but he said he’s been given a clean bill of health.
“The doctors say I’m doing excellent, just watch my weight and exercise,” he said.
His healthy lifestyle has forced him to stay away from his favorite late-night snack, saimin noodles — because of their high sodium content, he said.
“That’s the killer; that’s the worst, giving up saimin,” he said.
Tsutsui said a potential lifestyle change is part of his decision-making process.
Since his election to the state Senate in 2002, Tsutsui has been “living out of a suitcase,” traveling to Honolulu, first as a state senator and then as lieutenant governor, he said.
Staying at home to serve the people of Maui County would be “very attractive to me,” he said, allowing him to “tuck my kids into bed, whether they like it or not.”
The decision on whether to run for mayor will hinge on “whether I feel I can make a big difference or not,” Tsutsui said.
For now, though, “I don’t wake up in the morning with that thought that I need to be mayor or that I need to run,” he said.
* Brian Perry can be reached at email@example.com.