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Ige wants fast action to replace Joe Souki

Former House speaker pays $5,000 fine, apologizes publicly for sexual harassment

Joe Souki

Gov. David Ige said Thursday that he’s asked Maui County Democratic Party officials to move as quickly as possible to provide him with three names from which to appoint a new representative for the 8th District House seat.

The urgency comes as state lawmakers near final decision-making in this year’s legislative session that closes May 3, and as two-time former House Speaker Joe Souki of Wailuku stepped down last week as part of a settlement of sexual harassment charges brought against him before the Hawaii Ethics Commission. Maui party officials set a deadline for next week for candidates to submit applications.

Souki, 86, paid a $5,000 fine Monday and issued a public apology in a letter to House Speaker Scott Saiki. Souki is barred from seeking public office for at least two years.

In an interview Thursday afternoon with The Maui News, Ige stressed the importance of having representation in the Legislature for the people of the 8th House District, which includes Wailuku, Waikapu, Kahakuloa, Waihee, Waiehu and Puuohala.

Noting, for example, that the House budget does not have operating funds for Kaiser-affiliate Maui Health Systems, which has taken over Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital, Ige said that 8th District residents deserve representation and “that there are many important decisions that need to be made.”

Responding to suggestions that he not appoint someone to replace Souki for the last several months of his term, Ige said: “I don’t think it’s fair to the people of Wailuku and that district to say, ‘Look, your representation does not count.’ “

He said he told Maui Democratic officials that “I would definitely want a list from them as soon as possible.”

Once a list with three names is transmitted to him, the governor said he would interview the candidates “and name a replacement as quickly as I can so that the people in that district will be represented in the most important part of the session.”

Ige said that once he gets the party’s nominations, “it shouldn’t take me more than a couple of days” to make a decision on the appointee.

The governor has 60 calendar days, following the first day of the vacancy, to make the appointment.

Ige said he would want to meet the candidates, but if he knows some of them, “that would make it a little easier.”

“I’m committed to making a decision as soon as I can to make sure that the people of that district are represented . . . especially at this time when the most important decisions are being made,” he said.

Ige said his goal would be to appoint someone who’d well represent the community.

“Obviously, having experience would be helpful, but it is definitely not a prerequisite, a hard criteria,” he said. “I will just look and see who is on the list and who would most effectively represent the community.”

Souki’s payment of his fine, public apology and resignation of the seat he had held for more than three decades were all part of completing his part of a settlement agreement with the Hawaii Ethics Commission to resolve a sexual harassment complaint.

The commission’s website has a copy of Souki’s apology letter, addressed to Saiki.

It says: “In response to the allegations of sexual harassment brought against me by more than one woman, I apologize — to those women, to my constituents, and to the people of Hawaii — for my inappropriate and unacceptable behavior.”

Souki has described the inappropriate conduct as being the “touching” and “kissing” of more than one woman in incidents that happened between three and eight years ago. He has maintained he has “absolutely no memory of ever acting inappropriately.”

Rachael Wong, the former head of the state Department of Human Services, is the only woman to come forward publicly. She filed a sexual harassment complaint against Souki with the Ethics Commission that ended with the settlement agreement.

Meanwhile, the Maui County Democratic Party has set 3:30 p.m. Wednesday as the deadline for candidates to apply for the vacant District 8 seat.

Any resident of the district and a Democrat of good standing for at least six months is eligible to submit an application, which is available at mauidemocrats.org/wp/district-8-application/. Applicants need to fill out forms, including a “statement of candidacy,” an “application credentials and questions” and a “nomination form” with verified signatures of least five party members within District 8. A resume also must be submitted.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to serve the people of Hawaii and the residents of District 8. I encourage any interested Democrats to apply,” said Maui County party Chairman Timothy Lara.

Third-party nominations will not be accepted. Only applicants may submit their names for consideration.

Lara will receive all applications and date and time stamp each one. A confirmation of receipt will be sent within 24 hours for all applications received. All applicants will be vetted for residency and “good standing” before making it to the official list that will be forwarded to the District 8 Council for consideration.

The council will be the official nominating committee and will meet April 14. The committee will allow each candidate to speak for up to eight minutes, and committee members will be able to vote for up to three candidates. Casting more than one vote per candidate will not be allowed.

The final three names as identified by the nominating committee will then be transmitted to party leaders, who will forward the names to Ige.

Political observers think the appointee will have a slight advantage over other candidates for the seat this election year.

According to the state Office of Elections website, last updated March 29, five Wailuku residents had taken out nomination papers but had not yet filed them for the 8th House seat.

They are: attorney Lynn Araki-Regan, chief of staff for Mayor Alan Arakawa; Troy Hashimoto, executive assistant to Maui County Council Chairman Mike White; Justin Hughey, vice president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association; former Maui County Council Member Dain Kane; and Mary Wagner, business continuity plan manager in information technology in the county Department of Management.

The candidate filing deadline is June 5.

If a candidate from no other party contests the Nov. 6 general election, then the Democratic Party primary on Aug. 11 will determine the new 8th House member for the 2019-20 term.

* Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com, and Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.

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