Council candidates challenged
Haiku resident maintains term limits disqualify them from seeking council seats
Haiku resident Sean Lester is challenging the candidacies of Council Member Riki Hokama and former Council Members Mike Molina and Alice Lee, arguing that term limits adopted by voters in 1998 disqualify them from seeking council offices.
All three have served five consecutive two-year council terms: Lee from 1989 to 1998; Hokama from 1999 to 2008; and Molina from 2001 to 2010.
In written objections filed Tuesday with County Clerk Danny Mateo, Lester quotes the Maui County Charter’s provision that “no member of the County Council shall serve more than five consecutive full terms of office.”
Lester told Mateo that the intent of the 1998 charter amendment for term limits “was to ensure an elected position in Maui County would not be a place for long-term career politicians to spend decades in an elected position.”
He asked Mateo to disqualify Hokama, Molina and Lee as candidates.
Lester said Mateo has five business days to make a decision. Mateo did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday from The Maui News. Lester said that if Mateo rules against his challenges, he could appeal to 2nd Circuit Court.
Molina could not be reached for comment.
Following a council committee meeting, Hokama said: “At the end of the day, it’s the decision of the electorate that should stand.”
Lee said she found the timing of Lester’s challenge “suspect.”
“What is his agenda?” she asked, later saying that she believed Lester’s goal was to support candidates backed by the ‘Ohana Coalition, the citizen activist group that backed current Council Members Alika Atay, Kelly King, Elle Cochran, Don Guzman and others in 2016.
“I know he’s with the ‘Ohana Coalition. He supports them,” she said. “This is not pono . . . It smacks of a political agenda.”
Lee said that if Lester wants to change the law, then he should seek to amend the County Charter.
Lester acknowledged doing volunteer work with the ‘Ohana Coalition, including vetting candidates as recently as about a month ago, but he said that now he was challenging the candidates’ qualifications, based on term limits, as a citizen and a registered voter.
“This has nothing to do with them,” he said, referring to members of the coalition. “The bottom line is this is the law. This is what needs to be followed.”
Lester said it doesn’t make sense to have term limits that would allow a council member to serve five consecutive two-year terms, sit out two years and then return for a second set of five two-year terms. That would make the council office a “revolving door.”
He said he didn’t challenge other candidates earlier, on the same grounds, because he was not involved in island politics for a while.
Lee said she didn’t accept that explanation and continued to question Lester’s motivation for filing a challenge now.
Lee was among the group of council members who, in 1998, voted in favor of putting council term limits as a question before voters. The aim was to discourage council members for remaining for an “unusually long time,” she said.
“We felt it would be good to have other people run as well,” she said.
Lee said she believed a 10-year limit would be fair because it would allow council members who’ve served that long to qualify for retirement benefits. She said she was concerned that council members in their early terms would be more concerned with doing what’s popular than with getting public business done.
She said she had no plans to return to the council before this year. “Who steps out for 20 years and goes back?” she asked rhetorically.
But Lee said she received “so many calls” by “so many begging me to come back.”
Lee said she’s troubled by the lack of common courtesy among coalition-backed council members who allow “and even encourage supporters to come and be boisterous and unruly.”
“Our residents deserve more,” she said. “We need to follow norms and procedures.”
Lee said she has put much at stake by seeking council office, saying that if she wins, she’ll lose her retirement benefit while in office.
“I don’t take this lightly,” she said. “I don’t appreciate what Sean is trying to do. Some of us are dedicated to our community.”
Because of term limits, Hokama sat out the 2009-2010 council term, and he returned to the Lanai residency seat in 2011. He is seeking a second fifth consecutive council term. His opponent is Gabe Johnson, who has been endorsed by coalition-affiliated groups SAFE (Sustainable Action Fund for the Environment) and Maui Pono Network.
Molina is in a three-way race for his former Makawao-Haiku-Paia seat, now held by Council Chairman Mike White, who is not seeking re-election. Other candidates for the Makawao seat include Adam Borowiec and Trinette Furtado, who is backed by the SAFE and Maui Pono groups.
And, Lee is in a head-to-head contest with Atay for the Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat. Atay also is supported by the coalition groups.
Staff Writer Melissa Tanji contributed to this report.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.