Voters snub Arakawa in primary election for Kahului council seat

With all but one precinct reporting, mayor trails, but assured place in general election

Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa is interviewed at Akaku about his Maui County Council bid. He was in a tight battle with Natalie Tasha Kama for the seat vacated by Don Guzman, who is running for mayor. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

One of the biggest surprises on primary election night came with the first printout, with Mayor Alan Arakawa trailing social justice advocate Natalie “Tasha” Kama for the Kahului residency seat on the Maui County Council.

Because of term limits, Arakawa is unable to seek re-election as mayor. But he is attempting to return to the County Council seat he held from 1995 to 1998 and from 2001 to 2002.

In the first printout, Kama held a narrow, 173-vote lead over Arakawa after absentee voting totals were released, remarkable not only because the mayor has far greater name recognition, but also because, as seen in Campaign Spending Commission records, he outspent Kama 5 to 1 — $72,006.43 expended by Arakawa from Jan. 1 through July 27 and $13,477.76 spent by Kama for the same period.

On the second printout, Kama widened her lead to 271 votes. And, then, in the third printout with all but one precinct reporting, Kama stayed ahead, extending her lead to 869 votes.

Arakawa could not be reached for comment Saturday night. Phone calls to his cellphone went unanswered.

Maui County Council candidate Tasha Kama smiles as the first printout is read. She was leading Alan Arakawa after the printout. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Kama said she felt “ecstatic” about her early success. Moving into the general election, “we’re going to double down, work harder,” she said.

Kama said she noticed that Arakawa had not attended many of the campaign events she went to leading up to the primary, and she heard the mayor in a televised Akaku interview say that he hadn’t been campaigning hard before the primary but he would do so for the general election.

“He assumed he’d be in the general,” she said.

Kama said that when she saw her lead in the first printout, she thought, “Oh, my God. It’s so unbelievable.”

She knew Arakawa outspent her, but she worked hard in July and outspent him in that month ($10,959.83 for Kama and $4,441.95 for Arakawa) for the period from July 1 to 27.

Tamara Paltin, who held a commanding lead in the West Maui Council residency seat, is interviewed by Akaku Maui Community Media Director of Government Access Chivo Ching-Johnson on Saturday night. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

“It is amazing,” Kama said. “What’s happening across the county and Maui too is that the vote is more important than the dollar.”

She also credited the support she’s received from groups like S.A.F.E. Sustainable Action Fund for the Environment and the Maui Pono Network.

Those groups are “helping push my name further out into the community than I ever could by myself,” Kama said.

She looks forward to the next election.

“We have an opportunity to improve what we’ve done in the primary,” she said.

Trinette Furtado, candidate for the Makawao, Haiku, Paia council residency seat, is interviewed at Akaku Maui Community Media. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Former Arakawa mayoral opponent Tamara Paltin, who came in first in the West Maui council residency vote, said she was pleasantly surprised.

“I’m so happy for Tasha Kama,” she said. “She’s doing great.”

Paltin said Kama, a fellow S.A.F.E. and Ohana Coalition candidate, was a “really strong candidate” with a “big focus on affordable housing.”

“I’m surprised, but not shocked,” she said.

The third Kahului council candidate, Deb Kaiwi, was a distant third in all three printouts.

Mike Molina, who has previously held the Makawao, Haiku, Paia council seat, is seeking the seat again. He was interviewed at Akaku Maui Community Media on Saturday night. -- The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

In her own race for the West Maui council residency seat, Paltin took a commanding early lead and built on it, winning 44.7 percent of the vote with all but one precinct reporting. Opponents Rick Nava and Kanamu Balinbin were in a neck-and-neck race to face Paltin in the Nov. 6 general election. As of 10 p.m., Nava led Balinbin by only 124 votes, getting 17 percent of the vote to Balinbin’s 16.6 percent.

Another strong lead on the first printout was taken by former Council Member Mike Molina in his bid to retake his former Makawao-Haiku-Paia council residency seat. He claimed 51.6 percent of the vote on the first printout. Then, after the third printout, his percentage shrunk to 43.1 percent, but he still led Ohana candidate Trinette Furtado, who had 34 percent.

In distant third place was Adam Borowiec, with 3 percent.

Molina said he believed his campaign’s message of “helping bring the council back together” was resonating with his supporters. And, he said he’s been campaigning on his major issues, affordable housing and public safety.

“People have said people have appreciated my work from the past, and they hope I’ll continue it,” he said.

Molina said he believed the positive results from primary election night would motivate his supporters to keeping working hard.

“We take nothing for granted,” he said, noting that he beat council Chairman Mike White in the 2014 primary race (40.5 to 35.7 percent) only to see White come back to win in the general election (50.1 to 35.7 percent).

In the Molokai council residency race, Council Member Stacy Crivello took an early lead with 46 percent of the vote, with Ohana Coalition candidate Keani Rawlins-Fernandez in second position on the first printout with 30.4 percent. But, by the third printout, the margin between the two closed somewhat to 43.1 percent for Crivello and 32.4 percent for Rawlins-Fernandez.

The third Molokai council candidate, Cora Caparida-Schnackenberg, was a distant third with 3.9 percent.

With just two candidates each, five council races skipped the primary and advanced directly to the general election.

Looking ahead, freshman Council Member Alika Atay will attempt to hold on to his Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat against a challenge from former longtime Council Member Alice Lee.

And two other freshmen, Upcountry Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura and South Maui Council Member Kelly King, will face challenges from Hannibal Starbuck and Zandra Amaral Crouse respectively.

Longtime Lanai Council Member Riki Hokama will have a rematch against Gabe Johnson, a candidate backed by the Ohana Coalition. In 2016, Hokama beat Johnson 23,272 to 19,092, or 44 to 36.1 percent.

In the East Maui council race, Ohana candidate Shane Sinenci will try a second time for the open seat vacated by retiring Council Member Bob Carroll. Sinenci will face Carroll’s daughter, Claire Kamalu Carroll, in November.

Two years ago, Bob Carroll held on to his seat by defeating Sinenci 25,273 to 19,119, or 47.7 to 36.1 percent.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.

COMMENTS