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Incumbents easily take top spots in council races

Maui County Council Member Tasha Kama talks about Saturday’s election results at the Courtyard by Marriott Maui Kahului Airport, where she and family members were watching the election results. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Maui County Council incumbents easily captured the most votes in three separate three-way races Saturday night.

The top two vote-getters in the West Maui, Kahului and Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seat races now advance to the general election on Nov. 3.

In the Kahului residency seat race, incumbent Tasha Kama held a firm lead from the first printout and coasted to the top slot. She grabbed 35.4 percent or 15,529 votes.

The race for second-place was one of the closer council races.

First-time candidate Carol Lee Kamekona polled 10,792 votes or 24.6 percent, followed by Deb Kaiwi with 8,392 votes or 19.1 percent. There were a significant number of blank votes 9,128 or 20.8 percent.

Mike Molina

“I feel good,” Kama said after the first printout. “(But) the night is still young. It’s hard to predict.”

She also gave kudos to her opponents and their vote totals.

“I remember starting just like them,” Kama said, who lost in previous runs before winning her seat two years ago. “You go and you go, and no can. You learn along the way.”

Kama, who was awaiting vote totals at the Courtyard by Marriott in Kahului with a couple of family members, took pride in that all three candidates for the seat are Native Hawaiian women.

At a beach in Makena, Kamekona’s supporters could be heard over the cellphone cheering, with her telling them “only the first printout guys.”

Tamara Paltin

Kamekona said she felt she could outlast Kaiwi in the final printouts, but that for the general election she will have to push harder. She said she did not do any mailers as her campaign is grass roots and relied on sign waving and online forums and surveys.

She spent the day visiting with kupuna in South Maui and historical sites because she wanted to distance herself from the campaign Saturday.

Kaiwi was driving home to Kahului from her daughter’s house in Upcountry when she learned of the first printout results from The Maui News. Asked if she could catch Kamekona, she said “we’ll see.”

Kaiwi, who ran for the seat lasr election and lost, said: “If I’m not needed, I’m not wanted, no skin off my back.” She said she was running to help the county.

In the West Maui council residency race, incumbent Tamara Paltin carried large leads throughout the night over the second place vote-getter, Rick Nava, with 48.5 percent of the votes or 21,274 to Nava’s 25.2 percent or 11,050 votes.

First-time candidate Sne Patel was third with 8.8 percent or 3,845 votes.

After the second printout, showing him with a solid second-place finish, Nava said he now has to work harder. He also pointed to the 7,673 blank votes or 17.5 percent in his race.

“As you know, primary is always lower voter turnout; with the mail, we just don’t know,” he said of this election cycle.

He added that it is always tough running against an incumbent, but he said “people need to come out and look at her track record.”

Nava touted his business experience and community service.

“In our business community, this is where I believe I have a lot to bring to the table in my business experience,” he said.

Patel conceded after the first printout but said he would run again.

“It’s pretty much the writing on the wall there,” he said Saturday evening from home. “That was the majority of the votes . . . I won’t be moving on.”

Patel said he got “a late start” on his campaign as he filed on the last day. “I’d like to stay involved. I would like to run again,” he added.

Patel admitted that the pandemic played a role in not being able to get out to meet others and get his name out. He said it is hard reach people with “a piece of paper or a website.”

“We did the best we could,” he said.

Paltin could not be reached for comment Saturday night.

Mike Molina, who holds the Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seat, totalled 58.2 percent and 25506 votes — the highest vote total in the council races on the primary election ballot.

Second was Aja Eyre with 20.9 percent or 9,154 votes, and Laurent Zahnd was third with 1,865 votes or 4.3 percent.

After the first printout, Molina said that being pleased about his vote total was “an understatement.” He said he was “very pleased and very thankful and humble.”

But he said he sees his reelection effort like a football game at halftime and will work hard in the general election. Molina felt that his record and actions on the council and in the community led to his results.

First-time candidate Eyre said she was excited after the first printout. “This was just word of mouth,” she added, explaining she did not put up any yard signs. “I just wanted to listen and hear what the voters had to say.”

But Eyre said that the pandemic made it difficult to campaign and meet people face to face. Instead, she relied on digital media and talking to friends. For the general election, she would like to do more videos so people can get to know her.

She also would like to educate the public on the County Charter amendments that will be on the general election ballot, which she felt was more important than some of the political races.

She added that newcomers garnering significant vote totals shows that there is a push for new ideas. She felt that with mail-in ballots people were able to take their time and, perhaps, do research on candidates, rather than just relying on name recognition.

“This is what we wanted to see in the primary,” Eyre said. “My committee and my supporters are thrilled about this.”

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