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Bissen launches bid for Maui County mayor

Retired Maui judge joins incumbent Victorino in mayor’s race

Retired 2nd Circuit Court Chief Judge Richard Bissen, pictured here in 2018, announced that he will run for Maui County mayor, taking on incumbent Mayor Michael Victorino. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Newly retired 2nd Circuit Chief Judge Richard “Rick” Bissen announced Monday that he plans “to continue serving the people of Maui County” by running for mayor.

“I care about this community. This community has done so much for me. I care about family, friends, the residents that are here,” he said. “That’s my main reason for running. I care about the people and the community.

“I also feel that I have the leadership experience to help us through this time we’re in.”

Bissen, 59, a Kahului resident, retired Dec. 30 after 34 years of government service, including 16 years and eight months on the 2nd Circuit bench. He was chief judge for the last two and a half years and in September received the Jurist of the Year award recognizing his leadership in the pandemic, when the 2nd Circuit became the first in the state to restart jury trials in December 2020.

In a news release announcing his run for mayor, Bissen urged “all residents to participate in our county’s decision making by registering to vote and casting your ballot.”

Then-2nd Circuit Court Chief Judge Richard Bissen receives a proclamation from new 2nd Circuit Court Judge Kirstin Hamman during a ceremony marking his retirement in his courtroom on Dec. 28.

“Since caring for Maui County will require a team effort and collective kuleana, I welcome your ideas and your mana’o and invite you to join the Bissen Movement,” he said.

The release said Bissen “listens and is looking forward to hearing ideas from Maui residents on how to improve Maui County.”

“The primary focus of the Bissen Movement will be prosperity for all residents of Maui County — Kama’aina Prosperity,” the release said.

Along with Bissen, incumbent Mayor Michael Victorino will be on the ballot for the Aug. 13 primary election after he announced Sunday that he will seek a second four-year term as mayor. He and Bissen are among the first candidates to formally announce that they plan to run for the seat. Candidate filing for the 2022 elections begins March 1, with the primary election set for Aug. 13 and the general election on Nov. 8, according to the state Office of Elections.

Bissen said that in the weeks ahead, he will unveil more specific proposals to address key issues including housing, jobs and the environment.

“These are unique times that we live in,” Bissen said. “I think it will require unique leadership. I want to be solution oriented and do what’s best for the greater good.”

The 1979 graduate of St. Anthony High School in Wailuku went on to earn a bachelor of science degree in political science from the University of Santa Clara, then a law degree from the William S. Richardson School of Law at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

He served as a law clerk for 2nd Circuit Judge Richard Komo before being hired as a county deputy prosecutor in 1987. He was appointed county prosecuting attorney in 1995 and served two terms as head of the department, first under Mayor Linda Lingle, then Mayor James “Kimo” Apana.

In 2003, he was appointed to be first deputy for the state Attorney General’s office in Honolulu. He was named acting director of the state Department of Public Safety in December 2004 before being confirmed to fill a new position for a 2nd Circuit judge in May 2005.

Bissen is a member of the Hale Mua cultural group and the Royal Order of Kamehameha I, Kahekili Chapter IV.

He has served as a member, director or officer of the Punana Leo O Maui Advisory Committee, Kamehameha Schools Maui Campus Advisory Committee and the Paia Elementary, Lihikai Elementary and Kamehameha Schools Maui Campus parent teacher associations. He also has served on the board of directors of Maui United Way, Maui Memorial Medical Center and Maui Chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Bissen was a founding member of the Maui Drug Court program in 2000 and a member of the Hawaii Juvenile Justice State Advisory Committee from 2003 to 2011. He has served as vice president of a nonprofit organization overseeing federal money for a mentoring program designed for young Hawaiian men on Maui and has been on the board of directors of Hui O Wa’a Kaulua, Maui Voyaging Society.

Bissen and his wife, Kaihi, have been together for 30 years and married for 26. He has three adult daughters and three grandsons.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com.

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