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After leaving due to term limits, Hokama to run for Lanai seat

This would be the third match-up between Hokama and incumbent Gabe Johnson

Incumbent Maui County Council Member Gabe Johnson (in photo) and former Council Member Riki Hokama appear headed for a third match-up after Hokama filed papers to run again, two years after stepping down due to term limits.

Longtime former Maui County Council Member Riki Hokama is looking to take his former seat back after having to relinquish it in 2020 due to term limits.

Hokama will face off against incumbent Council Member Gabe Johnson for the Lanai residency seat, according to state Office of Elections candidate reports as of Tuesday’s filing deadline. With just two candidates in the nonpartisan race, Johnson and Hokama would advance to general election ballot in November.

Hokama pulled papers for the seat on May 31, a week prior to Tuesday’s filing date.

“I was motivated by a lot of Lanai residents that had come forward and asked me if I’d consider running again to represent Lanai,” Hokama said Tuesday afternoon. “And when you go and check my nomination papers you will notice that 80 percent of the signatures is all Lanai residents.”

Hokama said that his experience and knowledge are what his supporters “are hoping that I can bring to the discussion and decision-making for them.”

Riki Hokama

“Part of it (is) I need to represent Lanai with some of my experience and knowledge of our history and some of the factors that went into decisions in the past that led up to this point,” Hokama said.

Johnson, who chairs the council’s Affordable Housing Committee, is serving his first term on the council.

“I support the voters of Maui County ability to have their choice of candidates when it comes to elections,” Johnson said Tuesday. “I would also add that I look forward to discussing policies with Mr. Hokama and anyone else.”

Johnson challenged Hokama unsuccessfully two times before, in the 2016 and 2018 elections. In the 2020 election, Johnson was the top vote-getter in the primary and went on to best Alberta De Jetley in the general election to claim the open seat.

“I will say that I haven’t seen Mr. Hokama on the island of Lanai because he is working on Maui so he needs to be sure he has the residency requirement fulfilled,” Johnson added.

Hokama said he is actually retired and admitted, “I’m not there all the time.”

“I’m a retiree. I have a life,” he said, noting that all the things he wants to do now may not all be on Lanai.

Hokama said he did bring this situation up with supporters that encouraged him to run.

“They said ‘OK’,” said Hokama, who has spent some time as a special assistant to Mayor Michael Victorino since leaving the council.

While Hokama stepped down in 2020 after completing his fifth consecutive two-year term, he is eligible to run again under the County Charter even as term limits were amended by voters in 2020.

Some community members and Johnson’s supporters on social media have questioned Hokama’s ability to run.

While the charter amendment approved two years ago would limit council members to only serving five two-year terms on the council, the change did not take effect until Jan. 2, 2021, according to information on the county’s website regarding the amendments, which allows candidates like Hokama to return to the council.

Maui County Clerk Kathy Kaohu on Tuesday confirmed that the effective date for the amendment was Jan. 2, 2021, the start of the newest council term following the vote on the charter question.

In other council races, the contest for the Kahului residency seat is a full field with seven candidates, including incumbent

Council Member Tasha Kama. Candidates who have filed are: Cara Flores, Carol Lee Kamekona, Buddy James Nobriga, Tina Pedro, Jack (Jason) Schwartz and Keoni Watanabe.

Five candidates have filed to assume the Makawao-Haiku-Paia residency seat on the council being vacated by Council Member Mike Molina, who is running for mayor. The candidates are: Aram Armstrong, Nara Boone, Dave DeLeon, Daniel (Kaniela) Smith and Nohe U’u-Hodgins.

Incumbent Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who holds the Upcountry residency seat, will face off against Renee Cruz and Jordan Hocker.

The race for the South Maui residency seat on the council will see Tom Cook, Robin Knox and Dennis O’Shea.

They will seek current Council Member Kelly Takaya King’s seat on the council. King is now running for mayor after withdrawing papers to run for the State House of Representatives District 11 seat.

She officially announced her mayoral candidacy on Tuesday.

In the race for the East Maui residency seat on the council, incumbent Council Member Shane Sinenci will once again face off against Claire Kamalu Carroll who has unsuccessfully run against him twice before. Carroll is seeking the council seat once held by her father, Bob Carroll.

Council Chairwoman Alice Lee will see competitor Noelani Ahia in the general election for the Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat on the council.

For the Molokai residency seat, incumbent and Council Vice Chairwoman Keani Rawlins-Fernandez will face challenger John Pele.

In the West Maui residency seat race incumbent Tamara Paltin will face Justin Herrmann, who filed on Tuesday.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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