Four candidates vie for District 11 seat

Terez Amato • Age: 46 • Birthplace: San Francisco, Calif. • Town of residence: Kihei • Party: Democrat • Occupation: Self-employed bookkeeper • Education: Certified Quickbooks ProAdvisor Credential (Intuit), University of Hawaii Maui College (Accounting), St. Anthony High School • Political experience: State Senate District 6 candidate in 2018, 2014 • Community service: Sierra Club board member, treasurer; Maui Farmers Union member; Surfrider Foundation volunteer; Maui Film Festival volunteer; Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project volunteer; Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership volunteer; Friends of Haleakala National Park volunteer; West Maui Mountains Watershed Partnership volunteer • Family: Four children

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Maui News is profiling contested state legislative and county races in the lead-up to the Aug. 13 primary. Today’s feature focuses on candidates seeking the House District 11 seat that covers Kihei, Wailea and Makena.

In a race with no incumbent, two Republicans and two Democrats are vying for a chance to represent South Maui in the state House of Representatives.

For the primary election, Terez Amato and Randal Mahiai Jr. will compete in the Democratic race, while Shekinah Cantere and Netra Halperin face off in the Republican contest.

The winners will advance to the general election to fill the District 11 seat representing Kihei, Wailea and Makena. The seat is now held by Tina Wildberger, a Democrat who announced in April that she wouldn’t seek reelection after two terms.

Maui County Council Member Kelly King had contemplated running for the seat before deciding to run for mayor instead.

Randal Mahiai Jr. • Age: 36 • Birthplace: Honolulu • Town of residence: Kihei • Party: Democrat • Occupation: Recreation department at a hotel in Wailea • Education: University of Hawaii Maui College, Certificate of Competence in Culinary Arts, 2006; Maui High School, 2004 • Political experience: None • Community service: Quarterly beach cleanups with employer • Family: Single

Candidates for both Democratic and Republican office voiced their concerns about Kihei high school’s crossing situation, floated the idea of capping the number of tourists on island and talked about the need for affordable housing.


After unsuccessful runs against incumbent Sen. Roz Baker for the state Senate District 6 seat in the 2018 and 2014 Democratic primaries, Terez Amato is now seeking election to the state House.

“This has never been about a job,” she said. “This is about stepping up to ensure the voices of our community are heard and represented at the state level.”

Amato, who moved to Maui when she was 4 and graduated from St. Anthony High School in Wailuku, said she was a single mother who raised four children in Kihei.

Shekinah Cantere • Age: 27 • Birthplace: Saipan, Northern Marianas Island • Town of residence: Kihei • Party: Republican • Occupation: Hawaiian studies kumu at Kamalii Elementary School, self-employed at Shekinah Cares • Education: University of Hawaii Maui College, Associate of Arts in Liberal Arts; Kihei Charter High School, 2012 • Political experience: None • Community service: Trash pickups, 2002-present; Performing hip-hop, hula and Tahitian at Ka Hale A Ke Ola, 2003-2004; teaching and performing hula for the elderly at Roselani Place, 2005-2008; building homes on Kauai, 2012; agricultural work on Molokai, 2013; EMMWP and WMMWP volunteer, 2014-2017. • Family: Married, three children

“It gives me an intimate understanding of the challenges facing our working families,” she said.

In the past, Amato worked as a bookkeeper, cleaned swimming pools and was a licensed child care provider and sales clerk.

While she lists her occupation as self-employed bookkeeper in her campaign spending report for the six months ending in December, Amato said said her current job is “advocate for the people.”

“I am a full-time advocate for the people of South Maui,” she said. “The cost of living is exploding, partly from inflation, largely from a housing crisis. Environmental issues, clean water and clean energy are critical.”

She said she would propose building affordable housing on “free state land that is not in environmentally or culturally sensitive areas.”

Netra Halperin • Age: 63 • Birthplace: Redwood City, Calif. • Party: Republican • Town of residence: Kihei • Occupation: Permitting consultant • Education: Antioch University, Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology, 1989; San Francisco University, Bachelor of Arts in Women Studies, 1985 • Political experience: State House District 11 candidate in 2010, 2012; legislative analyst for Rep. Rida Cabanilla, 2009 and 2011 • Community service: Social worker for Women Helping Women, Aloha House and Maui Youth and Family Services, 1990-2000 • Family: Single

The homes would be for teachers and other civil servants, she said.

“It should cost half as much to do because the land is free,” she said. “It has to be done. We can’t let people leave just because they don’t have a place to live.”

To address the issue of overtourism, she said she would propose limiting the number of tourists to the carrying capacity of each island.

“We need a tourism cap,” she said.

Amato said she supports a reservation system for beaches and lodging, such as those in place at Haleakala National Park and Hanauma Bay on Oahu.

“I believe that would actually reduce the number of arrivals because people would be encouraged to make sure they have reservations,” she said. “Then they will be forced to plan their trips based on location availability.”

Questioning the safety of a roundabout being constructed to slow traffic nearby, Amato said she believes the long-awaited opening of a Kihei high school should be delayed until an another way is devised for students to cross four-lane Piilani Highway.

“We must have safe passage across the highway and we cannot compromise on this,” she said. “The only solution is to provide safe passage using an underpass or an overpass to cross a four-lane highway.

“We have been waiting 30-plus years for this high school. Once the school opens, it may be too late. We cannot take that chance.”

If elected, Amato said she would install cameras in her office that the public could view.

“So there will be no back-room deals on my watch,” she said. “I will never accept donations from corporations or their lobbyists.”


Randal Mahiai Jr. said he has always been interested in politics.

So after hearing that Tina Wildberger wouldn’t seek reelection to the state House, “I felt it was time in my life, that I wanted to step up and give back to the community,” he said.

Mahiai, who was born on Oahu and grew up in Kaimuki, moved to Maui with his family in 1999 and graduated from Maui High School. He attended culinary school at then-Maui Community College and worked in the industry for a while.

Now he works in the hospitality industry as a beach and pool associate at a Wailea hotel.

The first-time candidate said his top priority is increasing the supply of affordable housing for families. If elected, he said he would meet with county officials and developers to brainstorm and develop a plan to create more affordable housing. That could include tax incentives for builders, he said.

Mahiai said another priority would be economic diversification and tourism management.

Those issues hit close to home during the pandemic.

“Being in the hospitality industry, I was affected as well,” he said. “I wasn’t working for a while.”

He views agriculture as the biggest area for diversification. Mahiai said he would work with farmers to come up with ideas, possibly including offering incentives, “to spur the agricultural industry so we can one day become food stable.”

He also wants to explore possibilities for renewable energy industries, including solar energy and wave energy.

In canvassing the district and talking with area residents, Mahiai said one of the biggest concerns is the roundabout at the new high school.

“The roundabout is more of a European concept,” he said. “The biggest fear is people won’t know how to use the roundabout. It can be confusing, especially for the kupuna.”

There are concerns about what might happen while drivers are heading to work as students cross the highway, he said. “I would hate to see a child get hurt.”

“At this point, since it is being built, all we can do is once it opens, review it and see how it works, if it does,” he said.

If the roundabout becomes a “nightmare,” “we’ll definitely revisit and see what other options we can take with the Department of Transportation,” he said.

A lifelong Democrat, Mahiai said he was inspired by his grandfather.

“He always taught me the values of the Democratic Party,” Mahiai said.

Growing up, he looked up to late Democratic U.S. Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka.

“They did a lot of great things for Hawaii,” Mahiai said. “Hopefully, one day I can follow in their footsteps, do a lot of great things for South Maui. If elected, I’d like to give back for the better of South Maui.”


When Shekinah Cantere was approached about running for the state House seat, the mother of three thought about “skyrocketing” costs affecting residents.

“They were telling me they need people — and people that are community-minded, so I just went for it,” she said. “That’s really my motivation — my kids, my community.

“This is my home. I’m just trying to make it better.”

The first-time candidate was born in Saipan, where her family owned a fireworks stand and her father was a boat captain. She was 5 when the family moved to Kihei, where she grew up.

She previously worked part-time as a Hawaiian studies kumu at Kamalii Elementary for four years. Now, with her children ages 7, 1 and 5 months, she owns a business, Shekinah Cares, that provides nanny services for kids, as well as swim, surf and hula lessons.

“I try to help others, especially moms that are struggling,” she said.

One issue she would tackle is affordable housing.

“So many people that have been part of the community are moving away,” she said. “A lot of outsiders are buying homes here and local people a lot of times aren’t getting the first opportunity to buy.”

She also wants to see more help for homeless people in South Maui by building a homeless shelter there and providing mental health services.

With tourists flocking back to Maui after the shutdown during the pandemic, Cantere sees overtourism as another issue. “People feel like they’re being run down,” she said.

Despite the reliance on tourism, “Do you actually know a lot of people that make a lot of money off tourism? It’s the big corporations,” she said.

“It’s great to have tourists, but I think it can be managed a lot better than now,” she said. “We as locals have a way of life. If people feel run out and tourists come before the community, there’s not going to be a lot of aloha to give.”

A solution might be capping the number of tourists, she said.

Cantere said she wants to see full-time Hawaiian studies programs for schools, including Kamalii Elementary, where she was working only 17 hours a week.

“A big thing I’d like to do would be to incorporate a lot more culture into the school systems,” she said. “That would help the kids have a bigger perspective, be more community minded.”

In going door to door to talk to people, “I haven’t heard one good thing” about the roundabout under construction at the new Kihei high school, Cantere said.

“People are not for it. It’s super dangerous,” she said.

She also questions why the school was built in a location so close to the highway and supports a safer crossing than the roundabout before the school opens.

“We waited for that school to open for 25 years,” she said. “What’s another three years for safety?”


After running unsuccessfully to represent South Maui in the state House as a Democrat a decade ago, Netra Halperin said she at first was hesitant to try again.

Then a friend contacted her four days before the filing deadline to persuade her.

Now she’s putting up yard signs and knocking on voters’ doors.

“That’s the beauty of a state House race,” she said. “You can literally talk to everybody who votes.

“It might be a tough race, but at least I can get my message out there.”

Halperin first moved to Maui in 1992 from the San Francisco Bay area, then did some traveling before returning in 2005. She ran for the state House District 11 seat in the Democratic primary in 2010 and 2012.

“I’m older and wiser,” she said.

She previously was a social worker for nonprofits Maui Youth & Family Services, Aloha House and Women Helping Women. In 2009 and 2011, she worked as a legislative aide for state House Rep. Rida Cabanilla of Waipahu, Oahu.

Now she has a consulting business to help people get Maui County permits, in the past for bed and breakfasts and now for other building projects.

Part of her platform is a result of seeing how long the process can take, in part because of a backlog of applications. While review is needed to ensure a development won’t harm the ocean, a special management permit takes six to eight months or longer to obtain, she said.

Halperin said she would submit a bill for state funding so counties can hire employees to speed the process.

“They need to dramatically reduce the timeline,” she said.

She said that could help in building affordable housing.

“Because everything’s so difficult, people don’t want to build here,” she said. “We’re lacking affordable housing. We’re not lacking luxury housing.”

Another issue is clean oceans and the need for alternatives to the use of injection wells at the Kihei Wastewater Treatment Plant, Halperin said.

Noting that high turbidity has been recorded at Cove Park in Kihei, she suggests reviewing a couple of pilot projects — one using vetiver plants and another using vermifilter worms to clean sewage — to see if they could be used.

“I’m not a scientist, so I’m putting the ideas out there,” she said. “I think that would be a lot better than the injection wells.”

Halperin said the issue of overtourism is “complex because 40 percent of Maui residents rely on tourism to pay the bills.”

“I agree that there’s too much tourism,” she said. “It’s not appropriate numbers-wise. It’s beyond Maui’s carrying capacity. On the other hand, I would not advocate for reducing it until there’s diversified economics, more economic options for people.”

That could be done through the film industry, including film studios, and an ocean mammal research center on Maui, she said.

Halperin said she would push for a pedestrian overpass at the new high school rather than risk flooding and other risks associated with an underpass.

With an impending recession, she said some people may be disenchanted with Democrats and more likely to vote for a Republican.

“When I ran 10 years ago, none of the problems I ran on have been solved,” Halperin said. “They have all gotten worse.”

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


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