A political veteran and newcomers seek senate seat vacated by Baker
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Maui News will continue to feature the profiles and platforms of candidates in the lead-up to the Aug. 13 primary election. Today’s stories focuses on the Democratic primary for the Senate District 7 seat along with the Democratic and Republican primary for the Senate District 6. Final stories on other races will be published in the coming days.
A veteran state legislator and political newcomers are in the running to represent state Senate District 6, which was redistricted to include southern areas of Wailuku and Kahului, as well as South and West Maui.
In the Democratic primary, first-time candidates Shaina Forsyth and Tamara Goebbert face state Rep. Angus McKelvey.
In the Republican race, Philip Raya and Sheila Walker will compete for the two-year term.
Also in the race is Green Party candidate Melissah Shishido.
The seat became vacant with the retirement of Democratic Sen. Roz Baker.
In her job as director of residences at the Montage at Kapalua Bay, Shaina Forsyth hears residents’ concerns while overseeing the homeowners association.
“It’s very important to maintain neutrality and treat all the owners equally,” she said.
Forsyth said she would take the same approach in the Legislature.
“If I’m elected, I would certainly take it as my serious responsibility to listen to all constituents.”
Forsyth was born and raised on Maui, attending King Kamehameha III Elementary, Lahaina Intermediate and Lahainaluna High schools. She moved away to attend the University of California at Los Angeles, earning a bachelor’s degree in engineering geology in 2007. She worked for a year in the environmental field in Los Angeles, then got a master’s degree in environmental science and management from the University of California, Santa Barbara.
After that, she moved back to Maui.
“I just have a real passion for our island and our community,” she said. “I want to give back. I want to see more people of my generation getting into office because it’s been a lot of the same legislators.”
While most of the hospitality industry is in West and South Maui, “housing there is almost impossible to find for our working class,” Forsyth said.
She would look for state and county land to build housing to reduce the cost, with the government entities also subsidizing infrastructure for roads, plumbing and electrical grids.
“Infrastructure is very important for this district, especially roads and water,” she said. “We all know the pali is almost falling into the ocean in some areas. It will be very important to move that highway. It’s also important to extend the bypass further north.
She also advocates for an overpass for students to cross safely at the new Kihei high school.
Forsyth said one of her passions is conservation and the environment.
“It’s important to focus of preserving our unique wild spaces and working on sustainability,” she said.
Forsyth said one of the biggest things she could do as a legislator is to vote to move along projects that are already in motion.
“It’s all about the relationships in the Legislature and making sure you can work collaboratively with people,” she said.
Forsyth said she would be “very happy,” no matter who wins the Democratic primary.
“We all have similar ideas,” she said. “I’m younger than Angus. I’m kind of the newer generation.
“He’s done some great things, but there’s a lot to be said for turnover. It’s healthy to have new voices every generation just because of the nature of politics. You can start to lose touch with your constituents. I’m fresh and eager and I have a lot of energy. I’m ready to work hard.”
After seeing how candidates were lining up for open state House and Senate seats, Tamara Goebbert said she saw like-minded candidates interested in the House but not the Senate in districts that include South Maui.
So the former state legislative aide and Kihei resident decided to run.
“Human to human, I’m a very outgoing person,” Goebbert said. “I have met so many people in this experience. I get to hear what they care about and I get to hear what they’re worried about, especially now with everything going on with the Supreme Court.”
After the high court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, “we need lawmakers that are going to stand up for the communities and stand up for these rights that are guaranteed by the Constitution,” Goebbert said.
“I am a pro-choice woman. Anybody can do what they want and it shouldn’t be lawmakers’ business.”
While abortion is legal in Hawaii, “if somebody in office is not here to stand for these rights, Hawaii could turn into one of these restrictive states,” Goebbert said.
Although she is a first-time candidate, Goebbert said she was an intern for Oahu state Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz in 2020 and was a legislative aide for Hawaii island state Rep. David Tarnas.
“Working at the capitol, I was seeing the process,” she said. “I was witnessing things people don’t see, things that happen behind closed doors.”
Her family immigrated from Samoa, first living in the “projects of Kalihi” on Oahu before her mother moved to the southern United States. She was adopted by her aunt when she was 4 and moved to Maui, where she grew up.
She said she would work to get funding for agroforestry and technology programs to help diversify the economy.
“I do believe that there’s overtourism here,” she said. “We’re definitely exceeding the number of visitors. Our environment is failing.”
She supports having tourists pay an extra “green fee” to help improve the environment such as conducting activities in West Maui hiking areas.
She also supports more restrictions on where people can carry guns and requiring gun buyers to undergo mental health evaluations.
“Nowadays, the crime rate involving firearms has skyrocketed, especially here in Hawaii,” she said. “Even though we have some of the strongest gun laws in the U.S., there are not enough laws prohibiting carrying firearms on K-to-12 campuses and there aren’t any threat assessment teams at any schools.
“It’s getting concerning. It is easier to have guns shipped here than get guns at a dealership. We really need to come up with a solution on how we are going to crack down on the firearms being shipped.”
Angus McKelvey reminds people he’s not the incumbent, although he does have the most political experience of candidates for the redistricted seat.
“I’m going to have great relationships to build on,” said McKelvey, who is finishing his eighth term in the state House. “I feel strongly I can bring my experience and my knowledge and my passion, not only to serve West Maui, also South Maui and southern portions of Kahului and Wailuku.”
The Lahaina resident, who has been a state House representative since 2006, said tackling the issue of affordable housing and rentals is critical.
“The tsunami of Mainland speculators who have come in and are buying houses willy-nilly, are getting rid of tenants or raising rents dramatically. People are forced to live on a couch or move to the Mainland.”
He said the county and state have to work together on solutions, including having the county create a new property tax schedule for offshore investors.
McKelvey, who led the effort to keep rents affordable at Front Street Apartments in Lahaina, said the state and county could identify areas to turn into affordable housing, such as the former Travel Lodge in Lahaina.
He said any affordable homes should have to remain affordable in perpetuity, like those established through the nonprofit Na Hale O Maui community land trust.
Another priority is funding to extend the Lahaina Bypass north.
A plan to fund the project with an increase in tax on rental cars fell through in the pandemic, McKelvey said. He said a new funding method could use general reimbursable bonds that would be paid back as rental car tax is collected.
Because of his experience in infrastructure issues, McKelvey said he would be in the best position to help secure funding for such projects, including moving Honoapiilani Highway inland.
“That’s the difference between my Democratic primary opponents and Republican candidates,” he said. “You can’t just show up and yell and scream. You’ve got to be able to identify the structural components to move it forward.”
He suggested using cane haul roads while the new highway is constructed to prevent traffic backups.
To offset the negative effects of tourism, McKelvey said a visitor fee, such as one on plane tickets for nonresidents, could be imposed to “help ensure that when tourists are coming, we’re generating revenue that will go back into quality of life issue impacts.”
Transient accommodations tax revenue that has gone to tourism marketing could go to other areas, such as cultural impacts and resource impacts, he said.
After the restaurant industry was hit hard by high leases and the loss of dine-in customers during the pandemic, Philip Raya decided he needed to do something.
“I just became an advocate for the community because people were coming to me for answers,” he said. “They were upset with our politicians, the guys that have been in office for a long time. They just felt not enough was being done. They needed new faces and new ideas to come in and really fight for the community.”
As COVID cases declined, the Kahana resident took over three businesses, including the Swell Life Shop clothing and sunscreen store in Aston Kaanapali Shores. He became managing partner of Roundtable Pizza restaurants in Kihei and Kaanapali. “We got them going again,” he said.
The California native attended Chaminade University in 1994 before moving to Maui in 1997. He worked in the hotel industry, then was a small business owner, opening Enjoy the Ride gym, which his partner took over.
He said one priority is managing tourism.
“We know it’s part of our community because we have these hotels and resources,” Raya said. “We have to manage it better because it’s having a big effect on our issues here. Maui has become a very popular place and our housing market is driven up by foreign investors from the Mainland that really came in when we were struggling with COVID.
“It’s driven them up so high that our local community, our workers, can’t afford to live here.”
That could be helped by higher pay and pensions for teachers, Raya said, as well as a two-year minimum residency requirement for out-of-state buyers. “It will at least slow things down and let our prices stabilize,” he said. “That way our local people can hopefully afford something.”
He said developers could be offered a tax credit or subsidy to encourage them to build affordable homes.
Raya also supports imposing a visitor tax, possibly by increasing the transient accommodations tax, with the proceeds going back to the community for small business and education.
“They should pay a little bit more because they’re using up a lot of our resources,” he said. “And then you will find that the quality of our guests is higher.”
Raya advocates lowering the blood quantum below 50 percent “for Native Hawaiians to reclaim their land.”
“The kamaaina, Native Hawaiians, are number one because this is their land,” he said. “It was illegally taken over by the U.S.”
When Sheila Walker spearheaded a move to recall Mayor Michael Victorino last year, “it drew a lot of attention,” she said.
Although the effort wasn’t successful, it was part of the reason she decided to run for the seat.
“I saw a lot of the dysfunction and corruption that goes on behind the scenes, and I felt very passionate about standing up for the people,” she said. “I just feel like we need some new faces and fresh perspective.”
Walker, a resident of Maui Meadows in Kihei, has lived on Maui since 2016 when she moved from Peru, where she ran a permaculture center in the Amazon jungle. Before that, the Missouri native owned a garment industry business in downtown Manhattan in New York City until 2010. “That’s where I learned most of my negotiation skills, my business acumen as well as working with so many diverse cultures,” she said.
If elected, priority will be on two top issues raised by constituents.
“The people on the west side are concerned about a hospital and emergency service to get to a hospital,” Walker said. “They already have the ground, they already have the plans, it’s already been approved. They just can’t get the certificate of need. We need to cut through this red tape.”
South Maui’s concern is traffic, which includes the roundabout near the new Kihei high school and proposals for an underpass or overpass.
She prefers an overpass as the more visible, safer alternative that wouldn’t flood or encourage loitering or criminal activity.
Until an overpass or underpass is built so students can safely cross Piilani Highway, Walker said “the inexpensive, easy solution” would be to have a bus transport students from the Kihei Aquatic Center to the school and back.
She also supports creation of a road between Upcountry and South Maui. A route from Lipoa Street in Kihei to Haliimaile could provide a “back entrance” to the high school, she said.
Better communication between the county and state Department of Transportation is needed to address traffic concerns, including the need for a stoplight at Mikioi Place in Kihei, Walker said.
“We need better access out of Kihei,” Walker said. “That’s important before they build anything in the Wailea-Makena area.”
She said Maui “can support the number of tourists that are here now, but we also need to create other streams of revenue so we aren’t solely reliant on tourists.”
“We have prime farmland and agricultural land,” she said. “There’s no reason why we couldn’t have cash crop with specific species of breadfruit, hemp and bamboo.
“Breadfruit could definitely sustain us if we were ever in a famine,” she said. “Hemp and bamboo could be used for building materials and clothing.”
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.