Sugimura secures most votes in council races, Kama narrowly on top

Incumbents headed to the general election against newcomers Hocker, Nobriga

Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura appears at the Akaku studios in Kahului for her interview on election night. Sugimura was the leading candidate in all council races with 20,360 votes, or 51.6 percent, as she defended her Upcountry residency seat. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

In a loaded primary election race for the Maui County Council’s Kahului seat, incumbent Council Member Tasha Kama rose above the rest Saturday night to advance to the general election in November, with Buddy Nobriga behind by just over 200 votes, or less than one percentage point.

Among seven candidates running for the Kahului residency seat, the polls pointed toward Kama and Nobriga, who finished with 8,991 votes, or 22.8 percent, and 8,738 votes, or 22.1 percent, respectively.

The two were deadlocked all night, with Kama leading the way with with 24.7 percent or 6,752 votes, while Nobriga followed with 23.9 percent or 6,517 votes after the first printout.

By the second printout, Kama maintained her lead with 6,921 votes, or 24.3 percent, as the 36-year-old Nobriga held his place with 6,733 votes, or 23.6 percent.

Kama, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, has served as a council member since 2018 when she defeated former Mayor Alan Arakawa in a race for his old seat. She currently chairs the council’s Human Concerns and Parks Committee and has previously served as the chairperson for the Affordable Housing Committee and vice chairperson for the former Environment, Agriculture and Cultural Preservation Committee.

She could not be immediately for comment on Saturday night.

Surprised by the close finish, Nobriga was pleased with the tallies that will boost him into the general election against the sitting council member.

“All I can say is ‘so far so good’ and I just didn’t know what to expect. Like I said, it’s awesome, you know, we’re right there with the incumbent and she’s a real awesome lady, so I have a lot of respect for her,” he said via phone Saturday night from the family business, Maui Soda & Ice Works. “It’s not over until it’s over, so we’ll just reassess and hit the ground running and kind of see where we can make up ground and I think that’s just meeting more and more people — there’s nothing like the power of face to face and just letting people know who I am and tell them what I’m about.”

He noted that he entered the race “for the right reasons,” which is to serve the community.

“I’ve just really enjoyed the journey and met a lot of Maui that I’ve never met before,” he said while watching the polls with close family and friends.

Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, the incumbent in the race for the Upcountry residency seat, had the biggest lead of all the council races after the first report came out — 15,548 votes, or 57 percent — and had 15,859 by the second reading to stay ahead of challenger Jordan Hocker’s 4,653 votes, or 16.3 percent. Sugimura even secured more votes than the top finisher in the mayor’s race (Richard Bissen, with 13,407) as she ended the primary with 20,360 votes, or 51.6 percent, to Hocker’s 7,517 votes, or 19 percent.

“I’m grateful for the number of votes I’ve gotten,” she said after midnight while waiting for the third printout. “I believe that what my votes show is that there’s a cross section of people that I can appeal to, I guess, to receive votes and that’s very reassuring to me because I believe I represent the people of Maui County, so that confirms my belief in the work that I do.”

Sugimura, who has been on the council since 2017, has often advocated and started initiatives for issues surrounding drought, axis deer, water and workforce housing.

Hocker, a 33-year-old researcher, mom and political newcomer from Kula, said in a Maui News questionnaire that she believes housing is the biggest concern in Maui County. She believes that homeownership costs can be subsidized through the Affordable Housing Fund.

Over the next few months, Sugimura will be “crunching numbers” and continue learning what voters’ top concerns are for the Upcountry areas.

“I’ll continue doing to the work for the people and the community and connect with them,” she said. “That’s the important thing for this primary election because it’s going to give me a picture of what the community is out there and where the voters are and where my support is.”

* Dakota Grossman can be reached at dgrossman@mauinews.com.


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