Candidates Weigh In on District Voting: Part I

One of the greatest issues that will face the next Maui County Council is the proposed change to how members are elected. A group of Maui residents are pushing to replace the current at-large system with nine single-member districts, which would redraw district lines according to population and eliminate seats that represent Molokai and Lanai exclusively.

Currently, council members are elected at-large by voters countywide to represent one of nine districts, meaning members can lose their districts but be elected by winning the countywide vote.

Proponents say with single-member districts, candidates wouldn’t have to campaign countywide – a costly effort that leads to more incumbents running unopposed – and council members would be elected solely by their constituents. But opponents warn the change would weaken rural districts’ representation on the council.

The Dispatch asked candidates for the county council how they felt about this issue. Below are responses from West Maui, Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu, Makawao-Haiku-Paia, Upcountry and Molokai district candidates. Next week’s issue will feature East Maui, Kahului, South Maui, Lanai and Maui County mayoral candidates’ responses.

Yes = For district voting: would eliminating Molokai and Lanai seats
No = Against district voting: council seats remain as is

West Maui

Elle Cochran: I am for district voting if we could bypass the “One man, one vote” rule. The House of Representatives and Senate seats are broken down this way and there seems to be no complaints. I am for nine districts each having their own individual reps. I’m not for combining districts where the smaller voices (Lanai and Molokai) will be drowned out be the larger populated areas. During campaign season, the district rep will not have to practically ignore their own district in order to campaign countywide on three islands. The rep can stay focused on constituents’ concerns and needs in order to be their best voice on the council. The Big Island and Oahu do it this way too and they seem quite content. MAYBE

Alan Fukuyama: I am not in favor of district voting. I believe the decisions of the county council impact all Maui County residents, and therefore all voters should have an opportunity to select their representatives. The current system allows council members to advocate for their own area, but also make decisions based upon what is right for all of Maui County. My fear is that district voting, which is based on population, will lead to some areas being grouped together with other areas that may have different needs. Smaller districts such as Lanai, Molokai, and Hana will effectively lose their dedicated council member.  I also fear that district voting will lead to members making decisions on what is right for their own area and not Maui County as a whole. NO

Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu

Lisa Gapero: I can kind of see all sides of it. If you [have to] campaign on all three islands, that’s the thing I don’t like about it. On the other hand, I don’t think places like Molokai, Lanai or Hana would get their representation… I think it needs to be looked at some more. Right now I’m not really for it, but I do appreciate both sides of it. Maybe if we put it on a ballot and let the people decide. MAYBE

Michael Victorino (Incumbent): I am opposed to changes that leave Molokai and Lanai with no chance for a member from your island. We have deferred this matter to the Charter Commission for the 2011 review. I am researching methods that may include Molokai and Lanai primary elections only. Then you would at least pick your two potential members with island or district-wide elections in the general [election]. Maybe six district members with three at-large members. We must do everything possible to insure the small district [and] islands are fairly represented. MAYBE

Makawao-Haiku-Paia

Kai Nishiki: The single district method has merits, but several county council candidates would still need to campaign on two islands. The issue does deserve discussion by the Charter Commission. In general, I would support a change if we could assure that the new system allowed our rural districts like Hana, Lanai and Molokai to have representatives who actually lived in the district and saw community needs first hand. MAYBE

Mike White: I support keeping the current voting practice in place. [As] at-large candidates running for a council seat, we travel to all parts of the county and learn the challenges of each district and feel a direct responsibility to all residents rather than just those in our district. In these troubled economic times we need to have a council that is focused on the good of the whole, rather than taking the chance that the council will focus mostly on the needs of their own district with an eye on re-election. NO

Upcountry

Gladys Baisa (Incumbent): Proposals to change the way our council is elected were submitted to the council by [Jo Anne] Johnson and the Kula Community Association. The proposed legislation was discussed by the council. Testimony was largely in favor of district voting, and results of a survey indicating that a large majority supports district voting was discussed. Most council members felt that more education and discussion was needed, particularly in Molokai, Lanai and Hana, before the matter was put on the ballot. Although I initially supported putting the matter on the 2010 ballot, I support the decision of the council majority to refer it to the Charter Commission and look forward their deliberations. MAYBE

Molokai

Danny Mateo (Incumbent): It is no secret that I am adamantly against district voting as it affects my island and small isolated communities like it.  Molokai, Lanai and Hana will be adversely affected by it.  Molokai’s population is equal to approximately half a district, therefore we will be grouped together with part of Maui Island.  If this happens, an individual from Maui Island may be elected to represent Molokai and I don’t care what any proponent of district voting says, but unless you have lived on Molokai through its continuing trials and tribulations, you will never even begin to understand our people and our needs! NO

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