Top 3 Candidates Selected to Fill Senate Vacancy

By Catherine Cluett Pactol

Three candidates for the vacant Senate District 7 seat previously held by Sen. Kalani English have been submitted to Gov. Ige by the Democratic Party of Hawaii. One of those is Molokai’s Lynn DeCoite, who currently serves as Representative for House District 13. Molokai’s Walter Ritte was also one of six applicants for the position but was not selected among the top three for the governor’s consideration.

Sen. English announced his retirement on May 1. The Senate District 7 seat represents Molokai, Lanai, Hana, East and Upcountry Maui and Kaho’olawe. Filling the vacancy follows the Democratic Party of Hawaii’s (DPH) constitution and bylaws for filling legislative mid-term vacancies. When the current Senate seat term is up, voters will cast their ballots for a longer-term replacement.

Fifty-four officers of the Democratic Party’s Precinct Clubs and House District Councils within Senate District 7 met last Saturday on Zoom to interview the six applicants and vote on the three names who will be sent to the Governor. At the meeting, which was also broadcast over Face-book live for public viewing, each eligible officer was permitted to vote for up to three different candidates. The 21 Democratic representatives of Molokai’s five voting precincts all cast only one vote — for DeCoite.

DeCoite of Hoʻolehua, along with serving as the current Representative for House District 13, is a small business owner, farmer and rancher. She has been favored for the seat since English announced his retirement and was endorsed by English, who she calls a mentor and friend.

“As the Senator who represented the 7th Senatorial District for 21 years, I strongly support her candidacy and I am confident that Lynn has the experience and ability to hit the ground
running… Lynn does not shy away from the tough issues and she will work hard to ensure that needs of rural communities are addressed in the Hawaii State Senate,” said Sen. English in testimony that was included in DeCoite’s application packet submitted to the DPH.

The other two candidates submitted for the governor’s consideration are Yuki Lei Sugimura of Kula, Maui, the current County Council Member representing Upcountry Maui who has served as the Vice Chair of the Maui County Democratic Party; and Leo Caires, also of Kula, a com-munity leader, agricultural business owner and renewable energy executive.

“These three candidates have deep roots in the district and I am confident that all of them would represent the ‘canoe district’ well. All three possess a small business background, which will help to guide Maui Nui and the entire state toward economic recovery,” said DPH Chair Tyler Dos Santos-Tam.

DeCoite received 44 officer votes, Sugimura got 19, Caires received 15 and Ritte got 14, edging Ritte out of the running by one vote.

Ritte posted on social media Sunday a timeline of “reorganization” of the Molokai Democratic Party that he implied may be suspect. He claimed the party made changes to “officers who can vote” two days before Sen. English announced his retirement.
When the 21 Molokai party members each cast one vote for DeCoite only, even though they could recommend up to three candidates, Ritte wrote, “The Molokai Democratic Party did not vote with the best interest of Molokai (having two names from Molokai going to the Gov.) in mind!”

Gov. Ige now has until June 30 to select one of the three individuals to serve as the next Senator for Senate District 7.

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