Maui Women Send a Message in 2018 Primary

West Maui County Council candidate Tamara Paltin had a healthy lead when she was interviewed at AKAKU. Paltin was one of many women candidates who made a strong showing in the 2018 primary election. Photo credit: Susan Halas.

The 2018 Maui primary showed that the new strength and viability of women candidates for local and state offices offered more than a few moments of drama and surprise.

The surprise finish of the evening was the strong showing by Tasha Kama in the Kahului council seat race, where she topped three-term Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa by a margin of nearly 1,000 votes. Arakawa, whose ads stressed his expertise over a field of inexperienced wanna-bes, came in second. First-time candidate Deb Kaiwi ran a distant third. Kama and Arakawa will face each other in November for the open Kahului seat. Most observers felt that the result reflected a pronounced distaste toward any extension of Arakawa’s regime rather than a truly pro-Kama sentiment.

Women challengers kept the pressure on in the two squeakers of the night. Both were second time arounds and both went right down to the wee hours of the morning. The incumbents took both races but by the thinnest of margins for the winners.

Terez Amato (D), making her second bid for the State Senate District 6 seat (West Maui/portions of Kihei), ran against multi-term incumbent Roz Baker and lost by a mere 106 votes (Baker 3,394 vs Amato 3,288). The primary decided the outcome of that race and Baker will return to the state senate, where she holds a leadership position. The widespread disenchantment with her tenure, however, seemed palatable in both the tightness and the tone of the race.

Likewise, in the closely watched race for the Upcountry 12th District State House seat, it was the second time around for challenger Tiare Lawrence, and the outcome was a replay of the election of two years ago, where she lost to multi-term incumbent Kyle Yamashita (D).  

This time, it was Yamashita 3,412 to Lawrence’s 3,173. The incumbent won the seat by  only 239 votes. The unrelenting pressure by Lawrence meant that Yamashita had to up his game considerably to remain in contention.

Yamashita, who in prior years was seldom seen before, during, or after the election, responded to Lawrence’s unrelenting attack by transforming himself into a highly visible presence. Where previously he had confined himself to limited solo campaigning and almost no public statements, this time he made use of every communication tool, including sign waving, personal endorsements, social media, constant reminders of his prior community service, and references to his influential position at the legislature where he vets CIP (Capital Improvement Project) funding. Yamashita stressed that he was in a position to deliver some very real and tangible pork to the district (the new multi million dollar performing arts center at King Kekaulike H.S. to name but one). Despite all of that put together and outspending his opponent substantially, he was barely able to retain his seat by the narrowest of margins.

Like the Amato/Baker race, the Lawrence/Yamashita contest featured indefatigable women campaigners who went on the offense at every opportunity and portrayed the incumbents as fat on outsider money and badly out of touch with their base. Though close only counts in horseshoes, only the dimmest of political observers could fail to the tightness of the two races and the steady erosion of the base of two incumbents who had formerly seemed secure in their positions.

If these races weren’t enough to show the new and intense role played by women in local politics, there were at least two other vivid examples.

The most commanding lead on the distaff side was the solid 15,227 votes racked up by Tamara Paltin in her bid for the open West Maui county council seat. With a commanding  44.7% of the vote, Paltin easily outpaced her two male opponents. Rick Nava received 5,793 votes and Kanamu Balinbin’s votes totaled 5,618. Paltin and Nava, the two top vote getters in the primary, will face each other again in November with the winner filling the West Maui council seat.

Tina Wildberger (D), a first time candidate running for the District 11 State House seat (South Maui) delivered to coup de gras to veteran politico and former council member Don Couch (a long time Arakawa ally). She beat him by a wide margin, her 2,181 to his 1,505. This is a contest that was decided in the primary and sends Wildberger to the legislature when the next session starts in 2019.

An incumbent woman who showed staying power was Stacy Helm Crivello, representing Molokai on the County Council. Crivello led in all of the print outs and her final tally was 14,599, compared with 11,058 for second time challenger Keani Rawlins-Fernandez. First time candidate C. Capaira Schnackenberg finished third with 1,307. The top two, Crivello and Rawlins-Fernandez, will face each other in the November general election.

There were no contested local primary races on the GOP side where women played an important role, but on the state level, Andria Tupola won a solid victory in the Republican gubernatorial primary and is expected to wage a vigorous come-from-behind campaign against Democratic nominee incumbent Gov. David Ige. Her hashtag is #wecomin’.

MauiWatch will run a separate story a little later in the day looking at the three-way primary race for Maui mayor. That story will discuss the role played by candidate Elle Cochran, who finished second and will face Mike Victorino in the general election.

This story has been updated.



About Susan Halas

Susan Halas is a Senior Political Contributor at MAUIWatch. She has followed Hawaii politics since 1976 when she moved to the Valley Isle. She was formerly a staff writer for the Maui News as well as other local print and digital publications.

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