If there is one political truism that has been borne out over the past decades it is this: You cannot be elected mayor — in a two-way race — without the support of West Hawaii.
The precinct returns from this past General Election proved that again; Billy Kenoi’s victory over Harry Kim was cemented by strong polling in West Hawaii precincts. Kim pulled votes in the fast-growing Puna District and East Hawaii, but not enough to offset the margin gained when the final tallies from the leeward side were released.
It is an odd reality: West Hawaii is in two ways a necessity for the windward side, it needs our votes (when the candidate is an East Hawaii fixture) and more so, it needs our money (at last tally, the west side contributes more than 77 percent of the county’s real property taxes, its primary revenue source).
Those two factors, combined with a new County Council makeup and a mayor who will have termed-out, will quickly show who among council members wants to be the next mayor. There will be a discernable difference in how West Hawaii is regarded.
J Yoshimoto will again be chairman. Mayoral ascension often follows. He has the potential to reflect more fairly on the needs and problems of the islandwide constituency of the council. However, he did not in the past always display impartiality, rather he was moved by fierce loyalties to his East Hawaii constituency, sometimes at the expense of other districts.
Whether he will redirect his focus now remains to be determined.
Dennis Onishi, the Hilo councilman who finds it impossible to attend meetings in West Hawaii, may have had aspirations for council leadership. But how the council chairmanship position could be accomplished via video conferencing might have been a challenge Onishi could not surmount. He will lead the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.
The new council faces will bear watching to gauge their political acumen, wisdom and responsibility. Freshman Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha is young, untested and politically is a virgin block of clay, awaiting the sculpture of experience. He will soon be defined in his role of Public Works Committee chairman. So, too, will Honokaa’s Valerie Poindexter be able to reveal her mettle, as she settles in as Finance Committee chairman and assumes the seat of former chairman Dominic Yagong.
North Kona’s Karen Eoff, the soon-to be council vice chairman, is seen many to be a political disciple of outgoing Councilman Angel Pilago, though she has a long tenure of community activism. She backed Brenda Ford’s opponent in South Kona, setting the stage for some bad blood.
To the north, Margaret Wille, an attorney actively involved in planning issues, will head the committee on water and agriculture.
Meanwhile, new East Hawaii Councilmen Zendo Kern and Greggor Ilagan will head the planning and housing committees, respectively.
Ford will lead mass transit and public safety.
Council chairmanship is a good indicator of mayoral aspirations, though not always a prerequisite; neither Kenoi nor his predecessor Kim was council chairman, and the mayoral post was the first elected position each held.
The aspirant to be our next mayor will, during the next four years, become apparent through actions clearly designed to woo the voters of the leeward side. No candidate will secure that post without us.
Meanwhile, Kenoi is faced with a new challenge. He will have to figure out several important questions quickly, the most important of which, for him, is where he wants to go next in his political career. He will then be faced with two challenges, the first of which will be the most difficult: He will have to act the role to which he aspires, beginning first with establishing a more professional and mayoral demeanor in the next four years. The convivial and formerly constant reversion to pidgin English during formal presentations was viewed by many as unbecoming the position he held. It will be, with no doubt, equally unbecoming of what he may seek to become — politically.
Kenoi will also be charged with setting down some very significant, and hopefully meaningful in the long term, accomplishments over the next three years (that is assuming most campaigning begins in the last year of the final term).
Some possibilities he might consider: An energy plan and action that will address solid waste (as did H-Power on Oahu) and provide mandatory rate reductions for the residents of this island, as well as an immediate shift in Planning Department decisions to reflect the need to reduce any existing or future incompatibility between residential use and geothermal development or its potential, again, with the too-often overlooked public ratepayer advocacy foremost.
No energy plans look beyond the price of oil. There is no foresight to combine off-peak energy production with transmission of water and agriculture, no vision of industrial applications in areas — such as Puna — where energy potential abounds, along with unemployment.
He should also reflect on existing development approved along the Alii Drive corridor that was approved under the now false presumption of an “Alii Highway.” Those plans must be reviewed and revamped with the focus on the region’s tsunami evacuation, repeatedly shown to be in need of relief.
There is a portent of promise facing this island. What is done to fulfill that promise as public benefit, rather than solely personal or political gain, will play out in the years ahead. We can watch, but we must also remain engaged.