When Bob Nakasone passed in the winter of 2008, shortly after winning another term as the House of Representatives member for Kahului-Pā‘ia, Maui lost one of its great appropriators. For much of his tenure in the State House, Rep. Nakasone was also one of the most influential members of the Maui Nui legislative delegation. While he had no title, he served on the House Finance Committee as the member in charge of capital improvement projects (CIP).
Bob was old school. He wasn’t one for speeches. He didn’t seek any fanfare. He was a workhorse, not a showhorse, and a tireless advocate for Maui and especially for Maui Memorial Medical Center and longterm care. He helped move the local public hospitals towards more community-based governance, an effort which eventually led, after his passing, to the landmark bill allowing private management of what is now known as Maui Health Systems. His portrait hangs prominently in Maui Memorial Medical Center as a mark of his work.
When he died, Governor Lingle appointed me to his seat. I inherited his committee assignments but not his role in reviewing and approving the State CIP. Fortunately for Maui, that position was assigned to Rep. Nakasone’s former staffer Kyle Yamashita who had won the upcountry seat. Maui was also fortunate that in the State Senate, Shan Tsutsui handled the same duties.
Since 2009, the Maui House delegation has seen several changes—with Lynn DeCoite being appointed to replace the late Mele Carroll for East Maui-Molokai-Lāna‘i, some turnover in South Maui from a Republican to a Democrat, and then in 2013, a new member to replace me in Kahului. This year, the Governor appointed former Maui County Democratic Chair Troy Hashimoto to finish the term of former House Speaker Joe Souki for Wailuku. His additional voice in the House, along with Sen. Rosalyn Baker, Rep. Yamashita and Sen. J. Kalani English, was a key in securing the full $28M subsidy for the Maui Health System. After this November, there may be further changes as the South Maui seat is vacant and most of the House members face challengers.
From Territorial days, Maui has always benefitted by having legislators in key positions. House Speaker Elmer Cravalho accepted the phone call from Delegate John Burns that the Statehood bill passed. For several seasons, Maui Senator Mamoru Yamasaki chaired the Ways and Means Committee while Maui House Member Souki chaired the Finance Committee. Maui legislators have chaired other major committees, including Senator English on Transportation, Senator Baker on Consumer Protection, Rep. Angus McKelvey on Consumer Protection and Higher Education, Senator Avery Chumbley on Judiciary, and myself as Judiciary chair in both the House and Senate.
Currently, Sen. English is Senate Majority Leader while Sen. Baker leads Commerce, Consumer Protection, and Health. The two of them helped move forward a productive session in many areas that have been debated for years. Sen. Baker approved a Medical Aid in Dying statute for Hawai‘i (HB 2739 HD1—Our Care, Our Choice Act) and served as a key negotiator for final language on a pesticide buffer bill that also bans Chlorpyrifos (SB3095 CD1). Along with Sen. Baker, Sen. English was a key voice in the conference committee agreement to ban oxybenzone and octinoxate to better protect Hawai‘i’s coral reefs (SB2571 CD1).
Sen. English and Rep. Yamashita served on the conference committee that passed an omnibus bill to address homeless programs, including establishing and funding Ohana Zones, an Emergency Department Homelessness Assessment Pilot Program, Medical Respite Pilot Program, and new family assessment center for homeless families (SB2401 CD1). Sen. Baker served on the conference committee that appropriated a huge amount of State funds for housing needs: $200,000,000 into the Rental Housing Revolving Fund; $10,000,000 into the Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund; increasing the aggregate available amount of the general excise tax exemption for costs of developing affordable rental housing from $7,000,000 per year to $30,000,000 per year, and extending availability of the exemption for an additional eight years to 2030; and $50,000 to the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation to prepare an assessment of housing needs for persons with significant access and functional barriers and available supportive services (HB2748 CD1).
Sen. Baker also helped craft language to provide better access to cancer treatment for Fire Fighters (HB1778 CD1).
Maui’s non-profits and business can also thank Sen. Baker and Rep. Yamashita for moving a package of Maui bills to reform the liquor commission’s revisionist application of the state liquor laws (SB 2945 CD1, SB2612 CD1, SB2613 CD1, HB 2414 SD1).
On the Civil Rights front, Sen. English and Rep. Yamashita served on the conference committee that passed the bill establishing Title IX language into State law (HB 1489 CD1).
Finally, Rep. Yamashita helped lead House leaders to agree to Senate language that will place State representation on the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization (MMPO) (HB2175 SD1).
Presently, while most projects receiving federal aid involve the State highway system, only County officials sit on the MMPO.
The last bill is important because State legislators decide how much State money will be allocated to match federal funds. This session, Rep. Yamashita and I reviewed the CIP budget as part of the overall State Budget (HB1900 CD1). From our negotiations, the following projects were included in the State Budget:
• Lahaina By-Pass (Northern Leg) $40M
• Pā‘ia By-Pass $49M
• Maui High School STEM Building $12M
• Kahului Civic Center/Bus Hub $2.5M
• Baldwin High School Re-roof Buildings C & D $3.2M
• Ha‘ikū Elem Expansion $800K
• ‘Īao School Security Improvements $200K
• Kalama Interm. School Band Room Improvements $8M
• Kīhei High School Construction $40M
• Lokelani Interm. School Library/Administration Building $1.2M
• Pā‘ia Elem. New Building Planning $2M
• Kahului Library Roof R&M $700K
• Molokai Veterans Center $4M
• Leiali‘i Parkway Improvements $1.4M
• Kēōkea-Waiohuli Development Phase II $5.48M
• Kula Residence Lots Improvements $1.2M
• Maui Health Systems Improvements $6M
• Kamehamenui Forest (Erehwon Ranch) Purchase $11M
• Kā‘anapali Beach Restoration $9.3M
• Lahaina Small Boat Harbor Pier $2.1M
• Kaho‘olawe Island Reserve Commission dryland forest restoration $1.5M
• Watershed Initiative $6.5M
• Maui Community Correctional Center Dorm Renovation $500K
• Kahului Airport Projects $24,555M
• Hāna Airport $1.5M
• Molokai Airport $6.25M
• Kalaupapa Airport $4.5M
• Lāna‘i Airport $28.808M
• Kahului Harbor Modernization $17.002M
In August, I will not be up for re-election for the first time since 2010 (I am in the middle of a four-year term). My colleagues Sen. Baker, Sen. English, Rep. Yamashita, Rep. Hashimoto, Rep. McKelvey, Rep. Justin Woodson and Rep. DeCoite will be up for election, and all will likely face races in the August Democratic Primary. The voting public will have the opportunity to decide whether they want to continue with a delegation in key legislative positions or choose the unknown.