The Hawaii Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a challenge filed by defeated state Senate candidate Matt LoPresti, clearing the way for Kurt Fevella to be the state’s only Republican senator.
Meanwhile, the court granted elections officials a short extension — until noon today — to respond to questions raised by a separate challenge from defeated Honolulu City Council candidate Tommy Waters in his race against incumbent Trevor Ozawa.
Several of the eight City Council members have indicated that Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi will be chosen on Monday as the temporary leader if Ozawa is not certified as the Council’s ninth member.
Final election results showed LoPresti was defeated by Kurt Fevella by 132 votes on General Election night
Nov. 6. Waters, meanwhile, finished 22 votes behind incumbent Councilman Trevor Ozawa.
Fevella, who earlier said he would accept whatever fate the court decided, said he was grateful for the decision.
“The Ewa Beach people are going to get their voices heard, that’s the bottom line at the end of the day,” Fevella said.
LoPresti said he was not surprised by the result. “I think it’s what everybody expected,” he said, adding that he wanted to make “a philosophical argument” that a 116-vote separation should warrant a recount.
All five justices signed off on the 23-page judgment, stating that “there is no genuine issue of material fact” presented by LoPresti to change the results. The judgment said LoPresti failed to show sufficiently that there were errors, mistakes or irregularities that could have changed the outcome of the election.
The two men went head-to-head in the November general election for the Senate District 19 (Ewa Beach, Iroquois Point) seat after incumbent Sen. Will Espero resigned in the summer in an unsuccessful bid for lieutenant governor.
LoPresti, a Democrat, stepped away from a re-election bid in the state House to run for the Senate seat. Fevella, a Republican and longtime Ewa Beach community advocate, had run for political office several times unsuccessfully in the past.
Opening day of the Legislature is Jan. 16 but Fevella, the only Republican in the 25-member Senate, already has been immersed in pre-session committee briefings.
The Supreme Court has yet to file a decision on the case brought by Waters, and it’s possible the fate of the election won’t be known until at least next week.
The court asked state and county election officers to answer additional questions in that case and to respond to them by 4:30 p.m. Wednesday. Specifically, the justices said they want answers
regarding the handling of
absentee mail-in ballots received by election officials from the United States Postal Service after 6 p.m. on Election Day.
Waters has said that none of the 1,173 absentee votes received by election officials from USPS after 6 p.m. should have been counted.
The state Office of Elections responded by saying that the handling and collection of absentee mail-in ballots from the USPS were the responsibility of the city and that it had “no information to provide the court and the parties.” Instead, the state is relying on City Clerk Glen Takahashi to respond to the court, the filing said.
City Corporation Counsel Donna Leong, the city’s chief legal adviser, asked that the city be given an extension until noon today to submit
a response. Takahashi was attending a conference in Washington, D.C., Wednesday, Leong said. The request was filed by the city at
4:27 p.m. Wednesday.
The justices, at 5:09 p.m., granted the short extension.
The uncertainty over
Ozawa’s election has caused chaos at the Council. Four members had been expected to help select Ozawa as Council chairman. But with Ozawa sidelined, at least temporarily, Council members last week didn’t elect a chairperson. They also have not formed committees or finalized a meeting calendar for 2019.
On Tuesday, acting Council Chairwoman Kymberly Pine said the Council will meet Monday to select a leader with either eight or nine members. If it’s eight, Pine said, she will recommend to colleagues that
Kobayashi be elected temporary chairwoman.
Kobayashi was a Council member from 2002-2008
before beginning her current term in 2010, making her the longest-serving member on the Council.
Kobayashi told the
Honolulu Star-Advertiser Wednesday that she’s been reluctant to accept chairing the Council in the past but that she is willing to become acting chairwoman given the current circumstances.
Three other Council members reached by the Star-
Advertiser — Ikaika Anderson, Joey Manahan and Ron Menor — said they would be willing to make Kobayashi the temporary chairwoman until the conflict over the District 4 East Honolulu seat is resolved.
Manahan said he would even consider Kobayashi
as chairwoman for the long term, while Menor said she “has always been fair and
responsive in spite of our occasional differences.”
Anderson said the
Council has pressing business and can no longer
wait for the court to settle the issue.
“We don’t know when that’s going to be — it could be next week, it could be next month, it could be in a few months,” Anderson said. “What if the court orders a special election?”