Editorial: Oahu voters face major decisions
The infrequent appearance of an open seat in Hawaii’s small congressional delegation spawned the latest headline about the coming election cycle.
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The infrequent appearance of an open seat in Hawaii’s small congressional delegation spawned the latest headline about the coming election cycle. But the real news emerging this campaign season goes even beyond the decision by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard to not seek re-election, focusing on her presidential primary run.
It’s that statewide, 2020 will be an uncommonly consequential year.
Gabbard has held the 2nd Congressional District seat, representing communities other than urban Honolulu, since 2013. There’s been some churn in the 1st Congressional District since Neil Abercrombie left the seat in 2010 for his successful gubernatorial campaign.
But as a rule these openings don’t come up routinely in the islands, so there will be a line of contenders, potentially upheaving other incumbencies down the ballot.
Even without that excitement, there is another marquee race: for mayor of the City and County of Honolulu. And, owing to the troubles swirling around the city Department of the Prosecuting Attorney, the successor to Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro is sure to be a big draw.
Longstanding incumbent Kaneshiro — the subject of a target letter from the FBI in its ongoing investigation of the scandal surrounding Katherine Kealoha, the former deputy prosecutor convicted on conspiracy and obstruction charges — is on administrative leave and has said he would not run again for the job.
Perhaps all of the above should signal why choosing the person to head this office deserves far more attention from Oahu’s voters than it ever has received.
However, the mayor’s race is far and away the one in which Honolulu’s public has the greatest stakes. The future chief executive at Honolulu Hale will confront several issues at key decision points.
The next four years will be telling as far as the city’s rail project is concerned. The vexing challenge of constructing the final, City Center segment should be underway; its circumstances at that point are still foggy but should be in plain sight by the time votes are cast next fall.
Further, the city is on the brink of proceeding — or not — with potential upgrades to the Neal Blaisdell Center campus, and on renovations to Ala Moana Regional Park and to sports fields at the “Sherwood Forest” park in Waimanalo. All three have drawn their share of criticism, so their final disposition could lie in the new mayor’s hands.
There is the ongoing concern over vacation rentals, and how well the new city regulations constrain illegal activity in residential areas will need evaluation. Also, five new members of the nine-member City Council will be chosen and will yield influence, though the mayor will be the one driving the ongoing policy.
Finally, the entire state is embarking on a new platform for voting — through the mail — that is intended to enlarge the electorate by curbing the inconvenience of casting an in-person ballot. House Bill 1248 was enacted this year; registered voters will received ballots by mail 18 days before election day.
The return of the completed ballots is really no different from the absentee voting that has been growing in popularity over multiple election cycles. The difference is the voter won’t have to request it, as long as he or she is registered.
There should be one more step taken by lawmakers in January: making registration an automatic process that happens when the resident applies for a driver’s license or state I.D., unless they opt out.
Having access to the vote is a right of citizens and ought not to require a heavy lift. That special effort, however, is required in choosing the best candidates, and voters owe Election 2020 that measure of discernment.