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3 finalists vying to replace Kai Kahele as Hilo’s state senator

HILO >> A state representative and two political newcomers are vying to fill the remaining two years of former state Sen. Kai Kahele’s term after he was elected to Congress.

Gov. David Ige will select the new senator representing Hilo after local Democratic Party officials sent him a list of three candidates: Rep. Chris Todd, Maureen Namaka Rawlins and Laura Acacio.

West Hawaii Today reported Sunday that 44 local party officials settled on the three last week after watching short presentations from seven candidates during a session livestreamed on Facebook. They went offline to vote.

Todd emerged as the top choice in the ranked voting.

Ige has until mid-February to select from the three candidates. State and local party officials are hoping the appointment comes as soon as possible because the new legislative session is scheduled to begin on Jan. 20.

An election for the seat will be held in 2022.

Todd has represented Keaukaha, parts of Hilo, Panaewa and Waiakea in the state House since Ige appointed him in 2017 to fill a vacant seat. He has easily won reelection since then.

Rawlins, a Native Hawaiian community advocate and educator and former chairwoman of the Native Hawaiian Education Council, talked during her presentation about growing up in Keaukaha. She spent most of her allotted four minutes praising the other candidates.

Acacio, a substitute teacher who has served in multiple leadership roles within the state Democratic Party and in nonprofits such as the Hilo Surfrider Foundation and Ka Umeke Kaeo Public Charter School, listed a number of priorities, including a progressive state tax on extreme wealth as well as actively addressing income equality and climate justice.

Kahele was elected in November to represent Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, covering rural Oahu and the neighboring islands. He’s due to be sworn in next month.

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