Rep. Kai Kahele visits Maui, giving ‘serious thought’ to run for governor
February 8, 2022, 8:55 AM HST
* Updated February 9, 11:48 AM
US Represenative Kaialiʻi Kahele (HI-02) continues making his rounds on Maui today as he updates various government and community organizations on issues pending before Congress.
On Monday he met with Mayor Michael Victorino, and today, he’s visiting with the Maui Memorial Medical Center, J. Walter Cameron Center, Hui No Ke Ola Pono, and the Maui Facilities and Engineering Leadership Council. Tomorrow, Kahele said he’ll wrap his visit with a stop at Kamehameha Schools Maui campus in Pukalani before heading on a direct flight to Hilo on Hawaiʻi Island.
“There’s no doubt that COVID has dominated every aspect of our lives for the better half of two years,” Congressman Kahele said during a morning interview on 99.9 KISS FM with Ed Kanoi and Brandee.
“It’s something none of us could have ever imagined could have lasted this long, and so many people have been affected by it. I think at this point everyone knows somebody who has passed away from COVID or has gotten gravely ill from COVID, but I think people are COVID tired already. We want to get back to our lives. We want to put this in our rearview mirror because we have so many other major problems and challenges throughout the state,” he said, pointing towards issues like the economy and jobs.
Kula water issues discussed
On Monday, Rep. Kahele heard from a resident of Upper Kula who is dealing with an ongoing E. coli problem with the water delivery system. “For me, I sit on the infrastructure committee in Congress, so we’re looking at water infrastructure across the state. She told me how at least for the last two months, she’s had to have to boil water in Upper Kula, and that’s just unacceptable.”
“I looked at the pictures of the existing piping that we have up there. We’re talking a ‘plantation era’ delivery system that’s like 100 years old that provides water to the Upper Kula and Upcountry Maui ahupuaʻa area. That’s something that we have to desperately address,” said Rep. Kahele, “and some of the federal funds that we’ve been able to bring home, I hope can address that.”
When asked how close we are to getting those funds released, Rep. Kahele said, “We just passed in Congress a ‘once-in-a-generation’ bill–the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. It was a bipartisan bill… That bill is going to bring over $2.8 billion to the state of Hawaiʻi for infrastructure–for roads, bridges, highways, water delivery systems, airports–to modernize those infrastructure investments that need to be done. At the national level, it’s an over $1 trillion bill that is going to provide work and construction jobs for a long, long time. This is not just something that’s going to happen overnight. This is a multi-year, phased process of money coming to the state, and money coming to Maui County,” he said.
“Those are things that are really on people’s minds [are]: healthcare, housing, the fact that you know first time homebuyers are getting outbid when they go to buy a home. Agriculture–not just leasing land, but being able to buy land so you can farm and produce land that you own yourself–these are issues that are on people’s minds,” he said.
One of the things that the delegation was able to do, specifically for Maui, was address impacts of heavy rains in March. “Bridges washed out, homes were flooded. We were able to get a $2.2 million FEMA grant to rebuild Kapaukalua Bridge in Upcountry Maui that was destroyed by heavy rains. We also were able to get $22 million to improve climate resilience along the Honoapiʻilani Highway,” said Rep. Kahele.
Development of 10-step COVID Strategic Plan
In response to questions about COVID impacts going forward, Rep. Kahele said, “About three weeks ago, out of sheer frustration–part of it being my own self and my own family that got COVID over the holidays, my kid’s school that closed down… second week of January, displaced 600 kids… for the next eight days… I was so frustrated at where we were, now two years into this, that I penned a… COVID 10 step strategic plan. Many of these things, I’ll be honest with you–should have been done… The situation is dynamic and changes, but I wanted to put something down, rather than this kapakahi strategy all over the place, where things are changing, different counties doing different things,” he said.
He said he just wanted to put something out there for people to consider, “Whether you like one of the things, 10 of the things, none of the things–at least somebody was thinking about a strategic vision for the state… whether it was mask mandates, boosters, Safe Travels, a vaccine passport, putting more air filtration and air quality systems in schools, having some type of testing mechanism.”
Rep. Kahele noted that for those who test positive for COVID at home, there’s no mechanism to report it to the state Department of Health, unless you decide to call them. “We should have an app for that. The fact that we’re carrying around CDC cards, paper cards, for the last two years. What is all of that about… in the 21st century. We should have a digital vaccine passport–not just [for] COVID, it’s [for] all the vaccines you get (flu, mumps, rubella)–everything that you would need to go to our schools should be electronic,” he said.
Is a run for governor in the cards?
“It’s hard to be critical. Everybody can be an armchair quarterback on the sidelines, and I know Governor Ige has done the best job that he feels that he can do. Mayor Victorino has been doing and making tough decisions as well. This is a tough, tough time in our country. It’s a tough time in our state,” said Rep. Kahele.
“Leadership, anytime you make a decision, half the people are going to hate your decision, and will criticize you, and will say things, and you have to have tough skin… I think communication is key. At the same time, people need options, having compassion, having aloha, having empathy. Trying to put yourself in their shoes is really important because it’s not one size fits all,” said Rep. Kahele. “But at some point, somebody needs to take charge, somebody needs to lead the state through because we cannot be in this perpetual state of COVID crisis every six months.”
When asked if he plans to make a run for Hawaiʻi governor, Congressman Kahele said, “A lot of people have been asking that. You know right now, first and foremost for me is focusing on everything that I can do for the people of Hawaiʻi. I walk in the footsteps of Prince Kūhiō, and I constantly remind myself of Ke aliʻi makaʻāinana, you know the Prince of the People, and so right now over the next month and a half or so, I’m just in the district–listening to the people, listening to their concerns, and feeling really where the island pulse is in terms of where we are and where leadership is.”
“One of the things that I have been hearing is people are unhappy with the strategic direction the state is headed in right now. They’re having a hard time getting behind, or getting excited about the current state of candidates, and at the end of the day, I feel like our keiki deserve the best. Our state deserves the best. Maui deserves the best. When you go every year to the ballot box, and elected officials like myself come before you for our report card–how we did–do we have the honor to come back and continue to serve you? The best should be on that ballot every single time,” said Rep. Kahele. “So we’ll see. We’ll see where ke akua leads me in the next month and a half, but I am giving it serious thought.”