Ross Kagawa returns to Kaua‘i County Council to fill seat vacated by Luke Evslin
February 22, 2023, 3:26 PM HST
Not everyone gets a second chance. But some do – like longtime Kaua‘i politician Ross Kagawa, who has been chosen to fill a vacancy on the Kaua‘i County Council.
Kagawa narrowly lost election to the Kaua‘i County Council last November, when he finished eighth in a race with seven winners.
When the Council on Wednesday chose Kagawa to replace former member Luke Evslin – who is now a member of the Hawai‘i House of Representatives – Kagawa’s placement in the election was a major reason.
“My individual choice is to honor the will of the voters and support the next person in line according to the vote totals from our election just three months ago,” said Council Vice Chair KipuKai Kuali’i, voicing a sentiment shared by the five councilmembers who voted in favor of Ross Kagawa.
Councilmember Addison Bulosan cast the sole “no” vote in a move he said demonstrated his wish to see more women represented in government.
The council was effectively permitted to select anyone to fill Evslin’s seat. This power granted by the Kaua‘i County Charter led to a last-minute surge in testimony from residents advocating for Fern Ānuenue Holland, a community organizer and leader against developers’ plans to build a hotel at the site of the former Coco Palms resort.
Holland came in ninth place during the 2022 Kaua‘i County Council election. She had 1,176 votes less than Kagawa.
“We know that a lot of kānaka ʻōiwi (Native Hawaiians) don’t vote. We know that a lot of younger women and a lot of younger people in general don’t vote … They’re not voting because they don’t see themselves reflected in the system,” nonprofit director Nikki Cristobal, who is also Bulosan’s partner, testified. “This is an opportunity to put somebody like Fern on the Council to show other people that representation matters and that they should be able to feel like they can put their name in the ring and be given fair consideration.”
Holland also spoke on her own behalf before councilmembers ultimately chose Kagawa.
“I feel like it’s a duty to be here today and to put my name forward as part of this position,” she said before noting she will run in the next Council election in 2024.
Kagawa previously served on the Kaua‘i County Council from 2012 until 2020, when he reached his position’s consecutive term limit. He worked as an accountant before spending nearly 20 years as a teacher.
Kagawa has spent the past two years as a COVID-19 specialist in the Kaua‘i Emergency Management Agency. He is excited by his unexpected “resurrection” to the County Council, claiming he hopes to serve as “a good check” in his local government’s system of checks and balances.
“[I will try to] make sure our mayor and his administration are doing all they can in all areas and be supportive,” Kagawa said. “And then when there’s areas that have incompetence, see how we’re going to fix the problem.”
Kagawa, who worked on eight County of Kaua‘i budgets during his previous tenure on the Council, will now tackle the County’s latest budget next month. “Efficiency” is his byword.
“If we’re collecting too much tax money, then let’s lower the tax rates and give the public back money that we don’t need,” Kagawa said. “I hear there’s a big surplus. So we really need to analyze, ‘Well what do we do?'”
“We’re either going to offer more service, improve areas that we’re failing at, or we’re going to cut the tax rate and give people a tax break,” Kagawa concluded. “Those are immediate questions that we need to answer in the budget coming up.”