Maui County Councilmember Gladys Baisa can’t run for reelection because of term limits, which means there’s a lot of interest in succeeding her. Of the four candidates running, one of them–Yuki Lei Sugimura–has extensive experience with the Maui Democratic Party. Her campaign website doesn’t have a lot of information on her political views, but we managed to pin her down with a few questions of our own.
MAUITIME: What is your top priority if elected?
YUKI LEI SUGIMURA: Without question, my top priority is creating affordable housing for purchase and for rent. To accomplish this goal, I support the following proposals: 1) revise our zoning code to allow Ohana dwellings on lots as small as 5,000 sf.; (2) establish a down payment assistance program for first-time home owners; (3) streamline the permit approval process; (4) provide County land to developers to build affordable housing and assist with infrastructure costs; and (5) develop water sources.
MT: What event in your life best prepared you for public office?
YLS: My more than 15 years of government experience working both for the Administrative and Legislative branches of government have prepared me for the demands of holding public office as a Maui County Council member. I’ve worked for Mayor James Kimo Apana in the Office of Economic Development; for Councilmembers Dennis Nakamura and Alice Lee, and for U.S. Senators Daniel K. Akaka and Mazie K. Hirono. This hands-on experience has provided me with a solid foundation to be an effective public servant.
MT: Who should be the next President of the United States?
YLS: I support Hillary Clinton as our next President. Hillary’s position as First Lady and her 7 ½ years of experience as Secretary of State gives her more experience than any other candidate to be the President of the United States.
MT: Which person who previously held the office you’re seeking do you hold up as a model? Why?
YLS: My mentor is Councilmember Gladys Baisa. Before being elected Council member for the Upcountry seat, Gladys Baisa worked at Maui Economic Opportunity for 37 years and led the organization as its executive director for 21 years as it grew. When she was elected to the Council, she brought with her years of experience as a leader who worked with the Federal government to meet the needs of our low-income and special needs communities. As a Council member, Gladys has worked hard to be fair and open with her constituents. She is compassionate and listens to the needs of our residents. Gladys tackles problems with intelligence and an open mind and heart. She does her homework, and proposes fair and workable solutions. My other role model is Charmaine Tavares who held the Upcountry County Council seat. She later was elected as Mayor for Maui County and continued the legacy of her father, Hannibal. What an amazing family.
MT: What’s your opinion on changing the County Charter to a county manager form of government? Why?
YLS: I believe that further study is needed on a proposal that so dramatically changes our structure of County government. More information must be obtained and analyzed before we are capable of making a decision to change our form of governance. There is no objective evidence that the county manager form of government will improve the operation of the county, and result in a more efficient, more effective, and less costly government, according to the Maui County Cost of Government Commission. As an alternative reform, the Council should be given the power to approve all department heads and tighten the qualifying criteria for their appointments. This Council has recommended that the question to grant the Council such authority will be placed on the General Election Ballot.
MT: Do you support changing the County Charter to allow the mayor, as opposed to the Liquor Commission, to appoint the Liquor Control Director?
YLS: I believe the Liquor Commission should continue to appoint the Liquor Control Director. The nine members on the Liquor Commission are appointed by the Mayor and approved by the Council. They serve without compensation and are qualified to to make important decisions, including the appointment of the Liquor Control Director.
MT: What should the county do that it isn’t already doing to alleviate homelessness?
YLS: Maui County needs to the implement the process of the Coordinated Entry System (CES). This will enable us to focus the coordination of housing the chronically homeless, to provide the appropriate services to get them on with their way to a better life. The goal is always to house, house and house the homeless. (Housing Focused… New term and synonymous with “Housing First”).
MT: HC&S is closing at the end of this year–what do you think A&B should do with the 37,000 acres that were used for growing sugar?
YLS: The HC&S 37,000 acres in our central valley is a beautiful lush green view from my home in Kula. In January 2016 when HC&S announced the end of their mono crop they stated that they will be looking into diversified agriculture with possibly food and energy crops and breaking this down to smaller agricultural acreage. I stand by A&B as they take care of their displaced employees throughout the year and look forward the next phase of food and energy crops for this important agricultural industry for Maui!
Photo courtesy Yuki Lei Sugimura