Crossing paths with Natalie “Tasha” Kama, candidate for the District 8 State House seat, is bound to leave a person re-instilled with faith in many things: The hope for responsible government; the opportunity to end the “old boy” system of local politics; and the over-riding hope that the Aloha Spirit of Hawaii may prevail.
Kama’s candidacy against incumbent Joe Souki appears to be the most formidable challenge he has faced in his 26-year tenure in the state legislature, a term that has rewarded Souki, 75, with powerful positions including House Majority Speaker and, most recently, chairmanship of the House Transportation Committee.
It was in this role that Rep. Souki entertained testimony on a special session legislative act to allow Hawaii Superferry to operate before preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement. Previously, Souki quashed legislation by refusing to hear the bill introduced by Maui’s Sen. Shan Tsustsui and Sen. Kalani English that would have tied launching the ferry service to the EIS.
At the Kula Community Association’s Candidate Forum on August 12, Kama asked Souki why he had gone against the Maui County Council, Mayor and many constituents who called for an EIS. Souki replied that he took the advice of the State Department of Transportation.
“He should have read the law,” Kama told me, as we sat in a Wailuku café. “I don’t ever want to be in office so long that I don’t have to listen to the people who elected me.”
Reports that Hawaii Superferry donated $1,000 to Souki’s campaign fund barely raised an eyebrow among astute political observers. After all, 10 years ago Souki received $132,000 for his part in assisting developer Everett Dowling in selling land to Bishop Estate to build Kamehameha Schools. A 2002 Ethics Disclosure form reported another $40,016 from Dowling Company for consulting services. It also listed stock ownership with Maui Electric Company (729 shares) and Alexander & Baldwin (1,620 shares).
Kama has a long history of community organizing, establishing the Waiohuli-Keokea Hawaiian Homesteaders’ Association, Hui No Keola Pono, a Cameron Center non-profit, and founding Na Po`e Kokua (People Helpers), helping native Hawaiians with housing matters. This, in turn, gave birth to Hawaiian Community Assets, an award-winning organization that helps low- and moderate-income communities and individuals move toward economic self-sufficiency.
Kama, the daughter of Rev. Clarence Kamai, is herself an ordained minister and progressive pastor of the Christian Ministry church. She is the mother of eleven children, five of whom now live on the Mainland “with little hope for returning,” she says. This economic reality was pivotal in her decision to run for state office this year. Kama twice ran for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs at-large seats, and also vied for County Council in 2002.
Maui Time: What prompted you to run for State House this year?
Tasha Kama: People are leaving Hawaii due to the rising cost of living. It’s a continuing exit, including my own family. People are worried about their jobs, especially in the tourist industry. We have to expand our economic base in areas that will help us be more sustainable. We have to work the land, and move to renewable energy sources that can generate higher levels of income within our state.
MT: What are your top three election issues this year, and what is your vision for addressing them?
TK: Economy, education, and sustainability. We need a major policy shift to ramp up, hire talent and bring our university to the very top for teacher training, and to become a Stanford of the Pacific, a worldwide center for renewable energy technology R&D (research and development). Investment in education is investment on our future. I support the Hawaii State Teachers Association in working to establish a “blue ribbon commission” to study where the $2 billion in our annual budget to the Department of Education is going. We also need to create change by involving kids, parents, the community and government. That way we are affecting change from both the grassroots up and the top down. I love homegrown. We chant, we plan, we create our own destinies. And we have to work the land. We have 500,000 acres of agricultural lands statewide that are viable.
MT: How would your style differ from that of the incumbent?
TK: I believe in transparency and accessibility. Why not hold community meetings? Ask the community their priorities before going into the legislative session. Meet before, during and after the legislature. Then people participate and feel their part in ownership of the government for, by and of the people. I’ve walked my district, door to door. People want to be involved but don’t always feel included.
MT: What role does experience play in serving as a State House member? Can you be effective in moving forward key Maui issues as a freshman legislator?
TK: He started out once, too. I have years of experience with consensus building. I will be working with other Maui legislators to bring things home to our community. We have a different kind of culture here from Oahu. We are more community, huddled masses. I don’t have all the answers—nobody does. But being able to listen, learn and educate each other, we lift up each other. MTW
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