Election 2002


Kauai mayoral race
goes to the wire

2 candidates hope to claim a
greater share of the votes from
backers of Ron Valenciano

» Yukimura charming Kauai voters
» Kauai Charter proposals

By Anthony Sommer

LIHUE >> How important are the 3,900 votes received by Kauai mayoral candidate Randal Valenciano, who finished a distant third in the September primary behind Bryan Baptiste and Ron Kouchi?

To borrow a sports cliche: Those votes aren't everything, they're the ONLY thing.

They will decide who will be mayor of Kauai for the next four years and probably the next eight because incumbents rarely are unseated on Kauai.

In September, Baptiste edged out Kouchi in the primary by fewer than 400 votes, virtually a dead heat in a race most observers expected to end with Baptiste thousands of votes ahead of Kouchi. Running a distant third was Valenciano with 3,900 votes.

Valenciano may have decided the race by endorsing fellow Democrat Kouchi early in October, but no one will know for sure until election day.

Ron Iida, campaign co-chairman for Kauai mayoral candidate Ron Kouchi, at Kouchi's Lihue headquarters.

Baptiste, a Republican, on the other hand, failed to receive an endorsement from the GOP's de facto party leader on the island, outgoing Mayor Maryanne Kusaka.

Both Baptiste and Kouchi wanted Valenciano's endorsement, and both sought it, although it was unlikely Valenciano would endorse Republican Baptiste. Valenciano sat on the fence for several days during the primary, saying he was undecided whether he would ask his supporters to switch to either Baptiste or Kouchi.

Kouchi frankly states he offered Valenciano any position he wanted in a Kouchi Cabinet, including administrative assistant (essentially the deputy mayor) or county attorney, in exchange for his endorsement. Valenciano said he turned Kouchi's offers down because he wants more time for his family and law practice, but he endorsed Kouchi anyway.

Pictures of Valenciano and Kouchi shaking hands are now the dominant theme in Kouchi's political ads. "In the general election, please vote for Ron Kouchi" is the text above Valenciano's signature in the advertisements.

Birgit Soma campaigned for Kauai mayoral candidate Bryan Baptiste in downtown Kapaa.

What may have pushed Valenciano into the Kouchi camp was a campaign stunt pulled by Baptiste only two days after the primary.

"Mahalo" sign waving is a tradition expected by voters of both winners and losers. Valenciano drove out to Puhi the Monday after the Saturday vote to do his "Mahalo" sign waving. On his way, he passed Baptiste and a group of supporters who were waving at motorists.

Valenciano said as he was setting up his sign, Baptiste drove up and asked if he could sign-wave next to him.

"What could I say?" Valenciano said. "It's not my personal highway."

So Baptiste set up his own sign about five yards away from Valenciano, giving anyone driving by the impression that he had Valenciano's support. Neither Valenciano nor Kouchi was amused.

The party distinction between Baptiste and Kouchi is one of the few ways to tell the two candidates apart because their political views are pretty much shades of the same color.

What is interesting is how the two have differed in embracing their party labels.

Kouchi has firmly wrapped himself in the Democratic banner, announcing he is proud to be a member of the party of working people and disadvantaged minorities.

Baptiste, on the other hand, has distanced himself from the Republican Party.

In a television debate right after the primary, Baptiste did not say he embraced such GOP doctrine as reducing the size of government or cutting taxes.

Instead, he said he became a Republican when he first ran for County Council in 1996 because Kusaka had given him a government job -- manager of the county's small convention center -- and he did not want to be impolite to his boss.

Absent from Baptiste's primary-night party were any of the mainland businessmen from Princeville and Poipu who are the stalwarts of the Republican Party on Kauai.

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