Todd, 2 political newcomers to vie for Kahele’s seat

  • TODD

A state representative and two political newcomers made the cut Wednesday night from a list of seven Democrats vying for Gov. David Ige’s nomination to fill the remaining two years of the state Senate seat vacated by Congressman-elect Kai Kahele.

The names of Chris Todd, Maureen Namaka Rawlins and Laura Acacio will be forwarded to Ige after 44 local party officials watched short presentations from all seven candidates and a two-hour voting session.


Todd was the top choice in the ranked voting, consisting of three rounds of votes, with the winner progressing to the short list.

Ige has 60 days from Kahele’s Dec. 16 resignation to select from the three candidates. State and local party officials are hoping the nomination comes as soon as possible, with the Jan. 20 legislative session looming.

The seat comes up for election in 2022.

Todd has represented Keaukaha, parts of Hilo, Panaewa and Waiakea in the state House since his 2017 appointment by Ige to fill a vacant seat. He’s easily won re-election since then.

If Todd is appointed to the Senate, a somewhat smaller group of party leaders in his district will go through the process again to pick three names to send to Ige to fill the House seat until 2022.

Todd said moving up to the state Senate would “amplify” his voice. He said more work gets done when government officials concentrate on the job at hand, rather than going for self-aggrandizement and “having my picture on the front page of the newspaper.”

“I want to make life better for the people here and the people on Hawaii Island,” he said, describing his involvement in Democratic Party politics since he was “dragged” door-to-door by politically active parents in his youth. “We really have a lot of work to do.”

Rawlins, a Native Hawaiian community advocate and educator and formerly chairwoman of the Native Hawaiian Education Council, talked about growing up in Keaukaha. She spent most of her allotted four minutes praising the other candidates.

“The slate of candidates before you is an excellent one,” she said.

Acacio, a substitute teacher who has served in multiple leadership roles within the state Democratic Party and in nonprofits such as the Hilo Surfrider Foundation and Ka Umeke Kaeo Public Charter School, listed a number of priorities, including a progressive state tax on extreme wealth, as well as actively addressing income equality and climate justice.


Important issues are “really taking care of the resources that makes Hawaii Hawaii,” she said. “It’s so important that we come out stronger.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at

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