The Career Politician Versus the Political Rookie

Q & A with County of Hawaii Mayoral Candidates Mitch Roth and Ikaika Marzo

Photographs: Courtesy of Ikaika Marzo and Mitch Roth for Mayor Campaign
Writer: Kasumi Collins
Position: Editor-in-Chief

Editor's Note: Ke Kalahea reached out to the candidates running for the County of Hawaiʻi mayoral seat in the upcoming General Election, in hopes of better informing the student body about their choices on who best will govern this island. Below are the candidates’ responses.

Mitch Roth

Photo of a man smiling with a shaka hand gesture in a park. Q: How can you serve the students of UH Hilo?
A: The Job of the Mayor is to serve all citizens in the County. I intend on creating a government that helps people and businesses to thrive and succeed versus just permitting them to exist. By changing the philosophy of government, to one that is more business friendly, this will allow diverse businesses to provide quality jobs for UH students to gain needed experience and provide graduating students with the opportunity to obtain quality jobs on Hawaiʻi Island. As Mayor I intend on building a strong partnership with the university to bolster our county’s research & development, diversify our economy, and provide further opportunities for the youth of Hawaiʻi. I also intend to provide internships and mentorships for UH students to gain needed real-world experience and a first hand look at working in county government. As the Prosecuting Attorney, I have allowed UH Hilo students to do internships over the last 8 years.

Q: What is your occupation?
A: Hawaiʻi County Prosecutor

Q: What is your political experience?
A: Campaigning for and being elected Hawaiʻi County Prosecutor in 2012 and 2016.

Q: Why did you decide to run for mayor?
A: I decided to run for Mayor because I love Hawaiʻi Island and its people, and I want a better future for our next generation and the generations after that. Over the last 8 years as the elected prosecuting attorney, I’ve had a look behind the curtains of government and seen a lot of problems — many of which have been there for years and have been kicked down the road. I’m running for mayor to change the culture of government to help people thrive.

Q: Why should UH Hilo students be motivated to vote for you?
A: I have three adult children in the same age group as many UH Hilo students. All of my children grew up on Hawaiʻi Island, graduated from Waiakea High School, and now live on the mainland. My eldest daughter also went to UH Hilo before graduating from UH Manoa. They, like many young people on this island, are challenged to settle down on this island, especially with the high cost of living, and a lack of high-quality jobs and affordable housing. Now with COVID-19 and an economic collapse threatening our livelihoods, the fact of UH graduates and other residents moving elsewhere to live comfortably is even more palpable. I care too deeply about this island and its people to let that happen. As a college graduate myself, I understand the hard work that students put into their education to obtain their degrees and why it is important to create opportunities for students to succeed. If elected Mayor I will focus on building a dynamic and diverse economy that will allow the people of this island and future generations the opportunity to have a meaningful and comfortable life here.

Q: How do you stand out from the other candidate?
A: In contrast with my opponent, I have experience and have been a leader in government. This is especially important in the current situation that the County is facing in light of COVID-19. I understand how the County budget operates, what the job of the Mayor is and how to make positive changes in government. This allows me to hit the ground running to begin rebuilding our economy starting on Day 1 in office and help make Hawaiʻi Island’s future brighter.
My opponent and I are both community leaders. However, I have decades more experience in community organizing and working with the community. My style of leadership is about putting the needs and voices of the community first. I’ve led initiatives, engaged citizens, empowered people to lead, and brought the right people to the table so everyone’s voice can be heard. Through this I’ve developed great partnerships with organizations and strong relationships within our community. These relationships make all the difference in getting things done at the county level. Several of the community initiatives I’ve worked on include:

  • The Visitor Aloha Society of Hawaiʻi (VASH), which was averaging helping over 1000 visitors a year who were victims of crime or other traumatic incidents.
  • The Pahoa Weed and Seed Initiative, which helped weed out crime and seed in positive social change in the Pahoa community. This project received National attention for its success.
  • The Citizens Emergency Response Teams (CERT) . This project trains citizen volunteers to be first responders before the first responders arrive. Currently several communities in Hawaiʻi County have CERT teams.
  • The Pacific Island Youth Empowerment Summits (PaCYES). This is a yearly summit that helps youths form the Pacific Island see future opportunities that partners with the University of Hawaiʻi Hilo.
  • Shattered Dreams Youth Drinking and driving programs.
  • The Community Empowerment Project (CEO. This project empowered communities across the Island to help solve community issues.
  • The first Restorative Justice Program in a prosecutor’s Office in the Country.
  • Hawaiʻi Faith Leaders. This is a group I organized consisting of approximately 50 faith leaders spanning a variety of religions who give back to the community. When the Puna eruption took place, I assembled this group together to see how faith could be called to action, and as a result they were able to contribute $1.5 million in volunteer time, money, and in-kind donations during the lava disaster.

Q: UH Hilo has historically been challenged with creating and maintaining a traditional college town vibe, what are your thoughts on how to create and maintain that?
A: As Mayor, I will work to make Hawaiʻi Island economically vibrant while preserving its culture and values. We want a place where our students and residents can proudly live, work, and play. That means having a diverse and dynamic economy. I plan to refocus our county government to allow businesses to thrive. Our new reality after COVID-19 forces us to be creative and bring new ideas to the table. As mayor I plan to support entrepreneurship on this island and bring in accelerator programs to develop various job opportunities for college students and aspiring young professionals. I also plan to support efforts that will expand our technology infrastructure and make it easier for people to work and study remotely. I plan to make progress in areas that will enhance our quality of life here on this island while maintaining its local charm. This creates a better future for not only our students and graduates, but for all residents and generations to come.

Ikaika Marzo

Photograph of a man smiling with his arms crossed in a park.

Q: How can you serve the students of UH Hilo?
A: I want to collaborate with students and departments to make our island stronger. Our island is so lucky to have UH Hilo, a giant hub of knowledge, innovation, research and just that young energy. I want to hear UH voices, work on group projects and bring student’s ideas to life. I am very approachable and invite anyone to please contact me on social media or through because I want to listen to you. I must learn from university students themselves how our government can best serve them.
Our students all are the future of this island, and what you want, think and feel needs to be heard by our leaders. In fact, your vote “the younger generation OR student vote” in this upcoming election could be the swing vote and help determine the outcome of this election so please register to vote so that we may create an even better island life together! I’m here for you, the people of this island.
In my platform, I want to work to create and improve our alternative transportation routes, such as walking and biking paths, because I couldn’t afford a car when I was a student. We also improve public transportation so the students have the options to travel across the island when they are out of class. This will help our economy in other districts, as well as connect our island students with other communities and special places around our island.
I plan on improving interpretative signs and information around the island as well so that new student residents, current residents or visitors on this island can learn and understand the many important cultural or ecological history of places they stand, work and live around daily. This is one way our students can learn by doing: get out there around our island, and get out there in the ocean as well. For one, let’s mark the king’s trail that goes all the way around our island so that students can learn by doing and continue to learn outside the classroom.

Q: What is your occupation?
A: Community organizer and business owner involved in sustainable eco and cultural tourism; cattle rancher; US Coast Guard certified commercial fisherman; volleyball coach; master slack key guitar musician and teacher.
I am a business owner and 10-year interscholastic coach who brought jobs to my home district while honoring both science and Hawaiian culture through ecotourism. While running my business, I studied and obtained his US Coast Guard Captain’s license to expand my businesses from land to sea while building upon my traditional upbringing as a sustainable fisherman.
As a Master musician, I’ve performed the obscure art of Hawaiian slack key guitar worldwide, always keeping Hawaiian values and aloha close to my heart while sharing them all the way to New York’s Carnegie Hall, for example.

Q: What is your political experience?
A: I’m here to bring a fresh vision and positive change to current politics. I have never worked in politics, but I’ve always worked with people and I have so much love and aloha for the people and this island and want to use that as fuel to make our island more unique, special and stronger!
I am running to better connect that political world with all of our community and people. Change is coming to this island, let’s make it pono and positive. Whoever is the captain on this ship riding the rough waves of COVID-19 times will have the job of making bold and decisive moves — and I’m ready and will always involve the people on this journey.
I am an energetic Native Hawaiian business leader with experience leading people through disaster. I gained applicable experience helping people in my home district through the disaster of the 2018 Lower Puna lava eruption. For my service to the Hawaiʻi Island community, I received honors from the State of Hawaiʻi House of Representatives, Pacific Risk Management ʻOhana, T. George and S. Paris Foundation and was awarded "Best of East Hawaiʻi - Community Leader" in 2019 & 2020.

Q: Why did you decide to run for mayor?
A: When people of my home district found themselves in flaming peril from the 2018 lava eruption, I stepped up because our island needed help. I learned a ton in that experience about the gaps in our current system, and I know I can fix in many areas. Disasters on this island are inevitable: hurricanes, lava eruptions, tsunamis, and now COVID-19 and we must be able to protect our people and economy through anything. This means we must bring change and fresh ideas to our current government. I was raised in this resilient mindset which I will apply to helping our people through disasters and everyday life here on Hawaiʻi island. I’ve brought an economy to my hometown and working in sustainable business and agriculture has brought many of our people’s hardships to light.

Q: Why should UH Hilo students be motivated to vote for you?
A: I am committed to being the candidate for everyone-- I will connect and communicate with you to represent your wants and needs. We can use technology and social media to hear everybody, and this is something I have done before, during the 2018 lava eruption, when information to and from the people was lifesaving. We need to listen to our people, not only through disaster, but always. Like you, I am young, energetic, unique and want to help this amazing island. I’ve watched many recent university graduates who want to work locally here in their field not able to find a job. I have ideas on how to help our economy to support more jobs, and jobs that will make an industry that makes our town more interesting.

Q: How do you stand out from the other candidate?
A: While less than 6% of my opponent’s contributions came from $100 or less individual donations, about 36% of my contributions come from this $100 or less individual donations meaning this campaign is powered by the people; not big corporations or unions. And I am running for the people!
Born and raised on the Big Island of Hawaiʻi, my roots extend from Makuʻu, Puna to Kaʻu to Kapaʻahu, Kalapana, where I lost my childhood home to lava in the 1990s. I am a Native Hawaiian and I will bring a fresh vision and positive change to our county government. From my work experience as an artist, volleyball coach and business owner in sustainable cultural and ecotourism, commercial fishermen, cattle rancher. I’m proud that I have not worked in government before, I have lived here among the people, businesspeople, students and learned from the people what our island needs to be even better. I’m proud to have brought an economy to my hometown or Puna, and to have helped lead victims from the recent lava eruption through the 2018 lava disaster.

Q: UH Hilo has historically been challenged with creating and maintaining a traditional college town vibe, what are your thoughts on how to create and maintain that?
A: First and foremost, what is the vision that the students want to create and what are they lacking? With anything, I will listen to the students, faculty and staff first and see how we can work together to create something suitable and special. I know I would love to see more events and everyday town life where students and local community are able to mingle, when it is safe to gather. It would be great to put on student/community art shows in downtown Hilo, sand volleyball tournaments on Bayfront, crafts shows as well as local food and drink festivals to feature some great local favorites from our special island. I am all for giving Hilo more action, while maintaining our unique history and culture, and our lively UH community could be a big part of that!