Kaniela learning how to

shaka from his dad. (age 2)

Kaniela Learning to

Shaka from Dad, (Age 2)

Kaniela and family at

Kama‘ole III Beach,

Kihei (age 9)

The Early Years

Kaniela served as the first

UH Manoa Student-Body

President from Maui. (Age 19) 

I live in Kihei, and was born-and-raised, coming from at least four generations on Maui.  My father waited tables at “Raffles” in Wailea, while my mother sold shoes at the old Liberty House.  My three siblings and I didn’t have much, but they showered us in love and taught us the values of hard work, respect, and aloha.

My family’s incredibly diverse heritage is deeply rooted in Maui’s plantation history. On my mom side, Grandma Lourdas Fernandez comes from Portugese and Spanish immigrant roots. She met my Grandpa Daniel Saito, a Japanese WWII veteran, at the statehood celebration on Maui in 1959. Grandpa worked as a dispatcher for Maui Electric for 40 years, while Grandma was a homemaker for their three children. My father never knew his father and was hanai’d by his Hawaiian and Chinese, Dutch, Irish grandparents at birth. 

Lessons in Leadership

Kaniela worked in Maui’s pineapple fields every summer as a teen.

(age 14)

Kaniela helped start a non-profit

to provide instruments and teach

music in public elementary schools. (Age 20)

Kaniela became the youngest elected official in Maui history when he handily defeated three better-known Democratic candidates and the Republican incumbent.

(Age 23)

College: A Family First

A Historic Election

Dedicated to Service

Diverse Work Experience

Shortly before my twelfth birthday, my father suddenly and unexpectedly passed away. It was a tough time for our family, both emotionally and financially.  I found a job as a harvester with Maui Pineapple starting at 14 years old, waking up at 4am everyday to work in the pineapple fields every summer, in order to help my incredible mother raise me and my three siblings.

I was blessed to attend
Kamehameha Schools Maui Campus for high school where I took on leadership roles in music and sports, namely football, track and field, and paddling. I graduated in 2006 among the new campus’ first class.

Neither of my parents graduated from college, but they taught us the values of hard work and education. I held part-time and summer jobs, and took out massive loans in order to become a first generation college graduate at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Having never participated in student government, I ran for UH Student-body President after Governor Lingle’s budget cuts would have costed me an extra year of classes. I won despite getting grossly outspent, and went on to lead a student lobby that urged the legislature to restore over $40 million to our university.

After graduating, I attened graduate school at American University in D.C., launched a small business, did b2b sales for a Fortune 50 company, co- founded  an education non-profit, and acquired governmental experience at all four levels as a Legislative Aide at the State Capitol, Policy Advocate for OHA in D.C., Legislative Research for the City Council, and a Neighborhood Boardmember during Graduate school. Through these experiences I gained the knowledge and network needed to return home and serve.

When I returned home to Maui, I had no plans to ever run for office. But I noticed that the current representative opposed the values that I grew up holding dear, and I decided it was time for me apply what I have learned to serve my community.  I decided to run for office to give back to my island, teammates, chruchmates, and friends who have shown my family compassion when we needed it most.

I ran a grassroots campaign. I took a job at the Four Seasons, cleaning locker rooms and cardio equipment from 4am-noon to pay rent, then knocked on doors to hear directly from my neighbors everyday until sunset. 12,000 door knocks later, we won the election. I work my hardest everyday, because I am eternally grateful to my neighbors in South Maui for the continued honor and privilege of serving you.

Through great relationships with his colleagues, and by always listening to you, Kaniela has done so much for South Maui

(Age 27)

During my first term, I worked tirelessly to achieve our #1 priority to fully fund Kihei High School, this was only possible due to positive relationships with my colleagues and the testimony we received from the tear-and-send postcard that I sent to every South Maui household in 2013. We also passed major reform bills like repealing the PLDC and passing Same-day and online voter registration. During my second term we passed minimum wage, ended smoking on beaches, secured more funds for our district than the last 20 years combined, and broke ground on a new high school! But lots of work lies ahead.

I humbly ask for your vote, so I can continue my work for our beautiful South Maui community.

Kaniela and family

at Kama‘ole III Beach

Kihei (age 9) 

I remember when I was a child, my father pointing up to the mountains while driving me and my brother to the beach every Sunday after church. He would tell us how fortunate we are to live on such a beautiful island with open spaces of green stretching out to our pristine shorelines. But he would warn that within our lifetimes, “all this will be developed, and all these cane fields will be gone.” His words have always stayed with me, and I wondered if I would ever actually have a say in what happens next. With your continued support, I will have that chance.

In 2012, I entered public service with the idea that elections should be about big ideas not big money, and if I worked hard enough, and spoke from the heart, I would earn the trust of my community. This approached has allowed me to be free from big-money, special interest influence that typically dominates Maui politics, and truly represent your concerns.


Looking Ahead