Right Place, Right Time

Throughout her career, Beth Tokioka has just been at the right place at the right time. It's how she got into politics and eventually became the County's director of communications

She started out in journalism but came to Kaua’i for a hotel job, which following Iniki got her into politics. And now she’s the County spokesperson

Kaua’i County director of communications Beth Tokioka humbly credits much of her success to luck and being in the right place at the right time. But talk to her for about five minutes and it’s clear she didn’t luck herself into anything. What separates her from the rest is a lot of hard work.

Originally from Michigan, Tokioka attributes her drive to a good old-fashioned Midwestern work ethic.

“Part of what I grew up with was a really strong work ethic and strong desire to give back,” Tokioka says. “And I’m not happy unless I’m working really hard at something.”

Beth Tokioka’s first invitation to get involved in Kaua‘i politics came ‘kind of out of the blue’. Amanda C. Gregg Photo

Hand-picked for three administrations under former mayors Maryanne Kusaka and Bryan Baptiste, and current Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. Tokioka has given 16 years of that task-oriented outlook to the County of Kaua’i.

Having launched one of the county’s most innovative programs to date Kaua’i Made, which brands local businesses such as Talk Story Bookstore and Koloa Rum Company the single mother of two has come a long way since her very first gig out of college as a radio news reporter at a little station in Lansing, Mich.

An avid reader as a child, (she would finish several weeks’ worth of reading assignments in one sitting just for fun) Tokioka had dreams of becoming a writer.

Originally interested in journalism as a career part of why she studied communication arts at Michigan State University in the first place Tokioka headed to the West Coast hoping to land a job in media. Shortly thereafter a cousin encouraged her to come to San Jose, Calif. Though she arrived there without a job lined up, Tokioka says she happened to look up the term “reporter” in the local paper and find an opening.

Tokioka arrived six months before Iniki. Amanda C. Gregg photo

“It was for a traffic reporter position at Metro Traffic Control,” Tokioka says, adding the pay wasn’t much, but it had its benefits.

“Here I had moved to the Bay Area with no car, and here was a job where I got a car and could drive around and report on traffic jams,” she says.

Not at all intimidated about learning a new place (and having to report on it, live) Tokioka thrived thinking on her feet.

Though the job was exciting, it didn’t pay all the bills. So Tokioka remained looking for a second and third job, and became the production assistant on a San Francisco 49ers preseason TV show with former lineman Randy Cross. Again the pay wasn’t much, but the opportunity was worth its weight in gold.

“These were in the golden years of 49ers, and I would get to go to training camp every week,” Tokioka says, noting the show was light. “It was just like a wala’au, almost.”

Superintendent Bill Arakaki, Beth Tokioka and Mayor Bernard P. Carvalho Jr. at the recent General Atomics Science Fair. Photo courtesy County of Kaua‘i

Still struggling to pay rent, she got yet another job filing in a library, and soon her metro traffic reporter gig landed her a promotion as airborne reporter.

“I got to go up in an airplane and we’d fly around and I’d report on the traffic,” she says. “The airplane we used to fly was a Piper Tomahawk single engine, two-seater. We used to call it the ‘traumahawk,’ because it would get bounced around pretty badly above the hills of San Francisco.”

It was around that time that Tokioka reassessed her career. “I asked myself whether I wanted to ‘scrape by’ as a reporter,” she says.

So she looked into being a hotel sales representative, a career her roommate at the time loved.

Again, Tokioka knew she had to put in some time to make it happen.

Pono and Emma Tokioka. Photo courtesy Beth Tokioka

“I got a job actually as a secretary for a construction office that was building the Hyatt Regency in Burlingame,” she says. “So I figured I’d get my foot in the door hoping that when the hotel opens, I could end up there.”

As luck would have it, she did.