The race for the 11th House District is shaping up to be one of the most crowded contests this election season, with five contenders hoping to represent South Maui at the State Capitol next year.
There are four candidates seeking the Democratic nomination next month, and the winner will face off against the sole incumbent GOP candidate, Rep. George Fontaine. Of the four, three Democratic hopefuls--Netra Halperin, Colin Hanlon and Kaniela Ing--arrived at the Akaku: Maui Community Television studios for a live primary candidate forum on Tuesday, July 3. Former state Rep. Joe Bertram, who has set out to reclaim the office he held for two terms, was conspicuously absent that evening. According to his campaign staff, he was ill and unable to attend.
Moderators Kathy Collins and Lucienne de Naie queried the three candidates "round robin-style" for nearly two hours, covering a wide range of the current--and future--issues affecting South Maui residents. Throughout the debate, it became very clear that Halperin, Hanlon and Ing are aligned on most of these issues, which could present island voters with a tough decision when they head to the polls on Aug. 11.
For instance, when asked if they would mandate the labeling of GMO products, all three candidates were in accordance on the issue, stating that they would pursue mandatory labeling if elected to office.
Hanlon, the chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Club of Maui, said matter-of-factly that he supports the labeling of GMO products. Ing, who has worked among legislators in Honolulu and Washington, D.C., noted that GMO labeling is a pillar of his political platform. "Absolutely," he said. "It's common sense to know what we are consuming." Halperin, who has a background in social work and currently produces the bimonthly "Netra's News" on Akaku, agreed with her fellow candidates on the issue, stating that she would also pursue mandatory labeling.
Another hot topic, the construction of the long-awaited Kihei high school, generated another round of similar responses. Hanlon is an ardent supporter of the new school, and improving education is the primary plank in his campaign platform. According to his figures, it will take $120 million in additional funding to get the project off the ground. Hanlon said he intends to secure the additional funding if elected, and "the best possible scenario is to open the doors [to the school] in 2016."
Ing also weighed in on the topic, agreeing that the planned high school should be a top priority for South Maui's legislator. "I know how things work," he said, "and I can get what we need for our district."
Halperin pointed out that the "current legislator," Rep. Fontaine, has "been unable to secure funding" for the new school, and that she would also look at other funding opportunities from sources other than the State Legislature.
Turning to the issue of striking a balance between development and the environment, the three were once again on the same page. When asked they would support a master plan for the Makena area, all three said yes. Hanlon said the creation of a master plan is essential. "It's important to protect our shoreline and our beaches," he said.
Ing agreed with Hanlon, saying that any development in the Makena area--one of his favorite bodysurfing spots--should be carefully considered. "The community loves it the way it is," he said.
Calling Makena one of Maui's "crown jewels," Halperin suggested that a master plan include "simple fixes" such as extending the bus line to mitigate traffic and congestion in the area.
While the three Democratic candidates may have similar views when it comes to the majority of issues impacting the South Maui community, there is one thing that divides them: only one will emerge victorious after the final votes are tallied on Aug. 11.
"South Maui needs to fight for its fair share," said Ing, "and we can do that by working together." He said that collaboration has been a mainstay throughout his experience working on the local, state and federal levels of government. "It's important to create positive relationships," he said.
"We need an active legislator," said Halperin, adding that she has worked at the State Legislature for two sessions and knows the inner workings of the legislative process. "We need someone who's going to be effective."
Hanlon also said he has South Maui's best interests at heart, which is exactly the reason why he is running for office. "We really need to come together as a community [and] nominate a strong Democratic candidate who can win in the general election," he said. "We need a strong voice for South Maui in the State Legislature... and I would like to be that strong voice."
If you missed the July 3 debate, don't worry. Akaku: Maui Community Television announced it would be running the program frequently, so visit www.akaku.org for listings. In addition, Akaku will host another live, televised candidate forum on Tuesday, July 24, starting at 6 p.m. on Channel 53. The forum will feature candidates for all of the Maui County races that will appear on the primary ballot next month.