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Fontaine Faces Ing in Closely Watched State House Race

October 11, 2012
Susan Halas (wailukusue@gmail.com) , The Maui Weekly

he race for the State House District 11 covering Kihei, Wailea and Makena pits freshman incumbent Legislator George Fontaine, 51, Maui's only elected Republican, against Mark "Kaniela" Ing, 23, a novice Democrat who hopes to unseat Rep. Fontaine and make it a clean sweep for the Democrats in the Maui delegation to the state legislature.

Both candidates won their respective party primaries. Fontaine ran unopposed. Ing, a newcomer to Maui electoral politics, faced a number of older and better-known Democrats in the August primary and captured his party's nomination convincingly.

The winner of the Nov. 6 General Election will serve a two-year term.

Article Photos

Democrat Mark “Kaniela” Ing (right) said that it would be difficult for a Republican to get results for the district. A person affiliated with the Democratic majority party could do better, he added.

Incumbent George Fontaine (left) does not consider his Republican affiliation a handicap in representing the voters of South Maui, and he rejects attempts to portray him as “a sad puppy out in the cold.”

On the surface, the race seems to be a garden-variety state house election, but it is one of the more closely watched seats statewide. It is also one of the few contests this year in which voters have a genuine choice--not just between candidates of different parties, but also different styles, interests, ages, life accomplishments and attitudes.

Both candidates said they expect the combined expenses of the Primary and General Elections to total about $30,000.

In late September, the Maui Weekly sat down to discuss politics, policy and their respective views with both candidates.

Rep. George Fontaine - Republican Incumbent

Fontaine, 51, is a 20-plus-year resident of Kihei. Prior to entering politics, he was a 25-year veteran of the Maui Police Department, who retired with the rank of captain. He is the former owner and president of Maui Gateway, an Internet service provider.

He is a past president of the Kihei Community Association.

Long active in Rotary International, he is a past president of the Rotary Club of Kihei-Wailea and served as district governor of Rotary District 5000 (Hawai'i), which is comprised of over 40 clubs with more than 2,000 members statewide.

He is a member of the congregation at St. Teresa's Church in Kihei, and heads a task force he created to discuss the issues of homelessness in the area. Issues involving the problems of the homeless also have a high priority in his current campaign.

Fontaine is married, the father of two and serves as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary.

The campaign has received endorsements from the United Public Workers (UPW), State of Hawai'i Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), the Maui Chamber of Commerce, as well as a number of other local and state organizations.

First-term legislator [subhead]

Fontaine ran unsuccessfully for the South Maui state House seat in 2008. In 2010, he ran again and won the seat by a margin of less than 200 votes. His victory sent him to the Legislature, where he joined the most endangered of all species--the elected Hawai'i Republican. At present, he is one of only eight Republicans in the 51-member state House.

Fontaine does not consider his minority-party status a handicap in representing the voters of South Maui, and rejects attempts to portray him as "a sad puppy out in the cold."

"We work together," he said, referring to his Democratic legislative colleagues. "We get along. We are all there to represent the people of Maui."

He is proud of his perfect attendance record in the house and of actually showing up in person to attend committee meetings.

"You know, many of the legislators watch the hearings on closed circuit TV," Fontaine said. "I think it's important to be there in person and ask questions."

Looking back on his accomplishments in his first term, he mentioned his work to help local families facing foreclosure, both by being an active proponent of legislation to reform foreclosure practices and in personally using his office to help individuals in dealing with the banks.

He also pointed to his role in raising awareness of cybercrime. "As a result of an informational briefing I held in the summer of 2011 on cybercrime, over 30 cybercrime bills were submitted by both the minority and majority," said Fontaine.

Among those that passed, Fontaine pointed to his "yes" votes for measures cracking down on cyber bullying, production of out-of-state records, and theft and fraud using a computer.

As for bringing funds for improvements to South Maui, Fontaine mentioned new civil defense sirens that will soon to be installed in the Makena area. He also pointed to funds for a portable classroom at Kihei Elementary School and to an access ramp for Lokelani Intermediate School.

Asked about his vote against the civil unions bill in the 2011 session, Fontaine said, "That ship has sailed. It passed. It's the law."

On social welfare programs, Fontaine said he has always supported measures that give Hawai'i citizens an adequate safety net.

"I am in favor of these," but, he added, "I do look for ways to cut down on fraud and abuse."

Future priorities

Fontaine sees securing financing for the Kihei High School as among his top legislative priorities. In his view, this is an objective shared by all the current Maui legislators and likely to be a team effort. He mentioned his continuing work with state Sen. Roz Baker (D) to keep this school moving forward.

Also of major concern is the $21 billion shortfall in the state pension fund.

"That's equivalent to $25,000 per taxpayer," he said. "We owe more than we are able to pay to retirees."

Fontaine said that while he favors honoring existing commitments, "We have to look at ways to curb benefits going forward to what we are actually able to provide."

On the campaign trail

Fontaine said he has found the response from South Maui voters "very warm and encouraging." He estimates he's distributed thousands of campaign flyers by walking the district door to door. Those who have spoken with him along the way said their priorities in this election are "jobs, the economy, getting the Kihei High School built."

"I consider the election my report card; it's for the voters to decide on who they want to represent them," said Fontaine. "I'm working as hard as I can, and if re-elected, I will continue to work on behalf of the people of South Maui."

For more information, visit www.fontaine4maui.com.

Mark Kaniela Ing, Democrat

Mark Kaniela Ing, 23, was born in Makawao. He is a 2006 graduate of Kamehameha Schools Maui. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Hawai'i at Manoa in 2010. As an undergraduate, he was voted student body president during the 2009-10 school year, one of the few Neighbor Islanders to achieve that distinction.

Ing worked days and continued with his UH studies at night. He received a master's degree in public administration in 2012.

Between 2010 and 2011, he held a number of short-term positions--including legislative researcher at the Honolulu City Council--and posts with the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and Center for Progressive Leadership in Washington, D.C.

Ing won an election to a Honolulu neighborhood board and served one year in the unpaid post between 2010-11. He was also a nominee for Maui trustee for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.

Ing filed as a Democratic candidate for the state House seat in June 2012, listing a Kihei residence.

He has received the endorsement of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association (HSTA), the Hawai'i Government Employees Association (HGEA), the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the Sierra Club, and a variety of other labor and trade organizations.

Early interest in politics

Ing said his earliest interest in politics dated back to childhood watching the candidates for public office ride in the annual Makawao Paniolo Parade.

His interest grew when he was elected student body president at the University of Hawai'i. During his term, then-Gov. Linda Lingle made $60 million in cuts to the university budget.

Ing said that he and his student associates led the fight to have the cuts rescinded and were successful in having $22 million in funding restored. He added that the experience increased his interest in public affairs and broadened his contacts among elected officials.

"This is something I can do," he thought. The experience encouraged him to think about elective office at home, "instead of taking a job in Honolulu or Washington, D.C."

Ing sees his youth as an asset. "If I'm elected," he said, "the decisions that I make will affect me personally 20 and 50 years down the line."

He also noted that many of the current legislators have attended UH, and also a number of former student body presidents have gone on to successful legislative careers.

He mentioned other Hawai'i elected officials who entered politics early. "Tulsi [Gabbard] was 21 when she was first elected. Calvin Say (now speaker of the state House) was younger than I am when he was first elected," said Ing. "It's time to hand off the baton."

On the campaign trail

Like his opponent, Ing is spending much of his time walking the district. He said he has found the response very encouraging.

"People are grateful for someone coming to see them personally and spending time to talk with them individually," he said.

He named "funding for the new Kihei High School, cane burning, overdevelopment and unsustainable growth" as among the top concerns of South Maui voters.

His own top priorities include "education, putting the public interest ahead of special interests, and increased economic diversity--not just tourism," he said. "There have to be other options."

Highly critical of Fontaine

Ing was highly critical of his opponent.

He accused Fontaine of filing objections to Ing's election spending and reporting procedures with the State Campaign Spending Commission. Ing said the complaint was "clearly false" and filled with "nitpicky things."

"This was done on purpose," he said, "as a speed bump--a smear--to throw off my momentum."

Asked about the charges, Fontaine said, "That complaint was brought by the state GOP. They notified me of the action, but I did not initiate it and I am not aware of its status."

Gary Kam, a spokesperson for the State Campaign Spending Commission, verified that the party had filed a complaint, but could not comment on it, since it had yet to be heard. He said there was only one meeting before the election, and he was not certain whether the matter would be on the agenda.

Ing also said that Fontaine had failed to deliver funds for Kihei High School and that funds previously appropriated for the project had lapsed on Fontaine's watch. He also asserted that Fontaine had "failed to even ask for money" during the past legislative session. "That was the least he could have done," he said.

Fontaine termed the allegation, "absolutely false," pointing out that the funds had indeed lapsed, but they had done so well before he was elected.

Commenting on the status of the school's funding during his term, he said, "Both Sen. Baker and I tried to restore the $20 million appropriation. Roz's request made it out (of committee on the Senate side); mine died in the House Finance Committee. In the end, Fontaine said, "Neither request made it into the state budget, but not for lack of trying."

Future

In Ing's view, it's a fact of Hawai'i political life that it would be difficult for a Republican to get results for the district, and a person affiliated with the majority party could do better.

"People say that youth must take charge of their own future--now is the time for voters to put their money where their mouth is," said Ing. "It's a pretty clear choice in values and direction. Making policy is where I belong. It's about getting things done, not just talking about them."

As for the specifics of his plan, Ing said his Website gives a rundown of his "policy vision." He added he plans to send out six mailers between now and the election.

"If they don't know already, they soon will."

For more information, visit www.KanielaIng.com

 
 

 

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