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Fontaine and Ing Focus on South Maui’s Hot Topics

November 1, 2012
Debra Lordan - Editor/General Manager ( , The Maui Weekly

One of the most closely watched races in the state will be decided in South Maui on Tuesday, Nov. 6. The race for the State House District 11 covering Kihei, Wailea and Makena has become a high profile rivalry between freshman incumbent Legislator George Fontaine, 51, Maui's only elected Republican, and 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.

Fontaine ran unopposed in the Primary Election on Aug. 11. Ing, a newcomer to Maui electoral politics, prevailed in a battle with a number of older and better-known Democrats and captured his party's nomination convincingly.

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

Article Photos

George Fontaine · Mark Kaniela Ing

This South Maui race is one of 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.

For this last article before the election, the candidates were each given identical word-count guidelines and asked to answer a series of questions: Why are you running for office? Did you vote in favor of Act 55, creating the Public Land Development Corporation? Would you consider repealing it now? What is your position on the Pi'ilani Promenade/Maui Outlets development? How can the state support Kihei High School and improve public education on Maui? What can the state do to better protect the environment? The candidates were also asked to name and discuss three additional pivotal South Maui issues.

The Maui Weekly hopes that the answers to these questions will help South Maui voters to make a wise choice at the polls on Nov. 6.


1. Why are you running for office?

My priorities are to finish Kihei High School, protect the environment, stop tax increases, build safer communities, improve education in our schools, support small businesses, protect homeowners and consumers, and fight for South Maui's right to control its own future. I voted against the "Dirty Dozen" anti-environmental bills and against the pension tax. I served in the Maui Police Department for 20 years, retiring as a captain. I am the only former police officer in the Legislature. If reelected, I plan to continue playing a bipartisan leadership role to bring legislators and the community together.

2. Did you vote in favor of Act 55, creating the Public Land Development Corporation? Would you consider repealing it now?

I favor repeal of Act 55. Act 55 was slipped through the Legislature via last minute Conference Committee machinations. The bill legislators voted for was completely different from the bill that landed on Gov. Neil Abercrombie's desk.

3. What is your position on the Pi'ilani Promenade/ Maui Outlets development?

I am concerned that Pi'ilani Promenade is substantially different than it was originally envisioned. I wrote to the state Land Use Commission requesting they look into the matter, and they have agreed to do so. This gives the community an opportunity to be heard.

4. How can the state support Kihei High School and improve public education on Maui?

For Kihei High School [KHS], 2012 has been a year of progress. Early this year, the State of Hawai'i completed purchase of the 77-acre future KHS site on the mauka side of Pi'ilani Highway at Kulanihakoi Street. The Preliminary EIS [environmental impact statement] was published last February and now South Maui is taking another step towards construction with the Sept. 8 release of the Final Environmental Impact Statement [FEIS], which is available for public viewing while awaiting the governor's signature.

Construction funding for KHS lapsed with the 2008 biennium, so I made this a top priority after being elected in 2010. In the 2011 legislative session, I introduced HB1173 and Sen. Roz Baker introduced SB2669 seeking an amendment to the supplemental executive 2012 budget to provide $20 million in funding for KHS construction.

In his next draft budget for the State of Hawai'i (2013-14), it is anticipated that Gov. Abercrombie will request $20 million in capital funding for site work, land grading and infrastructure construction. This may even include offsite infrastructure envisioned in the FEIS, such as sidewalks and bicycle lanes leading to the KHS site.

The Kihei Community Association, its Kihei High Action Team subcommittee and other South Maui community organizations have announced plans to speak up in support of this funding. I encourage all Maui residents to join in. This funding with will positively impact Kihei, and also the Baldwin and Maui High School communities.

5. What can the state do to better protect the environment?

As a certified dive master, I understand the importance of protecting our waters and the 'aina. I voted against the "Dirty Dozen" anti-environmental bills. I look forward to repealing Act 55. We have strong environmental laws in place. We need to enforce them. That is what I insisted on when writing to the state Land Use Commission asking for the public to be heard on Pi'ilani Promenade. That is what we delivered by completing the Final EIS for Kihei High School in September.

6. Name and discuss three additional pivotal South Maui issues.

6a. Homelessness

I am working with Kihei Homeless Alliance to bring about community-based solutions to get South Maui's homeless off the streets and into shelters. Working with the Maui Police Department, we increased patrols in areas homeless congregate and brought the community together to find solutions.

6b. Affordable Housing

I lent the resources of my office to help Maui homeowners facing foreclosure save their homes through renegotiation with their lenders. I backed successful foreclosure reform and protection for military personnel against abusive lending practices. I was proud to receive the 2011 FACE Maui "Going to Bat for Maui's Homeowners Award" for this effort. With Na Hale o Maui, I worked to bring affordable housing to Maui.

6c. Pension Tax

If enacted, the Pension Tax would hit South Maui seniors hard. I was proud to help defeat the Pension Tax in the Legislature, and if reelected I will work to defeat it again. It is wrong to break the trust with our retirees.

7. Why should voters choose you?

In my first term, I co-introduced or co-sponsored 12 bills passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor. We have made important progress on Kihei High School. As a community, we are creating our own grassroots solutions on homelessness, affordable housing and foreclosures. We are working to ensure the community is heard on development issues. It has been an honor to help bring the community together and I look forward to continuing these efforts with all of you.


1. Why are you running for office?

I was born and raised on Maui and have an emotional connection to our island home. Very early on in my life, my parents instilled in me the values of hard work and education. Although neither of my parents went to college, they urged me to obtain the highest level of education possible and to use that to care for myself, my family and the community around me. Growing up, I worked in the pineapple fields, in retail, in the nonprofit sector and in business following college. Throughout those experiences, I realized the best way to achieve what my parents have taught me is through public service.

I simply want to ensure that my children will be able to experience the beauty of Maui as I have, and still have opportunity to secure great jobs, own homes and have the option to raise their families in the place that they were brought up. This is a basic societal expectation that may soon be lost in South Maui. We need to stop the brain-drain epidemic of our best and brightest young people while taking care of our kupuna, disadvantaged keiki, and the everyday, middle-class people.

In order to do this, we need to focus on long-term planning in government, which is the basis to my platform. From working at all levels of government, I learned that policy decisions will inevitably affect us 20 and even 50 years from now. This is why I emphasize education, local jobs and business, and sustainable and renewable practices.

For too long, Maui politics have been controlled by big-money campaign donors. By running a grassroots campaign--knocking on 12,000 doors, listening and taking small checks from hundreds of donors--I will be able to vote my conscience and truly represent the public interest.

2. Did you vote in favor of Act 55, creating the Public Land Development Corporation? Would you consider repealing it now?

As it shape-shifted through our state Legislature in April 2011, I recognized the potential of the PLDC and its (currently being established) Public Land Development Plan to starkly affect my personal future, cultural rights, and the lives of my generation's children and grandchildren. Having evolved from its original intent to establish an "appropriate and culturally sensitive public land development program," allowing for "limited issuance of commercial use permits for vessels in Ala Wai and Ke'ehi harbors" the PLDC currently has the capability to lease any and all public resources out to transnational private investment firms.

In December 2011, I was nominated to serve as an interim-trustee for the vacated Maui seat of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. I received the support of five of the seven voting trustees. This is partially because I made a close watch of Act 55 and the PLDC my priority months before the issue became mainstream. Since then, immense public outcry and apparent red flags in the specific language of the law has led me to support/introduce legislation, if elected, to repeal Act 55 during next legislative session.

Theoretically, the PLDC could be used as a bold attempt to move forward sustainability and community-building goals and generate revenue for the state DLNR's [Department of Land and Natural Resources] revolving fund. However, having watched it unfold, it is more a result of good lobbying than good policy. Big-dollar, campaign-funding developers already have a stronghold on Hawai'i politicians, but Act 55 only increases their power and allows them to skirt existing public input and scientific research requirements. Before we move to streamline the process of using public lands, we must limit the risks of abuse of the public, cultural rights and natural environment. A repeal is necessary in the meantime--it's what the people want, and the right thing to do.

3. What is your position on the Pi'ilani Promenade/Maui Outlets development?

While I support more economic opportunity and putting our local contractors and unions to work, I am opposed to the development of this mega-mall as it is currently proposed.

More shopping opportunities for everyday Kihei residents could benefit our economy, but at a time when Maui has the most empty retail spaces of all time, the scale of this project just does not make sense and is bound to fail even if more shopping is what South Maui wants.

Those who have been following my campaign know that I am not anti-development, but I am pro-community. If the project turned out to help small business, everyday consumers, and created a stronger community hub for Kihei--and it was something the community wants--then it may be something I support. However, all evidence points to the contrary. From knocking on over 12,000 doors and listening to my neighbors over the course of eight months, it became clear that the project lacks community support.

Many times, when Mainland developers with little stake in our community take on high-risk development projects like this mega-mall, the success of the project does not matter to them. They build it (often times with non-local workers), sell it and then disappear with their profits in pocket. We then see a rapid demise of the project and it remains a ghostly complex for years. We have an example of this in the Lahaina.

I am pleased that the state has required that additional hearings take place before construction, and I am optimistic that the South Maui community--environmentalists and construction workers together--will be able to find a compromise that will make Kihei more vibrant without devastating our local economy and beautiful vista.

4. How can the state support Kihei High School and improve public education on Maui?

We have heard a lot of campaign rhetoric about Kihei High School making progress, but the reality is, funding has made it through the state Senate, but it failed to make it through the state House of Representatives. Funding secured by our previous representative (Rep. Bertram) lapsed in July 2010 and has not been recovered since. While Gov. Neil Abercrombie will likely include funding for the high school in his biennial budget, and DOE [Department of Education] support is likely, the missing piece of the puzzle remains the only area that a representative has real influence over--getting the project onto the House budget.

Sen. Roz Baker and the rest of the Maui delegation need a partner they can caucus with to get the high school, or any other project, completed. From my six years of education and experience in Honolulu, I have learned the inner workings of the State Capitol and that we need to work as a team to fight for Maui and not get bullied by Honolulu interests. Furthermore, if elected, and a change in House leadership happens as expected, I will likely be sitting on the Finance Committee. From that position, our district will finally be able to see the basic infrastructure and capital improvement projects anyone would expect for a community the size of South Maui.

With your support and vote, we will be able to get Kihei High School built, reduce highway traffic, provide hundreds of local jobs, strengthen our future workforce and establish a true hub and identity for South Maui youth.

5. What can the state do to better protect the environment?

Environmentalists and union labor are often pitted against each other, and truthfully, do not always see eye to eye. My campaign has garnered support of unlikely endorsements from various unions but also from the Sierra Club of Hawai'i and various members of Maui Tomorrow. It's about bridging those gaps.

My vision is about sustainable and responsible development. When I see 3,000 luxury condominiums pop up in one year, to me, that is not responsible development. When resort expansion supersedes affordable housing, that is not responsible development. When we are seeing an outlet mall before a high school, that is definitely not sustainable and responsible development.

Responsible development is imperative as Hawai'i's water resources continue to decline. Changing weather patterns influenced by global warming have led to long-term decreases in rainfall, which have contributed to declines in groundwater recharge. With less water returning to nature's underground storage facilities, water levels in Hawai'i's aquifers and flow in our streams have waned. We need to preserve Na Wai Eha and allow their continued usage for local famers.

Despite Hawai'i's long struggle to manage water resources appropriately, there is hope for the future. Years of private appropriation of public resources inspired and informed Hawai'i's Water Code, which balances protection with beneficial use and seeks to restore long-neglected resources. This law can work efficiently if the Maui County Department of Water Supply receives the resources necessary to do its job. Without more positions and funding, however, litigation as opposed to departmental planning will continue to establish public priorities.

The time is now to invest in Hawai'i's resources, by supporting the county Board of Water Supply and others engaged in resource management and data collection, and by looking beyond the law to ensure that we--all of Hawai'i's people--are doing what is needed to protect these resources into the future.

6. Name and discuss three additional pivotal South Maui issues.

From door-knocking, many of you presented me with great ideas that fit within our vision of long-term planning in government--ideas that will re-spark the state economy. I synthesized these ideas with my own values to erect the pillars of my fresh vision platform:

6a. Education

As a product of Maui's public schools, I realize that public education is a vital investment for Hawai'i's future and must remain a priority in the Legislature. In South Maui, we must complete Kihei High School; it is way overdue, and must be bumped up on the priority list. Statewide, we must treat our teachers as professionals with incentives to achieve excellence. I further support exploring reform of our state-centered DOE in order to reduce inefficiencies and get the resources where they belong--to the classroom and teachers. Emphasizing public education as a legislative priority is the key to closing the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and their peers, and ensuring a bright future for all of our keiki.

6b. Local jobs and businesses

I believe today's public servants must possess the knowledge and training to think globally, but still act locally. It's time to look beyond just tourism and military to diversify our local economy. I support fiscally responsible policies and programs that help existing small business thrive, remove "red tape" and foster innovation from local entrepreneurs. I starkly oppose policy that encourages the outsourcing of local jobs. Finally, I support exploring regenerative agriculture models in order to create a more diverse, public-health-conscious and sustainable farming sector.

This election is not about party, but about what's right for the community and getting things done. This is what I seek to bring. I am a fiscally responsible Democrat who believes in simplifying Hawai'i's tax code by removing loopholes that benefit only a select few multinational corporations, and caring for disadvantaged children and our aging population.

6c. The health of our environment

Lastly, our economy relies on the health of our environment and availability of our limited resources. I prioritize preserving resources for use by future generations by encouraging new energy practices. This will start by transitioning Hawai'i from being the most oil-dependent state in the nation towards becoming a worldwide leader in sustainable and renewable energy practices. I believe that given Hawai'i's unique topographical advances, and its people's historical connection to the land and natural resources, we are positioned to be leaders in this inevitable and crucial societal shift. Hawai'i must continue moving quickly to restore the ancient Hawaiian value of sustainability and aloha 'aina to our modern, globalized society so that future generations will thrive.

7. Why should people vote for you?

Since I launched this campaign over a year ago, it has been a 100 percent discussion of my fresh vision for Maui's future. I am still out representing the same issues that you supported me on with your overwhelming aloha in the Primary Election.

However, since August, my opponent has run an incredibly maligning anti-campaign, attacking everything from my clean and transparent campaign finances, to questioning my birthplace, to ripping apart a blog I wrote in college to engage young leaders. This reflects his 2010 election, when he effectively frightened voters with a "your representative supports child molesters" mailer in order to win by only 172 votes. This type of personal campaigning was unprecedented on Maui and has no place here.

Sticking to the issues, none of the bills personally introduced by my opponent for South Maui have passed. Touting other lawmaker's bills that you co-signed as your own is very misleading.

From my six years of education and experience in Honolulu, I have learned that we need to work as a team, giving credit to where credit is due, to fight for Maui and not get bullied by Honolulu interests. Together, we can bridge the gaps between North Kihei and Wailea, unions and environmentalists, the young and wise, those of us who grew up here and those of us who found their true home later in life--because we all value the same thing: fostering an even better Maui 20 and 50 years from now. As a young legislator with a grassroots approach for the people, I will be uniquely positioned to make that happen in the decades ahead that I am dedicating to serving you. This is why I humbly ask for your vote of confidence to join me in a fresh vision for Maui's future on Nov. 6.




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