"It's different when your name is on the door," said freshman Hawai'i State Rep. Mark Kaniela Ing, recalling his first term on the job. Ing was no stranger to the Legislature, where he had worked as an aide and frequently visited as student body president at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa campus. But the 24-year-old Democrat said he saw things in a new light after he became an elected public official representing Kihei, Wailea and Makena.
Running for office last fall, Ing made securing funding for the long-stalled Kihei High School his top priority. Talk about a happy ending! He's home on Maui after the close of the legislative session. And the money--all $130 million of it--is included as line items in the state's recently passed biennium budget.
Of that amount, $30 million is in general obligation bonds and the balance will come from special funds. Though the spending has been authorized in the budget, the school will not actually get underway until money is released by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
Kaniela Ing, 24, (D) just completed the first year of a two-year term in the Hawai‘i State House representing Kīhei, Wailea and Mākena.
Photo courtesy of Kaniela Ing
Ing made it very clear that finding the funding for the school wasn't a solo effort. He credited Speaker of the House Joe Souki (D) of Maui and House Finance Chair Rep. Sylvia Luke on the House side, and Maui's Sen. Roz Baker (D) and Sen. David Ige (D), who heads the Senate Ways and Means Committee, with giving the project the necessary backing it needed to finally put the full amount on the books for the design-build project.
He also said the efforts of school supporters who called, wrote and emailed a massive amount of testimony demonstrated that the high school had a broad base of community support. In fact, he said, while other members of the House spent their discretionary allotments on expenditures such as staff dinners, he spent his on a direct-mail piece to voters in his district, encouraging them to make their wishes known to key legislators.
He also stressed that keeping the Kihei High School project on track is still his No. 1 priority. Ing said he was hopeful that the project could break ground as early as July 2014. In the period between now and the start of the next session, he hopes to go door to door again to talk with constituents about what steps are necessary to keep the school moving forward.
Easy? "No," he said, "it wasn't easy. You have to remember there are 26 senators and 51 House members and there's not enough money to go around. Some of those members only took home a small amount to their constituents. To be able to bring back a nine-figure number--no, that wasn't easy."
Acknowledging that it might be a hard act to follow, he mentioned that a colleague had suggested he devote some thought to "managing future expectations."
Along the way, he also realized that he would have to give in on other things that were important to him order to get the money for the school. Some of the measures he had hoped to see passed in the area of ethics, election reforms and social media dropped along the way.
"I had to trade I guess I learned not to get emotionally tied to proposed legislation," said Ing.
While he was on he subject of schools, Ing pointed out that Hawai'i ranks 51st--"below even the District of Columbia"--in school maintenance, with a backlog of over $360 million in needed repairs to existing facilities. "The average school in Hawai'i is 65 years old," he noted.
In light of the scarce money for upkeep, Ing expressed some reservations about the existing design with its "huge" 77-acre footprint and facilities that might not be optimal in the 21st century. Despite being a little "leery" in some ways of what's been proposed, he was emphatic: "I want that high school to go up--no more stall or delays."
Ing said other budget items of interest to South Maui residents include Pi'ilani Highway improvements and funds to fix the Kihei Elementary School roof.
Not all parts of his agenda were as successful as the school effort. Though legislation he introduced to ban smoking at the beach did not pass, he commented that introducing the measure had stimulated the dialog, and that he was encouraged to see that Honolulu had recently passed a similar measure.
"It's a ripple effect," he said, suggesting that, at least as far as he's concerned, there may be future discussion of the subject next year.
As for his overall impression of the first year of his first term, Ing said, "It's all about relationships. As a freshman, I tried to be humble and listen more than I spoke."
He said that members of the Maui House delegation got along well with each other, and he was pleasantly surprised by his fellow House members' level of intellect and commitment.
One thing that did prove challenging was being a 24-year-old boss whose employees were sometimes many years his senior. His staff's ages range from 68 to 20.
Ing said two important issues that played large at this year's session was the push to label genetically modified foods--an effort which he supports. Although the labeling measure failed, he reiterated his support for the concept.
He called the repeal of the Public Land Development Corporation (PLDC) legislation a "huge success." The PLDC was a body set up by a controversial law passed in an earlier session that granted public land developers waivers and broad exemptions from county codes and environmental regulations. When the specifics of the law became widely known, it proved extremely controversial and unpopular.
Ing credited the House under Souki's leadership with spearheading the repeal of the measure, and also said that outspoken opponents of the PLDC, such as Maui's Mahina Martin, "made a world of difference" in building momentum for the repeal and making sure the public had "an active voice" in decision-making.