Categorized | Elections, Featured, News

Lt. governor candidates at Kona Town Meeting

Fred Housel introduces the candidates. (Hawaii 24/7 photo by Karin Stanton)

Karin Stanton | Hawaii 24/7 Contributing Editor
Additional photography special to Hawaii 24/7 by Rod Hinman

Ten of the 11 candidates for lieutenant governor lined the stage Tuesday evening at the Kona Town Meeting, offering a quick introductory statement and then moving between 10 small groups in a speed dating-style forum.

The only candidate not in attendance was nonpartisan Leonard Kama.

Nearly 150 people attended the forum.

The first question posed to each candidate at Table No. 10 was “what do you see as the top priority issue and, as lieutenant governor, what can you do about it?”

What follows are highlights, quotes and notes from each in the order they arrived at Table No. 10:

Deborah Spence, Free Energy Party, Hilo

Deborah Spence

Spence said the economy is the top issue and it can be fixed by hemp, the “tree of life.” Hemp can be used as food, fuel and fiber, she said, but “it is being taken away from us.”

Spence, who said she previously has run unsuccessfully for Kauai council, indicated her candidacy is a direct result of the arrest of Roger Christie, who faces federal charges involving marijuana trafficking through his Hilo THC Ministry.

She said she suffers from Asperger Syndrome, is a high function autistic and had severe allergies as a child that impacted her education. This experience gives her insight into how to better operate the public education system, she said.

Spence also said the civil union debate needlessly divides families and should not be a government issue.

Brian Schatz, Democrat, Honolulu,

Brian Schatz

Schatz, an 8-year state legislator, put the clean energy industry and jobs it can create at the top of his list. He also stressed a good working relationship with the governor as a primary function of the lieutenant governor.

On the Big Island, he said agriculture should be cultivated as a way to help diversify the economy. “The Big Island should be the state breadbasket,” he said.

Hemp as a crop, he said, is an idea that should be explored cautiously.

On education, Schatz said, Hawaii needs to capitalize on “Race to the Top” funds, which could bring up to $75 million to the state. He would like to see more focus on system-wide accountability and student achievement.

Schatz said he supports basic civil rights.

Norman Sakamoto, Democrat, Aiea,

Norman Sakamoto

For Sakamoto, creating more jobs is the No. 1 issue. He wants to see roads, schools and hospital repairs done more quickly and believes universities in the state should focus more on research, which would keep people and money in Hawaii.

Sakamoto noted he has strong family connections to the Big Island and four terms in the state Senate, currently serving on education committees.

Hawaii can improve its public education by reaching out to the community, he said. Students need mentors and members of the community should get involved, rather than being critical of its operation.

On whether the state should keep the Transient Accommodation Tax or split it with the counties, Sakamoto said there is no easy answer and declined to take a stand.

Adrienne King, Republican, Honolulu,

Adrienne King

For King, an attorney, good education is the basis for a healthy economy.

State policies should be designed to encourage, rather than discourage, students and individuals in their pursuits. She said she favors liberation, rather than regulation.

Offering incentives to Internet and technology entrepreneurs – “the brain industries” – will spur the economy.

She favors an appointed Board of Education as a step in the right direction, but called it a “wimpy” solution. King also favors equality for public charter schools.

King said she supports Gov. Linda Lingle’s veto of the civil union bill and believes the issue needs more discussion in the public arena.

Jon Riki Karamatsu, Democrat, Waipahu,

Jon RIki Karamatsu

Karamatsu, an 8-year legislator, put the economy on the top of his list. Too much money leaves the state, he said, and the focus should be on agriculture and renewable energy as Hawaii seeks to be more sustainable.

The state should support and help develop agricultural and renewable energy businesses, through smart policies and grants.

The focus also should be on science/technology and tourism as workforce leaders, he said.

Karamatsu said he has worked with Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner Neil Abercrombie and Mufi Hannemann on several issues.

“I have a pretty good relationship with both candidates,” he said.

Gary Hooser, Democrat, Honolulu,

Gary Hooser

“It’s jobs and it’s the economy,” Hooser said.

Offering a greater quality of life and a good public education system will attract technology, service and Internet businesses, he said. Ensuring the state has an adequate infrastructure for business should be the short-term goal.

The Board of Education is a “problem,” Hooser said, while calling for more accountability in the system, positive adult role models and leadership at the school level, smaller class sizes and more early childhood education.

A 30-year resident of Kauai, former member of the Kauai County Council and 8-year state legislator, Hooser said he understands neighbor island issues.

He also said he would ask the governor to give him one issue to work on, whether it was renewable energy, the Department of Land and Natural Resources or agriculture.

Steve Hirakami, Democrat, Pahoa

Steve Hirakami

Hirakami is all about education. “It ties into everything,” he said.

As the sole administrator for the Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences charter school, Hirakami said the charter model can be applied to health care, energy independence, agriculture and the environment.

He said he favors school community councils to better tailor education for each region and would like to see more fiscal control at the school level.

For example, he said, 28 percent of education funding stays at the state administrative level and about 32 percent filters down to the school level.

Hirakami also stressed teaching youth to give, rather than take. Instead of focusing on what the state can hand out, he urges his students to get out and work in the community.

That’s an investment in their future, he said.

Lynn Finnegan, Republican, Aiea,

Lynn Finnegan

Finnegan leads with helping the economy recover, creating private sector jobs and championing sustainable growth.

An 8-year state legislator, Finnegan calls herself a fiscal and social conservative.

Public charter schools are the best solution, she said, while members of the public must stand up to the Department of Education status quo and demand it be decentralized.

Finnegan said control must be seized from the administrators and the focus returned to students. She noted 16 of the state’s 31 public charter schools avoided furlough Fridays.

Bringing in new business is critical, she said. The way to do that is to stop depending on government, reject higher taxes and vote in more Republicans.

“Politics is team sport,” she said, and the people are not served if there is not a balance in state government.

Bobby Bunda, Democrat, Aiea,

Bobby Bunda

Bunda couples jobs with economic recovery as the top issue.

Specifically, for West Hawaii, Bunda said he would work to build a new hospital and new community college campus. Both projects would create construction jobs, he said, and full time, permanent, skilled jobs.

Hawaii should place a greater emphasis on science to help drive the economy, he said.

He noted Hawaii Pacific University attracts the greatest number of foreign students to its undergraduate and graduate programs.

On the TAT, Bunda said he voted to give the counties their full share.

Bunda has served 28 years as a state lawmaker, including a stint as Senate president.

Lyla Berg, Democrat, Honolulu,

Lyla Berg

As a former educator, Berg stressed education from early childhood to adult learning.

The DOE and BOE are not looking out for what’s best for the community, she said, and the whole system needs to be reviewed.

Berg said she introduced the bill to increase students’ instructional time. And while that may not mean face-to-face time with teachers, it can include community service, mentorships and internships.

She said she is pleased that all the gubernatorial candidates seem to be putting a priority on education and she believes she can work well with any of the candidates.

Because the lieutenant governor has responsibility for the Office of Information Practices, she said, that position wields some power over the way the state is run.

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