Friday, June 17, 2016

Kihei House Race Heating Up

    It’s hot in Kihei. That fact is neither newsworthy nor controversial. But what is newsworthy is the heating up of the South Maui House seat. Democrats have got a real primary on their hands this year.
    In one corner you have our incumbent, the twenty-seven- year-old Kaniela Ing—arguably the youngest incumbent in our State’s history. Ing ran for office in 2012, beat out three other candidates in the primary, and then beat then-Republican and former-police officer incumbent George Fontaine.
     Ing grew up on Maui. His campaign website boasts of having a father who waited tables at Raffles in Wailea while his mom sold shoes at Liberty House (that was the anchor store at the Queen Kaahumanu Center back in the 1980s for you newcomers). He worked in pineapple fields over the summer and graduated among the first class of the Kamehameha Schools Maui Campus in 2006.
     He was the first in his family to go to college and is proud of it. In college he made a splash by being elected the first neighbor islander to serve as the student body president. His spouse is a civil rights activist. They have a newborn son.
     Then there’s his challenger: Deidre Tegarden. It’s unclear if she came from Maui, but she did attend McKinley High School in Honolulu. Her mother was a journalist and she had the fortunate opportunity to travel extensively through Asia as a young woman. She earned a degree in Chinese and Japanese studies from the University of Maryland.
     She’s fluent in Chinese and Japanese and lived abroad before moving to Maui in 1997. Her first job on the island was with the Outrigger Hotel and Resort in Wailea as the Conference Services Manager. She was also a manager of the Hula Bowl Maui event, where she was in charge of logistics, sales, and marketing.
     Tegarden’s background appears to be in coordinating ceremonies and events between Hawaii and Asia. In government she worked under the administration of Mayor Charmaine Tavares and later Governor Neil Abercrombie as Chief of Protocol for the State of Hawaii.
     Tegarden has been campaigning hard in Kihei. Her signs can be found from Maui Meadows to Kalama Park. She’s also got the endorsements of major labor unions on the island, including hotel workers and carpenters. Ing, however, has the endorsement of the Sierra Club and is starting to campaign too.
     The race is just starting to heat up. This week, the Maui News reported that in announcing his Sierra Club endorsement, Ing argued that the primary election “presents a clear choice between the old boy network’s trajectory of unchecked growth or a new grass-roots approach of smart growth and environmental stewardship.”
     Tegarden was quick to respond and called the announcement a “petty political rhetoric and attack.” She got into it herself by claiming that Ing has the one of the lowest attendance rates in the Legislature and that he is the “only Neighbor Island committee chair not to pass any legislation these past two years[.]”
     Ing shot back. He called the attendance dig a “mainland-style attack” that has “no place on Maui.” He explained his tardiness was caused by committee meetings running late and by being on Maui. He explained some absences were caused by health concerns for his partner and the birth of his son.
      As for passing bills, Tegarden got it wrong. Ing told the Maui News that he authored a bill requiring state board members to have some kind of training in Native Hawaiian law and landscaping to require native indigenous plants.
     But there’s more to it than that. In 2014, Ing introduced and was the first to sign off on a bill that allowed same-day registration, a progressive move toward opening the voting franchise. The bill allows those who would otherwise be eligible to vote but were late in registering, to vote at absentee polls or the voting booth itself on election day. It has the dramatic effect of increasing the voter franchise and empowering more people to participate in democracy. Ironically, Gov. Abercrombie, Tegarden’s former boss, signed it into law.
     And of course there’s the high school. Both candidates are crediting themselves in getting a Kihei High School built. Ing says that he helped funnel monies toward its construction and secured the support of lawmakers to make it happen. Tegarden credited herself for walking the ranch land grounds in 2011 with former Gov. Abercrombie, who later “signed the paperwork to acquire the land.”
     And so it begins. Everyone likes to claim that they want to run a clean campaign, but I have my doubts. I think folks actually want to the see the candidates go at it like this to see what they’re made of. It may be hot in South Maui right now, but given that this is just the start of what could be war of words between the candidates, it’s only going to get hotter.

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