County Council, Senate candidates engage community, lay out platforms in Waimea


Candidates for Senate District 4 and County Council districts 1 and 9 laid out their platforms in Waimea Thursday night.

In a speed-dating format, candidates moved from table to table and had face to face discussions with about 50 residents on topics ranging from roads to agriculture.

Among the District 9 Council candidates, Ronald Gonzales of Waikoloa and Honokaa said he wasn’t necessarily happy with the representation thus far.

“I don’t feel everyone’s voice is being heard. I don’t get a lot of sense of cooperation,” said Gonzales, manager of Sansei Restaurant and former chairman of the Windward Planning Commission.

Gonzales is running on a platform of renewable energy and smart growth, self sufficiency and backing the island’s farmers and ranchers so they can compete with products being shipped in.

“If we want to wean ourselves off fossil fuels, we have to go geothermal,” he said.

The island is going to grow and the key is to grow responsibly, Gonzales said.

Oliver Shimaoka of Waimea, also running for the District 9 seat, called for common sense leadership.

“The ninth district is unique from the other eight,” he said. “We have five communities with unique needs.”

Shimaoka called for the construction of an escape road in Puako and said development is the leading issue for Kawaihae.

“I not only want to work with farmers, I am a farmer,” he said. “We are the bread basket of the state and have the ability to create jobs.”

The island has all the components necessary for creating clean energy, and needs to find someone to compete with Hawaii Electric Light Co., said Shimaoka, who identified the agricultural park in Waimea and community greenhouses as among his top priorities. The Ke Ala Kahawai O Waimea should be turned into a cultural trail, he said, but the problem in the past has been getting the Council members on the same page.

Margaret Wille, who currently holds the District 9 seat, said her priorities are agriculture, infrastructure and water.

Wille also said she supports astronomy and geothermal.

“But with geothermal, we haven’t done enough discussions with the people impacted in the community,” Wille said.

Wille has been working on resolution to support the Kawaihae bypass, she said. With the improvement of Saddle Road, a lot of traffic that used to pass through Waimea is going elsewhere, said Wille, who proposed providing more trails and events in Waimea to draw visitors.

A key question, she said, is “how can we provide essential services and keep down the taxes and the costs we all suffer under?”

District 1 Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter of Ookala said the health and safety of Hawaii County residents is her chief priority. Poindexter, who is chair of the County Finance Committee, said her focus will be park infrastructure, community gardens, roads and bridges.

Poindexter pointed to a rich multicultural upbringing in Hamakua that helps her understand and address a diversity of concerns on the island.

“We had our gardens and we were sustainable,” said Poindexter. “I think we can learn from the past.”

Larry Gering of Hilo, who ran for the District 1 seat in 2012, called for transparency, affordability and accountability and referred to his experience as a farmer and business owner.

The county, he said, “threw thousands of farmers under the bus with the hogwash precautionary principal, when there is no proof GMOs cause harm.”

“Our constipated building code needs to be addressed,” Gering said. “Waiting six months for a building inspection? Totally stupid.”

Gering faulted a lack of initiative on the part of the county in repairing facilities that are falling apart.

“I get involved and I get people involved,” he said.

Battling for Senate District 4 are Lorraine Inouye and incumbent Malama Solomon. Inouye of Hilo ran for the seat in 2012 but was edged out by Solomon in the primary. Alain Schiller of Waikoloa, a Libertarian, attended but did not participate in the forum. Schiller will face the primary winner in November.

Inouye, who served as the senator of District 1 from 1998-2008, is also a former Big Island mayor and council member. Inouye called for greater education opportunities, more school resources and local control. She also touted food self-sufficiency and bringing back the Constitutional Convention, the last of which was held in 1978.

“I think its about time to float that again. We’re in a different era now,” Inouye said.

Roundtable discussions on the state’s tax system are called for, including examination of the general excise tax and the sales tax, Inouye said, “and all the other taxes consumers pay.”

“We pay a lot of tax,” she said.

“There is much more to be done to support our farmers,” Inouye said. “I will seek more funding for our hospitals, especially those that support rural communities.”

Solomon was elected to the District 4 seat in 2012 and prior to that, was appointed to the District 1 seat in Dec. 2010 to replace Dwight Takamine.

Solomon called for slowing down the island’s export of money in exchange for oil and food, fast-tracking the new Palamanui campus, re-establishing the Kona Airport as an international gateway, and increasing airlift to the island.

“We should keep that hard-earned cash in our communities,” she said.

A strong supporter of charter schools, Solomon called for parity in funding with normal Department of Education schools.

“We should give them optimum funding and let them decide how to spend the money,” she said. “My concern is that charter schools have to answer to a higher level of accountability than the DOE. Where is the fairness in that?”

Solomon said she also supports engaging with private sector for preschool education.