Candidates for the House District 5 seat and the County Council District 6 slot tackled taxes, garbage, GMO labeling and other issues at a candidate forum Saturday in Kealakekua.
Democratic incumbent Richard Creagan is a retired Naalehu physician and Yale graduate who was a health care worker in the Marshall Islands for two years. He will vie for the House seat against Democrat Gene “Bucky” Leslie — a Holualoa businessman with 40 years of experience in civic clubs. The winner will match up with Keauhou mauka coffee farmer Dave Bateman, a Republican and former Air Force colonel, who ran for the seat in 2012. Candidates Jon Lalanne, a Libertarian of Ocean View, and Randy Ruis, an Independent also of Ocean View, were invited to the forum but did not participate.
Candidates agreed that genetically modified products should be labeled and that the National Park Service and the federal government should not determine who controls the Keauhou aquifer.
Creagan, who strongly supports labor unions and protecting livable wage jobs, said his experience in the office sets him apart from his competitors. Creagan was appointed to the seat in January to replace Denny Coffman, who resigned in December. Bateman touted support for island farmers, local control of schools, incentives for businesses and smaller government. Leslie called for more higher education opportunities, an ohana-style approach to government, and listening and working cooperatively to find solutions.
Asked about their top priorities, Leslie said he would reach out to people and open channels of communication. Creagan said there is a need to address problems in the state hospital system and a need for medical marijuana dispensaries. Creagan, who serves on a marijuana task force, said the drug is a medicine and should be decriminalized.
Bateman called for a 20 percent reduction in personal income tax and reductions in the general excise tax, reducing energy costs by increasing renewable sources and creating new jobs in agriculture.
In regards to the high cost of doing business in Hawaii, Bateman again said residents are excessively taxed.
“The GET is a pyramid — 11 percent. You’re in effect paying more in retail tax than California and Washington,” said Bateman, who called for easier permitting and licensing.
“Get the government off our backs,” he said. “We need a government that says yes you can, not no you can’t.”
Creagan also called for a decreased excise tax, addressing the “permitting morass,” and putting rental housing on agricultural land to both support farmers and provide more homes.
Leslie said the question is how those priorities are balanced in the Legislature.
“It’s an ohana feeling of how we are going to work this,” he said. “I know I can bring this balance to the Legislature.”
The forum at Christ Church Episcopal was sponsored by the League of Women Voters. House District 5 stretches from Naalehu to Kahaluu.
On the topic of a state hospital system, Creagan called for partial privatization while protecting union jobs and employee interests.
Leslie said the problem is one of knowing how to get things done in the Legislature.
“I feel the hospital is adequate, but we need more doctors and nurses,” he said.
Bateman called for privatization of hospitals while protecting union jobs and identifying ways to be more efficient.
All of the candidates condemned the practice of “gut and replace,” where bills become so modified as they work through the legislative process that their original intent is lost.
Creagan said the tactic is one the leadership uses to get its way.
“They’re not willing to give up that way of doing things,” he said.
Bateman said it is critical for people to know what their legislators are voting on.
“Even the legislators don’t know,” he said.
In the District 6 County Council race, the issues of a cumbersome permitting system resurfaced. Contending for the seat are Maile David-Medeiros of Captain Cook, the deputy county clerk who spent a decade as a legislative aide in county government and who ran unsuccessfully for council in 2010 and 2012; Jim Wilson of Volcano, the former publisher of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald; and Richard Abbett of Ocean View, who has worked at the county, state and federal level in salmon recovery in the Pacific Northwest, and engaged in other environmental advocacy.
“The permitting process is so hard to get through that people are building homes and facilities that are probably not safe,” said Wilson, who called for a commonsense, business-style approach to county government.
“The problem is that businesses are trying to come to the island,” Wilson said, “but the permitting process takes two years and they just walk away.”
The District 6 seat is being vacated by Brenda Ford, who is term limited and can’t seek re-election. The district stretches from Volcano to Kealakekua.
Asked about their top priorities, Abbett cited a need to increase the county’s share of the transient accommodations tax and a general recognition that county taxpayers are paying more because of recent property tax reassessments. David-Medeiros said farmers need help battling invasive species and the coffee berry borer and the Ka‘u Community Development Plan needs to be completed. Wilson called for a solution to the county’s trash problem and “the GMO situation.”
Fielding a question about what should be included in the county’s solution to its trash problem, Abbett said the terms of the current contract out for bid would lock the county in for 30 years and not allow it to meet its recycling goals.
“I can’t support the incinerator project,” he said.
Wilson said the solution must be one that has worked well elsewhere, and called for more study.
“I’m not convinced we have the proper solution,” he said.
David-Medeiros said recycling needs to be the main goal of waste processing.
She said the county could be more aggressive in its approach to recycling by implementing a curbside recycling service to get residents accustomed to the practice.
Wilson called for more public education on the benefits of recycling and the possibility of incentives. Abbett agreed with greater education efforts, implementing the curbside proposal where population densities allow and encouraging “private sources that are trying to fill that niche.”