HILO —The Democratic label, deep community and union ties and familiar last name were enough to easily carry political newcomer Richard Onishi to the state House on Tuesday.
Onishi, 58, brother to Hilo County Councilman Dennis Onishi, won 4,855 votes, or 57 percent, in a three-way race to win the open House District 3 seat. Republican Marlene Hapai garnered 2,795 votes, 33 percent, and Libertarian Fred Fogel won 851 votes, or 10 percent.
House District 3 became an open seat when the incumbent, Democratic Rep. Clift Tsuji, was moved to the District 2 seat following reapportionment. The newly redrawn district stretches along Highway 11 from Panaewa to Punaluu, reaching into Ka‘u and Waiakea Uka and the Puna Mauka subdivisions.
Onishi, who beat freshman Ka‘u County Councilwoman Brittany Smart in the Democratic primary, was born and raised in Hilo and is currently an information systems analyst for Hawaii County. He holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
A longtime union steward and former officer with the Hawaii Government Employees Association and unit chairman for the American of State, County and Municipal Employees, Onishi is a strong proponent of economic development and plans to work on diversifying the island economy, especially helping farmers get started or expand their business.
He said his 20 years experience lobbying the Legislature has helped him learn the process and the players.
“We’re elated,” Onishi said. “I feel like I’ll be able to hit the ground running and we’ll be able to get good things done.”
Hapai, 64, was born and raised in Honokaa earned a doctorate in entomology at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. After 35 years as a teacher, she’s now business manager for the family business, Andrade Building, and a UH regent emeritus. An unsuccessful candidate for state House district 4 in 2010, Hapai advocates more public-private partnerships and other economic revitalization efforts.
Fogel has lived in Hawaii for 37 years, five years in the district, and is a retired strategic planner and adviser to the adjutant general, Hawaii Department of Defense. He believes in a flat tax, eliminating taxes on food and medicine and cutting spending, noting that Hawaii has the third largest debt burden in the nation.