Russell Ruderman says the state has a crisis in the public education system.
“We need to restore all of their funding and encourage more control of the schools,” said Ruderman, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for State Senate District 2, eastern Ka‘u and lower Puna.
He’d like to eventually see local control extend to local school boards.
The district has three of the lowest performing schools in the state, he said. He would support tax increases if the money could be directed to school improvement.
“If tax increases are needed, I would rather see it come from property taxes or income tax than GET,” he said. “It doesn’t affect the poorest people disproportionately.”
General excise tax is levied on all transactions in the state.
The lack of jobs is also a big issue. Ruderman, 58, who owns the Island Naturals grocery chain, said agriculture, food production and social services are areas to increase jobs here. Having food production here would support local farmers, he said.
“We have a need to develop that potential,” he said.
Another major issue is Highway 130.
“We have a desperate need to make our highways safer,” Ruderman said, noting five people die annually in crashes or collisions on the highway, the main artery through Puna.
The state Department of Transportation has a plan that will take several more years before the highway is fixed to address the problems, Ruderman said. That’s not fast enough.
“It’s really a crisis,” he said.
Ruderman said he’s a strong advocate of solar and wind as alternative energy sources.
“They are the most cost-effective and have the least downsides,” he said. “There’s really no downside to solar.”
He would like to see state legislators instruct the Public Utilities Commission to tell the electricity providers to maximize solar power.
“Its potential has not been tapped,” he said.
Ruderman opposes any further expansion of Puna Geothermal Venture in Puna. The company uses “old, unsafe technology, and the district’s geology is so unstable that the company is being forced to frequently drill new wells to replace damaged ones, he said.
He would like to see a study of the health effects the geothermal production plant has had on the region’s residents.
“Puna’s residents have paid their dues,” he said.
He doesn’t oppose geothermal expansion to Kona or Maui, as long as any plants are located away from residential areas.
One West Hawaii issue Ruderman said he would like to address is the collection and sale of tropical fish.
“I would propose and support limits on aquarium fish gathering on the reef,” he said. “We need to remove the pressure on our reefs.”
Residents love the reefs, and abundant life in the reefs help drive tourists to West Hawaii, he said.