The two men running for Hawaii County mayor highlighted actions their administrations took to help the island’s poorer residents at a forum Wednesday night in Waimea.
Mayor Billy Kenoi said his administration has worked to address a spectrum of needs, from housing to transportation to education. He noted his administration opened emergency and transitional housing sites, and is close to opening an affordable housing project in Waikoloa.
Former Mayor Harry Kim noted his decision to seek free county bus rides, which is, in effect, a $400 to $500 a month raise for island residents who took advantage of that. He also mentioned county water spigots, which give residents water at no cost.
“This is the biggest problem facing the state of Hawaii,” Kim said. “We don’t want a community that has 40 or 50 percent of the people struggling day to day. How do you make things better? Everything is related to the cost of living in Hawaii.”
About 150 people attended the forum, although the crowd had thinned somewhat by the time Kenoi and Kim took the stage. Kenoi said the 42 cents per kilowatt hour county residents are now paying for electricity is unacceptable. Someone needs to “create cheaper renewable energy,” Kenoi said. “That’s why we’re opposed to the Aina Koa Pono project. We don’t need more renewable energy, we need cheaper renewable energy.”
Kim defended comments he made at previous campaign events that he won’t split his cabinet between Hilo and Kona.
Candidates in three other races also took the stage to answer questions. Senator Malama Solomon, a Democrat running for the island’s new fourth state Senate District against Green Party candidate Kelly Greenwell, defended her support of the bill that created the controversial Public Land Development Corp. “There’s going to be many, many times that there will be room for public input,” Solomon said. “The corporation is not exempt from Sunshine (laws), the corporation does have to comply with county kuleana, whatever that may be.”
She said the state cannot afford the $1.2 billion needed to improve state parks, small boat harbors and other public facilities. “Don’t you think we deserve a clean restroom when we take our kids down to the park,” she asked.
Greenwell said he understands the state feels a need to develop some of the land it owns. Perhaps the program should have been called the public land preservation corporation, if the overall goal was really to protect the land and access, he added. The PLDC’s enacting legislation may say the public will be consulted, but neighbor island residents may just not believe it, he said.
Council District 9 candidate Sonny Shimaoka told the crowd he no longer wanted to take the question of how to resolve the county’s landfill issues to voters. “We need a County Council with backbone,” he said. “It should be placed in the County Council’s kuleana, working with the administration.”
Margaret Wille, who is running against Shimaoka, reiterated her support of the community development plans, on which she has worked extensively. She said the council should be able to hear information from the plans’ action committees. “Our voice is heard on a discretionary basis by the planning director,” she said. Former Gov. Linda Lingle kicked off the evening. Lingle is seeking the U.S. Senate seat Sen. Daniel Akaka is vacating. Her opponent, Democrat Rep. Mazie Hirono, did not attend the forum. Lingle highlighted her experience as a Republican governor working with a state Legislature made up predominantly of Democrats. Sending a split party delegation to Congress would benefit Hawaii, she said.