State House District 3: Race features community activist, former teacher and man of ideas

By PETER SUR

By PETER SUR

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Tribune-Herald staff writer

Most of the new 3rd House District can be reached via Highway 11, from Panaewa to Punaluu, and points in between.

The district reaches into Ka‘u and Waiakea Uka and includes the subdivisions in the damp Puna mauka corridor. Where sugar was once king, diversified agriculture now rules. But the transition has been painful.

When redistricting moved state Rep. Clift Tsuji into the 2nd District, four people jumped into the race. Richard Onishi rode a wave of support in the Hilo precinct to defeat Councilwoman Brittany Smart in the Democratic primary by a vote of 3,298 to 2,260.

Onishi faces libertarian Fred Fogel and Republican Marlene Hapai in the Nov. 6 general election. Each has ideas about how to improve life in the district. None of them has held elective office before, but each has run an unsuccessful campaign for the state House.

Fogel, 62, is brimming with ideas, from a flat tax to legal marijuana use, term limits for state legislators, gay marriage rights, online voting, cutting government spending and ending the exporting of prisoners.

He would prefer to run as a nonpartisan candidate, but the state makes it almost impossible for him to reach the general election as a nonpartisan. Fogel is socially progressive and fiscally conservative, and he agrees with about 80 percent of the Libertarian platform.

Fogel was born in New York and grew up in South Carolina. Upon graduating from Penn State in 1971 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps and was sent to Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, where he trained as a radar intercept officer flying F-4B Phantom jets.

In 1976, Fogel earned a master’s degree in systems management from the University of Southern California. Discharged from the Marine Corps that year, he worked as an industrial engineer at Pearl Harbor in 1977 and later joined the Hawaii Air National Guard.

By the early 1990s, Fogel was a lieutenant colonel in the National Guard, advising the adjutant general on quality, process improvement, planning and related issues.

“It’s a way of looking at processes and determining what would be the best way to do something,” Fogel said. He says he can bring this analytic approach to state government.

He retired from the National Guard in 2005 and ran for the County Council in 2008.

That year, Fogel was the odd man out in a race that was overshadowed by a contest between Guy Enriques and incumbent Bob Jacobson. Fogel earned 2.8 percent of the vote.

In 2010, Fogel ran for the state House 5th District, gaining 22 percent of the vote in a loss to Democrat Bob Herkes.

Fogel wants to pay good teachers more, but he also wants to reduce the cost of government by 2 percent per year, until 30 percent reductions are reached.

He supports capital punishment, but he also wants to release all people incarcerated for illegal drug use.

He wants to eliminate sales taxes on food and drugs, reduce taxes on businesses, eliminate the income tax for people making less than $30,000 and have those who make more than that pay a flat income tax rate, but he also wants to close exemptions and loopholes that allow for mortgage interest deductions and child care tax credits.

Republicans and Democrats both have poor fiscal records, Fogel said.

“If you don’t have it, you shouldn’t spend it,” he said. “Growing government just becomes more expensive to the private citizens.”

He wants to make legislators subject to eight-year term limits to break up the existing “good-ole-boy” networks. He wants to break up the Board of Education and push control to local school boards.

Fogel is funding his own race with a $1,000 loan. As of Aug. 11 he has spent $75.19 on his campaign, including the $25 filing fee. He grins when asked how he’s getting his message out.

“I’m doing mini-mes,” he said, referring to an idea he got from Burma-Shave ad campaigns. Drivers heading into Hilo from Puna are noticing the four or five cardboard cutouts of the tall, bearded man along the highway, along with a string of words that form a message: “Want something different? Just vote.” “We can bank online. Why not vote online?”

Hapai, 64, was born in Honokaa, graduated from St. Joseph High and earned bachelor’s degree at Gonzaga University. A former educator who retains the poise and patience of a science teacher, she worked for 12 years in the Department of Education at Kohala High, Hilo High and University Laboratory School.

She earned a master’s degree in insect entomology in 1977 and a doctorate in insect physiology in 1981, both from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.

Hapai became a biology instructor at Hawaii Community College in 1982 and worked her way up through the ranks, at one point being a tenured associate professor at UH-Hilo and UH-Manoa at the same time. She has worked, at different times, as a biology and natural sciences professor at UH-Hilo, chair of the natural sciences program, director of what would be known as the ‘Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii during its construction, and from 2006 to 2008 was a member of the UH Board of Regents.

In 2010, Hapai was a candidate for chancellor at UH-Hilo. When she didn’t get in, she ran an abbreviated campaign that year for the state House against Democrat Faye Hanohano in the 4th District. Hanohano prevailed with 4,448 votes to Hapai’s 3,332. Redistricting has placed Hapai, a Kurtistown resident, in the 3rd District.

The experience taught Hapai to get her name out in the community. She’s a member of nine community organizations, and she’s been going door to door, asking people about their concerns.

If elected, Hapai’s priority would remain on economic recovery and jobs. At the same time, she’s aware that in places like Ka‘u, major companies have come in with development proposals only to hear the community say, “we don’t want you.” Meanwhile, other communities like Keaau might welcome industrial development in the Shipman Business Park. Every community is unique, she said, so Hapai proposes a marketing study to go out into each of the communities around her district and listen to what people want.

These studies would be done in conjunction with the community development plans, but they would involve a broader section of the residents who normally do not show up for the CDP meetings.

One of the most underserved areas in the state for higher education is in the 3rd House District. Hapai wants to change that by duplicating the success of the Molokai Education Center, a distance learning program at Kaunakakai, perhaps at a place in Ka‘u.

She wants to improve safety along Highway 11 by adding street lights.

“We have no lights … no call boxes … no restrooms” for the public, she said. On Saturday in Pahala, a visitor tracked her down to say that “we have no public restrooms in Pahala.”

Hapai, Fogel and Onishi, are all running positive campaigns, and they each ducked an opportunity to sling mud at each other.

“I think they’re very nice people. I haven’t talked in depth with either of them,” she said. But she believes her experience in education, agriculture and business qualify her to represent the district in the House. Like Fogel, Hapai’s campaign is mostly self-funded. She had $19,235 in cash on hand as of Aug. 11.

Hapai supports more public-private partnerships and buying local as ways to support the island economy.

“I’m not for increasing taxes because people are already having a very hard time,” she said.

Her husband, Archie Hapai, has served in the state Legislature from 1972 to 1974.

Though a Republican, she knows she needs the votes of independents and Democrats to win.

“You can’t stereotype,” said the science-loving academic who received $250 in campaign cash from the Hawaii State Teachers Association, and who sought an earmark for ‘Imiloa from U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.

“I feel like I’m ready to hit the ground running,” Hapai said. “I will be very ready and we are working very hard.”

Onishi, 58, is a senior information system analyst in the county Department of Information Technology, but he made his name as a volunteer in numerous community organizations, the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the Democratic Party.

Born in Hilo, Onishi graduated from Hilo High in 1972 and served in the U.S. Army as a survey party chief in the 3rd Field Artillery Battalion. Returning to Hilo after his discharge in 1977, Onishi studied business administration at UH-Hilo while working for KTA Super Stores as a computer systems operator.

Onishi earned his bachelor’s degree in 1986 and was a lecturer in HCC’s business education division from 1988 to 1996. He began working for Hawaii County in 1991.

The following year Onishi ran for the state House in the 2nd District. In the three-man race Onishi finished second in the Democratic primary to Rep. Jerry Chang by a vote of 2,772 to 2,305.

He turned his energy to HGEA and was elected president of the statewide white-collar public sector union in 2007. He’s been involved in a number of community groups and political campaigns. His brother Dennis Onishi serves on the County Council.

After an expensive primary campaign, Richard Onishi raised a respectable $37,588 and spent $31,972 as of Aug. 11, leaving $5,627 on hand for the general election. He says he has support from unions, businesses and individuals.

Asked why he’s running, Onishi replied that “I felt that I would better represent the district” than the other candidates.

“I believe that I have qualifications that I think exceed my opponents. I’ve been involved in the community for many, many years. I’ve been involved in the public schools, education. I’ve been involved in government by working in government, and lobbying the Legislature for various agencies. I’ve been involved in various political campaigns, so I’m aware of issues.”

Onishi considers Fogel a “formidable candidate” and says Hapai “has been working hard, and I’m not going to take for granted any of the candidates.”

He wants to “create a cycle of sustainability” in agriculture to make Hawaii less dependent on imported food. “A good example would be the poultry industry,” Onishi said. The state could provide incentives for farmers to raise chickens and use its byproducts — eggs, feathers, food, drumsticks, etc. — as a new industry on the island.

Onishi supports the development of alternative sources of energy, and he doesn’t have a preference as long as it’s clean, viable and safe. His campaign accepted $400 from Ormat Nevada in July.

“I think it’s really important that we begin to act now and we not wait for some kind of enhanced technology,” Onishi said. “I think there are in existence today methods and processes that make alternative energy.”

He wants to see the state provide incentives to start a manufacturing industry or the creation of a data center on an island not known for either. He supports some kind of “limited gambling,” perhaps on ships, to bring new revenue into the state.

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“I’m not looking at going in and raising taxes,” Onishi said. “At the same time, I don’t eliminate it as a potential source of revenue. It would have to be balanced with other savings.”

Email Peter Sur at psur@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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