Politics — A Summary Of The Council District 2 (S. Hilo) Race

By Alan McNarie

Voters in Hilo-centered District 2 often find only one or two names on the ballot. But this year, with no incumbent, there’s plenty of choice. The five candidates include a veteran former council member and attorney, a veteran county bureaucrat, a well-known Occupy activist, a probation officer, and a homeless person.

Former Councilmember Aaron Chung, seeking to return to office, returned the longest, and perhaps the most complexly reasoned, set of questionnaire answers of any candidate in our survey. Frankly  they are nearly impossible to summarize and we recommend that readers, as always, see the full answers online. But here are some highlights.

“District 2 is basically a compact residential community,” he writes. “As such there are two issues which come to mind: crime and road conditions.,” believes veteran former councilmember Aaron Chung.” For crime, we need to increase police presence and encourage community involvement, such as through the Neighborhood Watch program.  With regard to road conditions, we should identify roads which need to be repaired and then work with the administration in repairing them.”

Island-wide, he believes, “There is no question in my mind that the most significant problem we face as a community is poverty…. Hawai‘i Island has the highest rate of poverty in the state by far, and one-sixth of all children in Hawai‘i under the age of 5 are at risk of going hungry every night,” which, he notes aggravates a host of other ills, from homeless to teen pregnancy to untreated health problems. “I certainly do not have the solution to this most vexing of social problems,” he admits, “but I do know that if we fail to take action, the situation will only get worse.  I stand committed to bringing forth to the greater community an awareness of poverty and its costs….”

The big perennial issue for the council, he notes, is the budget: “We need to fix a system that is susceptible to “fiscal mood swings”—one in which government services are expanded when the economy is good, and then cut when the economy is bad…In that regard, one measure which I intend to propose would call for all charter amendments to be accompanied by a fiscal impact statement so that voters can be fully informed as to how a particular measure might affect the County budget and, consequently, their pocketbooks.”

The third big island-wide issue, he notes, is the 15-year-old crisis with the over-packed Hilo landfill. The next council, he believes, will probably have to evaluate the Kenoi administration’s proposals for a garbage-to-energy facility:  “All council members must keep an open mind in this matter until all of the information is presented.  Still, the County has been kicking this matter down the road for too long and a commitment has to be made toward resolving it once and for all.”

He favors more geothermal energy “if it can be done safely and translates into substantially and sustainably lower energy costs for our residents.” He has no “firm position on biofuels, but notes that “It is difficult for me to imagine that we would use prime agricultural lands to produce crops which will be used for something other than food… If marginal agricultural lands were used, I might be more receptive.” He also says he has an “open mind” about an undersea power cable to O`ahu, but expresses skepticism that it would benefit local residents.

Re food production, Chung says he has “long maintained that laws relating to the taxing of agricultural lands are too often abused.” He suggests “bringing farmers, agricultural specialists and economists together to determine which crops or livestock need to be produced, for local consumption or export. These crops or livestock would then be specified in the Hawaii County Code as being those which would entitle agricultural land owners to tax breaks.”

He does not support county-level regulation of GMOs or pesticides. He suggests that the council needs to buy land for housing when the housing market is down, rather than up, which is when the demand for low-income housing is at its most acute. He finds “merit” in the idea of  building a “village” for homeless people, but sees the need to provide “wrap around services, construction, amenities in and around such villages, management, etc.” as part of any such plan. “Still, we must begin the process,” he adds.  He personally is not in favor of legalizing marijuana, but sees it as inevitable, and advocates realistic planning for that day. He opposes public funding for elections.

Social services worker Kerri Petersen Marks came to a lot of people’s attention when she began posting live transmissions of County Council meetings and other public meetings on the Web. But since moving here in 2001, Marks has been active in a number of groups dealing with education, land issues, hunting and gathering rights, utility rates, and transparency in government, while serving as a social worker with various state agencies. She has degrees in both communications and gerontology.

One of her hot-button issues, not surprisingly, is the “need to make government more accessible by improving communication and access to records.” Some of the solutions she proposes are “simple fixes, like updating the County website to include all public testimony sites and better calendar functions for public meetings and other County sponsored activities. Other solutions will require cooperation and leadership to incorporate new tools like social media and make our public records easier to access and create systems less dependent on paper.” She wants to “upgrade infrastructure and make accessibility a priority,” and expand public transit.” She’s also a strong advocate for “home rule”: “decisions about what happens on our island should be made here, on our island.”

She opposes any geothermal expansion. “Hawai’i Island has had geothermal energy for over 30 years, and it has not proven to be a cheap or clean resource,” she summarizes. She supports public calls for a study of geothermal’s health effects on residents and for a residential evacuation plan around the site. She supports growing crops to produce biodiesel for local use, but not for export. She also opposes an inter-island power cable: “Hawai’i rate payers are already at breaking point. We cannot afford and do not need another billion dollar boondoggle,” she maintains.

She accepts money from outside her district, but is a longstanding supporter of “clean elections” and publicly funded campaigns.  “I have gathered petition signatures, phone banked, organized and participated in direct actions to raise awareness, and testified in favor of many bills supporting publicly funded campaigns and resolutions to end Citizen’s United,” she notes.


Shane Gali, probation officer and former manager of Childcare Connection Hawaii, thinks the biggest issue in District 2 is the disrepair of the roads. “We need to have the county roads division ramp up repairs,” he says.

The biggest issues island-wide, he believes, are the high costs of energy and of interisland travel, and the continuing crisis with the Hilo landfill. He favors the expansion of geothermal power, but only in unpopulated areas, and he wants the rates paid for it to be decoupled from the cost of oil-produced energy.

“The county can regulate the area of where geothermal is developed through zoning and can also set limits on the development, (size etc),” he believes.  “There may also be a need to regulate the use of ‘fracking’ (technology) in geothermal development.”

He thinks “idle lands” could be developed for biofuels, but opposes converting land to biofuel production that is currently used for food farming. The $700,000,000 – $1,000,000,000 cost building an undersea cable to send power to O’ahu is too big a burden for ratepayers, he believes.

“I want to support waste to energy to reduce our waste and increase our electrical production, but I am skeptical of the cost and need to research the environmental issues,” he notes.

He favors county level regulation of GM crops and of pesticides for “safety reasons”: “We need to monitor scientific experimentation and limit the chances for accidental/unintentional environmental exposure (to unproven GMO’s)….  We need to protect our ground water (our drinking water source) and also the rest of the environment.  These pesticides eventually end up in our water supply and in the ocean.”

To encourage affordable housing, he wants to loosen building codes and offer tax incentives. He points out that there is housing available—“Lanakila for instance”—that could be used for the homeless, but needs repair; he also wants to explore “alternate housing, like temporary shelters/housing made of recycled materials such as shipping containers.

He favors decriminalization of marijuana, but not full legalization: “There is such a focus on the ‘war on drugs’ (that we are losing) and spending all of our resources on interdiction,” he says. “We need to shift focus to prevention and treatment. As a former law enforcement officer I can’t support drug use (legalization) but the punishment must fit the crime (civil penalties, and treatment,  not jail time).  We can’t afford to lock up everyone.”

He’s declining all campaign contributions—“I don’t want to be beholden to anyone,” he says—and supports the idea of publicly funded elections.

Margarita “Dayday” Hopkins is perhaps best known for her longstanding role at the County’s Research and Development Department. At seven pages, her response to our questionnaire was nearly as detailed as Aaron Chung’s, and is best viewed online, but here are some of the highlights:

She believes the Big Island’s economy is “still struggling.” She wants to “promote job opportunities in partnership with the private sector; work with farmers to increase our local food supply; work to reduce homelessness, particularly in downtown Hilo; seek improved road safety and access; advocate for community-wide affordable alternative energy; make decisions on the fate of the Hilo landfill, [and] support the university as a major component of our economy.”

She supports geothermal expansion. To alleviate community concerns about it, she wants “better transparency” and to expand the county’s geothermal buy-out fund. She also supports biofuels, if they’re “economically viable” and if adequate soil conservation measures are in place. She’s undecided about a power cable to O`ahu. To decrease fossil fuel use, she wants to “increase public transportation”—she thinks “the “free” bus was a great idea”—“add and improve bike lanes,” promote electrical charging stations, and support “research on hydrogen-powered buses.” To bring down electrical uses, she would support “LEED certification” for new county buildings, “continue to support a County energy coordinator to monitor energy use within County government and explore new technologies,” and “revise building codes to allow greater use of alternate, yet safe, building methods that reduce energy.”

Hopkins thinks “We are being used as pawns” by pro- and anti-GMO forces; she says the county lacks the expertise and resources to regulate GMOs and pesticides. She has several proposals to help food producers with specific infrastructure needs, such as a slaughterhouse and a feed mill. She wants to “support all types of famring, not just the organic methods preferred by some council members”; she notes that “organic farming is small, with conventional farms providing 90 to 95 percent of our food.”

She opposes a private prison here, and generally supports the legalization of marijuana, but  “distribution to minors and driving under the influence must be severely punished.”

On creating livings: “The County should support all types of business,” she believes. “But there are no magic bullets. At present, County Council does not support job creation, it impedes it. It is paralyzed with indecision and uses the precautionary principle and a need for “perfect information” as excuses for doing nothing except hiring more consultants. Council is very adverse to controversy and strives for consensus.

Unfortunately, consensus is impossible to achieve as the “CAVE” people do exist, have found a way to live in their paradise, and will be opposed to any change. They are very vocal and have the time and resources to lobby Council. But Council must look beyond them to the vast silent majority who do not have the luxury of trust funds, fortunes made elsewhere, nor inherited lands. Council must evaluate each project regardless of type based on its economic and environmental merits, particularly its potential for creating well-paying jobs. Council should politely listen to our citizens but it must stand up to the bullies who have little regard for the less fortunate, often minority communities.”

When we called the number that William Halverson gave the Elections Commission, we reached a local business that said they knew him, but that they hadn’t given him permission to use the number.  “He’s homeless,” they told us.  We were unable to find any more information about him.

3 replies
  1. parv
    parv says:

    Are the detailed survey responses yet to be posted mentioned in the article multiple times?

    Is one allowed to vote in multiple district contests, or is voting possible only for the district one belongs to?

  2. Alan McNarie
    Alan McNarie says:

    We’re in the process of posting the survey responses. They should start appearing over the next few days
    You only get to vote on candidates in the district where you live.

  3. parv
    parv says:

    Thanks Alan,

    BTW, I did not get a notification, around Jul 20, that I was supposed to get by checking “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail” option. My email address as supplied for this comment was the same as earlier AFAIR. Neither do I remember deleting such a notice.

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