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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, August 23, 2002

A hot primary for Democrats

By Will Hoover
Advertiser Staff Writer

The state Senate race for the 19th District pits 10-year Senate veteran Brian Kanno against Honolulu City Councilman John DeSoto, who, after 16 years, is losing his council seat because of term limits.

Voters in the Democratic primary will choose between two men who differ more in style and political background than in their outlook on what needs to be done in the newly reapportioned 19th District, which includes Makakilo, Waikele and O'ahu's second city, Kapolei.

The winner of the Democratic primary on Sept. 21 will face Republican Gerald Nakata in the Nov. 5 general election.

3 seeking Senate seat

Address: 92-1461C Ali'inui Drive
Occupation: Honolulu City Council member.
Family: Married, with two children (one deceased).
One big idea: Unify the various factions. "All things are related to the state and the city. So, you learn to work with both. The city, with infrastructure and zoning, and the implementation of roads, and schools, and prisons. It all affects the city. And the city affects the state."

Address: Declined to provide.
Occupation: Senator and Father Facilitator — Parents and Children
Together (PACT).
Family: Married, with two daughters.
One big idea: Emphasizing education. "Building UH-West Oahu in Kapolei would create tremendous opportunities for our area's young people."

91-1019 Pa'aoloulu Way
Occupation: Registered nurse at Kuakini Medical Center.
Family: Single.
One big idea: Making the political process more open. "Too often voters feel like they are not connected to the political process. I would make myself available to the average person."

The district roughly runs from Ko Olina Resort on the Leeward Coast to Waikele. One of the fastest-growing areas in the state, it has 32,000 residents, the majority of whom are between the ages of 30 and 50. More than half are of Asian descent, with the rest Caucasian, mixed race, and Hawaiian and Pacific Islanders.

The district has 24,000 names on the active voter registration list.

The issues, according to just about anybody you ask in the district, revolve around the Waimanalo Landfill, the Kapolei Library, the school system and the University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu campus.

But longtime resident Jane Ross, a member of the Makakilo/Kapolei/Honokai Hale Neighborhood Board, said all issues are linked to one overriding problem: inadequate infrastructure in an "exploding" community.

"We need to look more than 10 or 15 years down the road," said Ross. "This is a burgeoning community — it's not getting smaller — and more and more people will be coming. There are multiple concerns in this area.

"Some people have suggested that we shouldn't allow any more building until the infrastructure is in and can accommodate what's here."

Ross said Kanno, D-20th ('Ewa Beach, Makakilo, Kapolei), has done much for the community.

Kanno knows he is losing his 'Ewa Beach stronghold to reapportionment, but he intends to make up for that with support from other parts of the district.

"Waikele, which is new to the district, is right across the freeway from where I grew up," he said. "Village Park and Royal Kunia are also strong areas for me. And I was born and raised in Waipahu and graduated from Waipahu High School."

Kanno, whose political approach is low key, is chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He is a familiar face at the State Capitol, having spent his entire political career there.

DeSoto, on the other hand, has spent his entire political career in the City Council. He became council chairman earlier this year; he also served as council chairman in 1994-98.

In 1999 Kanno was criticized for voting against Margery Bronster's confirmation as state attorney general. Bronster's subsequent failure to win confirmation angered Hawai'i voters, who liked Bronster for her fight to oust unpopular Bishop Estate trustees. Kanno later sent his constituents a letter of apology for his vote.

Unlike several of colleagues he has had on the City Council, DeSoto has not been involved in any notable controversy. He has made headlines on occasion for his outspoken opinions and, once, for a protracted row he had with Councilman Andy Mirikitani.

DeSoto decided to run for senator because voters asked him to and because "there is so much unfinished business in the second city." He sees his lack of Senate experience as a strength. His constant refrain is that it's time for the city and state, which have traditionally not cooperated well, to start working together for the good of the community.

"I know how to work with the city and state," he said. "You have to work together to make things happen — the city, the state, the unions and private sector, everyone. It's got to be a community effort — a team effort."

Kanno said his top priority will be education projects in the district, including the new Kapolei Library. With construction finished but the library still empty because there's no money for books, that's a "black eye for the state, he said.

"Although the library has had its struggles with the Legislature," Kanno said, "I feel good that the Senate fully funded the library's request for $2.7 million."

While the Senate supported the library request, the House did not, he said. Next session, he's confident that the House will join the Senate in approving money for the library so it can open with books by the end of 2003.

DeSoto, who moved from his Makaha Valley home to the district's Ko Olina Fairways about a month ago, said the state has shown more interest in building prisons than meeting its educational challenges.

"I can't believe it," he said. "Imagine an empty prison instead of an empty library."

Kanno and DeSoto both say they'd like to get the Royal Kunia Elementary School project back on track. Plans for the school have been stalled for nearly a decade because of financial problems facing the developer, Herbert Horita.

However, neither candidate had specific ideas on how to speed that process.

In general, Kanno and DeSoto agree that government needs to do better in meeting the infrastructure needs of O'ahu's rapidly expanding second city. They generally agree that government should be more responsive to the community's wishes — such as when the residents say they want a larger university campus or when they say they do not want a larger landfill.

The controversial Waimanalo Landfill, which is near capacity even while the city scrambles to get the state to grant a permit to expand the landfill's height limit by 30 feet, has been a sore point with area residents such as Ralph Harris.

Harris, who is president of the Ko Olina Fairways Association of Apartment Owners, calls the landfill a "blight on the landscape," and said elected officials need to realize that it doesn't make sense to try to expand the area's tax base by enlarging the dump next to a new resort.

Kanno agreed and said the city is ignoring the wishes of the Leeward community while it tries to buy time.

"The city has been wrong to use delaying tactics with the landfill and not look at alternatives," said Kanno.

"There are absolutely alternative technologies. The city is proposing to expand H-POWER, but I think there are new technologies that would be a better investment for our community."

That is the same argument DeSoto used when the City Council wrangled with Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris about the landfill issue. DeSoto said that "the city made promises to the community (not to expand the dump), and they didn't keep their word."

DeSoto called the UH-West O'ahu campus "the main catalyst of the second city." Without it, Kapolei would be little more than a bedroom community. He said the campus in the Kapolei area will force the state to spend money to widen roads and put in the necessary infrastructure that a growing community requires.

He and Kanno both strongly support the idea of putting the campus on a proposed 320-acre site, which can be expanded to 500 acres. They oppose the idea of putting the campus on a proposed 29-acre location in downtown Kapolei.

"The community is uniformly in support of the large site," said Kanno, who, if elected, will urge the state to adopt that plan despite Campbell Estate's support of the downtown Kapolei site.

Republican Nakata said he decided to run for the Senate 19th District seat because he didn't like what was happening in the Legislature and felt frustrated in his efforts to communicate with elected officials.

Nakata, who is one-fourth Hawaiian, said he grew up poor in Hilo and was raised on Hawaiian Homestead land by his grandparents. He said he knows the hardships that less privileged people have trying to get ahead.

"I think we have a lot of voter apathy because people feel frustrated with the system," said Nakata, who was startled by the lack of connection to the political process he found in going door to door in his neighborhood of Kapolei.

"What we need," Nakata concluded, "is a change."