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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, August 28, 2002

Kaua'i vote is study in opposites

 •  Map: Kaua'i Senate Districts

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

LIHU'E, Kaua'i — The two sitting politicians competing in the Democratic primary for the Senate District covering Kaua'i and Ni'ihau — Jonathan Chun and Gary Hooser — address similar issues, but their personal styles couldn't be more different.

The winner will face Republican Rosie Holt in the Nov. 5 general election. Holt runs unopposed in the Sept. 21 primary.

Kaua'i County residents always have felt separated from the rest of the state, and a little left out when it comes to paying for state roads and other things.

Politicians and other community leaders have made an issue about losing young people to better job opportunities elsewhere, and Census figures bear them out.

Kaua'i County skews older than the rest of the state, with 65 percent of its voting-age population age 40 and older, compared with less than 60 percent in the rest of the state. That means the island is short of people of an age to start work, businesses and families.

The county traditionally votes Democratic, although the mayor is a Republican. For the past three decades, it has elected only Democrats to the state Senate.

Senate 7th District

Jonathan Chun (D)

Address: 2954 Mokoi St., Lihu'e

Occupation: Attorney, state senator

Family: Married with three children.

One big idea: Improve Kaua'i's transportation system. "We need a bypass road in Kapa'a, and Kaumuali'i Highway needs to have four lanes at least as far as Maluhia Road. We've funded the studies and planning, and now we need to get them built."

Gary Hooser (D)

Address: 5685 'Ohelo Road, Kapa'a.

Occupation: President of print and Internet publishing firm; Kaua'i County Council member.

Family: Married with two children.

One big idea: Improve public education. "We need to rebuild teacher morale, get our staffing to 100 percent and improve facilities. We need to keep it a priority."

Rosie Holt (R)

Address: Loloa Road, Wailua Houselots.

Occupation: Massage therapist.

Family: Married with five children.

One big idea: Remove the general excise tax on food and on medical care to help senior citizens, for whom these taxes are particularly burdensome.

The county also has one of the state's last two sugar plantations, but it has become a minor employer compared with tourism and the growing military and technology-related contracting activity based around the Navy's Pacific Missile Range Facility.

Economic diversification is a key issue for both Chun and Hooser. So is improving education and the island's overtaxed road system, which has led to rush-hour traffic jams in both directions around the county seat in Lihu'e.

Chun, 45, an attorney and Senate incumbent, said he adheres to the core Democratic Party beliefs.

"Philosophically, I am more of a Democrat than most. The purpose of government is to help people, period. Democrats are supposed to stand for helping those who can't help themselves. That's the standard upon which we measure our effectiveness," Chun said.

Hooser, 48, is president of a publishing firm and member of the Kaua'i County Council. His business background is one way he distinguishes himself from Chun.

"He's a lawyer, I'm a small-businessman. My focus is on problem-solving. One of my strengths is being open and listening to people, and I try to at least articulate why I believe the way I do," Hooser said.

Chun is a forceful speaker, sure of his positions and ready to back them up with facts and arguments. Hooser's style favors asking questions and trying to involve others in the decision-making process.

Chun argues that as a councilman, Hooser has played the role of an outsider better at criticizing than finding answers.

"It's not enough for a government official to say no. You have to take the next step and do something about it," Chun said.

He found himself under fire during his last term for being among the senators who voted to reject the confirmation of former state Attorney General Margery Bronster. Although many considered the ouster a punishment for her aggressive role in the Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate trustees investigation, Chun said he was more concerned about some of Bronster's less public decisions in handling state lawsuits, her office's lapses in representing state agencies and specific issues involving Kaua'i.

Hooser believes Chun erred in joining the backlash against a popular attorney general involved in a high-profile case, regardless of his reasons.

Chun said that the Bronster vote had been raised by only one constituent while he walked communities around the island, and that the voter appeared satisfied once he heard the senator's reasoning.

Hooser has attracted the lion's share of public employee union endorsements, in part because Chun angered labor in recent legislative sessions because of some of his positions on civil service, collective bargaining and government employee health funds.

"I think the (unions') leadership is afraid of the changes," Chun said.

Hooser has the backing of the Hawai'i State Teachers Association, the University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly, the Hawai'i Government Employees Association, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Sierra Club.

Chun has the support of the Hawai'i Masons Union and the Hawai'i Operating Engineers.

The candidates found common ground on education. Both offered examples of problems with Kaua'i's educational infrastructure: Hooser cited the lack of a playground at 'Ele'ele School, and Chun complained that some schools have such limited electrical wiring that they cannot add computers.

Hooser also expressed interest in ensuring public access to shoreline and mountain areas, and a desire to see the bumpy dirt road to Polihale State Beach Park paved.

Chun wants to expand the state's involvement in getting local farmers onto state lands that grew sugar cane, and providing them with irrigation. As a major agricultural landowner, the state has a responsibility to promote agriculture, and "it's time to put our money where our mouth is," he said.

Republican Holt said she would eliminate the excise tax on food and drugs, and work to eliminate the red tape that raises the cost of doing business in the Islands.

She said traffic on Kaua'i needs immediate attention.

"Relief highways must be constructed to ease congestion and speed emergency vehicle access," Holt said.

She expressed concern about hotels that have remained closed since Hurricane Iniki 10 years ago and the lost employment opportunities they represent.

"I would assess hotels that are not open a daily fee. They're costing us jobs, just sitting there," she said.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 245-3074.

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