Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 11, 2002

Old, new matchups vie for seats

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

KAILUA, Kona, Hawai'i — The Nov. 5 election will be the fourth time Rep. Paul Whalen and former state lawmaker Virginia Isbell have run against each other. Isbell, a Democrat who served 16 years in the state House, beat Whalen in their first 5th House District contest in 1994, but the Republican prevailed in 1998 and 2000.

The political opponents are vying for the newly redrawn 3rd Senate District covering Kona and most of Kohala, except Waimea.

Meanwhile, two election newcomers — Democrat Marni Herkes and Republican Mark Jernigan — are seeking the 6th House seat, also redrawn to comprise North Kona.

The energetic Isbell, 70, starts each day with a 5 a.m. swim in Kailua Bay.

"I love this community," she said. Isbell won eight straight House terms from 1980 to 1996, the last four as a Democrat after a falling out with the GOP when she attempted to fill a Senate vacancy in 1988.

In 1996, she left the Legislature and ran unsuccessfully for Big Island mayor.

She wants to fix traffic congestion, improve jobs, rid the community of rampant crystal methamphetamine abuse and resolve a growing housing problem for workers in Ka'u and Puna who must drive long distances to reach jobs.

Whalen, 39, a University of Hawai'i-Manoa law school graduate, worked as a prosecutor on O'ahu and the Big Island before starting his legislative career in 1996.

In the 2002 session, Whalen voted for the cap on gasoline prices and against physician-assisted suicide. He also supported a repeal of the law authorizing Hawai'i's unpopular traffic photo enforcement system, the so-called "van cams."

In his three House terms, Whalen said he fought for change and found his efforts routinely thwarted in the Senate. So he decided to pursue the open Senate seat created by redistricting to push for improvements in education and the state's business climate.

Whalen agrees with his rival on many issues but thinks he has "a greater ability to work with others to get things done."

Isbell, a former teacher and longtime community volunteer, is opposed to a school voucher system that allows parents to use public money for private schooling, saying it would drain money away from public schools and fails to address the real public education problems.

Whalen, who has two children in church-sponsored schools and has been involved in youth sports, said he would support vouchers if that's what the voters want. "It's the people's money, not the government's money," he said.

Both candidates are opposed to gambling in Hawai'i and do not favor tax increases.

To address Hawai'i's high cost of living, Whalen favors removing the sales tax on food and medicine, and eliminating regulations that limit "true competition."

Isbell would like to see incentives offered to developers to encourage construction of affordable housing.

First-time candidates

Although 6th House candidate Herkes, 69, has not run for office before, she is no stranger to politics.

As executive director of the Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce, Herkes has advocated for a number of West Hawai'i issues and served with numerous business, education and community groups.

The Democrat is running on a platform of "restoring truth in government, open communication and encouraging small business." Herkes said she has placed a $25 limit on contributions to her campaign.

Like her opponent, Herkes wants to improve education and the economy.

Most of all, she wants to establish a closer link between Kona residents and their elected leaders.

"I am really interested in representing the people of Kona and building on the quality of life," said Herkes, who has lived in Hawai'i since 1948.

Jernigan, 43, also a first-time candidate, has some political experience as GOP vice chairman for West Hawai'i and is a close associate of Republican Rep. Jim Rath, who is seeking a third term in Big Island's newly redrawn 7th House District.

Jernigan is owner of Soil Plus, a composting firm that produces custom soil blends, and Big Island Hauling Inc. As a businessman, he intends make a difference by reducing regulations and cutting the cost of government.

"Our state costs are rising faster than we can pay for them," he said. "Let's clean it up with a complete audit of government."

Both candidates oppose gambling, but are more sympathetic to school vouchers. Herkes said she would support "any avenue to improve access to education" and believes it would force public schools to improve by competing with private schools for students. Jernigan said he would support vouchers if that's the public's wish.

He said tax cuts are needed to stimulate the economy. Removing the sales tax on food, medical care, medicine and housing would encourage more consumer spending, according to Jernigan.

Herkes said she also is in favor of cutting government regulations.

Senate 3rd District
77-374 Sunset Drive, Kailua, Kona
OCCUPATION: Attorney, state representative
FAMILY: Married, four children
ONE BIG IDEA: Get the economy going and improve public education

75-166 Kalani St., Kealakekua
OCCUPATION: "Community caregiver"; former legislator and school teacher
FAMILY: Married, four children, three grandchildren.
ONE BIG IDEA: Affordable housing for Kona's working families

House 6th District
75-5721 Mamalahoa Highway, Holualoa
OCCUPATION: Executive director, Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce
FAMILY: Divorced, three children, one granddaughter
ONE BIG IDEA: "To get more people involved. They feel they have been deserted by the Legislature. We have to bring voters back into the process."
75-311 Nani Kailua Drive, Kailua, Kona
OCCUPATION: Founder and owner of Soil Plus and Big Island Hauling.
FAMILY: Married, two daughters
ONE BIG IDEA: Creating an environment for a better economy and education so we can keep our kids at home