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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, September 4, 2002

New district 12 draws wide field

 •  Candidate profiles
 •  Map: State Senate District 12

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

The new Senate District 12, an eclectic area that includes Waikiki, Ala Moana and downtown, has drawn a wide field of candidates.

Honolulu's centers of business, government and tourism come together in the new district, a political footprint that combines parts of three old districts.

Nearly 50,000 people live in the neighborhoods, which have put both Democrats and Republicans in office. Demographically it breaks down to about 29 percent Caucasian, 15 percent Japanese and 15 percent Filipino.

Five people are running in the Democratic primary: City Councilman Jon Yoshimura, who is banned by term limits from running for re-election; former television reporter Jerry Drelling; architect Doug Luna; Pat McCain, who has experience in local, state and federal government; and Cindy Rasmussen, a Realtor associate who ran previously as a Republican.

The Republican primary has three candidates: state Rep. Lei Ahu Isa, who switched parties after years as a Democrat; musical director Les Among; and economist and teacher Gordon Trimble.

Winners in the primary races face off in the general.

Yoshimura, 43, said his time on the council had proved to him that no single person in a legislative setting can make the changes necessary to turn the state around. "It takes collaboration and consensus to get things done," he said.

Yoshimura said his experience gave him an edge in dealing with the economy and education, which he considers top priorities. "I think I've shown that I am able to bring people together and develop consensus and get things done. I think that experience is very important," he said.

In addition to seeing the district as crucial because of its demographics, Yoshimura said he sees potential for properly guided growth in Kaka'ako.

An attorney who has worked as a television reporter and cameraman, Yoshimura is active in community organizations including the Kalihi YMCA, and serves on the advisory board of the Sex Abuse Treatment Center.

He dropped out of the lieutenant governor's race to run for the Senate seat, which has no incumbent in the race. Yoshimura has represented part of the district for eight years, and probably has the best name recognition, some of it negative.

In April, he was notified by the Hawai'i Supreme Court that he would be suspended from practicing law for six months for lying about drinking before a 1999 auto accident. Yoshimura pleaded no contest to driving away after hitting a parked car.

Former veteran television reporter Jerry Drelling, 47, now runs his own public relations firm, after 14 years in the news business. He said he senses a negative attitude toward "professional politicians" and believes people are looking for a change.

"Coming out of the news business, I think people have a natural trust for me," Drelling said. "There's a strong sentiment in there to throw the bums out."

Meeting people in the district, Drelling said he has found "a lot of voters who are unhappy with the lack of integrity and honesty in politics," including some who are unhappy with Yoshimura. "He is the only scandal-stricken politician running for office," Drelling said.

Drelling said there work needs to be work on the Honolulu waterfront to make it less commercial and industrial, and more user-friendly. He also favors having the state work with the city to continue improvements to Waikiki.

Democrat Luna, a 63-year-old architect, believes his wide background qualifies him to win the Senate seat. He holds three academic degrees and has served in the Navy, banking and architecture.

Luna said he has a proven track record as a lobbyist and community activist. He points to the recent passage of the health insurance rate regulation bill as something he was able to accomplish with the help of others.

He has been active in the Democratic party for eight years at the grassroots level. "I have an understanding — more than most candidates — of what is wrong with the state now," he said.

Luna said he is running for office because he "saw a need for responsible change and have a vision for it through administrative restructuring, higher ethical and performance standards and prioritization in sustainable budgets."

McCain, 45, served as president of the Hawai'i Restaurant Association from October 1999 until he resigned in July to run for office. Before that, he worked for Unity House as government affairs liaison and was an aide to the city managing director for a little more than a year.

In political circles, McCain is best known as a key aide to U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie. McCain said he believes his experience and integrity give him the edge.

"This is the year where honesty matters more than any other. Jon was forced out of the lieutenant governor's race because he had a mountain of scandals," McCain said.

He said he could offer a "fresh start" combined with lessons learned from government and private industry. He said he would represent the district and not just special interests. And he is concerned about growth and traffic, especially in Waikiki.

McCain also serves on the Downtown/Chinatown Neighborhood Board, on the board of the Seagull Schools Inc. and is a "lifelong Democrat."

Rasmussen is running as a Democrat this year after trying to take on theniSen. Rod Tam in 1998 as a Republican.

Rasmussen said her experience sets her apart: 25 years of community service as a volunteer and almost 25 years of business experience.

The Realtor associate believes that running a business and being responsible to make payroll makes her the "single most qualified candidate for the district."

"If we were to run government more like a business, we wouldn't be in the trouble that we're in," she said. "Businesses have to show a profit; they just can't show bills at the end of the month."

Rasmussen said the district faces social as well as economic issues. She said she is eager to work for enhanced safety in the neighborhoods, especially for senior citizens.

Rasmussen is a 1977 Kamehameha Schools graduate and has served as co-chair of the Kalihi Business Association.

Ahu Isa, 58, believes her experience as a businesswoman who owns a real estate company sets her apart from the competition. She has represented parts of the district while serving in the state House for the last six years as a Democrat.

"I'm a veteran coming in. I feel I'm qualified," she said.

Ahu Isa left the Democratic party after a public quarrel with other Democrats, but she doesn't believe changing parties will hurt her with voters.

"I got fed up with the whole system," she said in explanation. Ahu Isa said people do not realize that party dominance sometimes places too much power in the hands of a few. "It means if they don't like what you say, they hold your bills."

She said she would oppose tax increases and rejects proposals for gambling. She favors using tax incentives to help create good-paying jobs.

Her community involvement includes work with the Kamehameha Lions Club, Palama Settlement, United Chinese Society and Ahahui Kaahumanu Society.

Among is a musical director for tour company Roberts Hawaii. He served eight years on the Waikiki Neighborhood Board.

Among, 37, said he's running because "serious change is needed in government today here in Hawai'i." Government needs to be smaller and more effective, he said.

Education, jobs and the economy are his top three concerns.

Among favors district school boards, saying they would allow teachers, parents and community members to monitor public schools more closely. He also supports abolishing the general excise tax on medical care and products.

He has lived in the district for years, and described himself as grassroots-oriented and "the only real Republican in the race."

Trimble, 58, is an economist and teacher who works as an assets manager for a private foundation. From 1974 to 2000, he was an economist, trade representative and administrator for Foreign Trade Zone No. 9.

This is Trimble's his first run for office, but he said his experience in trade and transportation issues gave him an advantage. "I know what it will take to get the economy growing again, and that's what the competition lacks."

Trimble calls Senate District 12 "the most important piece of real estate in the state," with centers of tourism, government and commerce.

"We can bring jobs back to Hawai'i by eliminating the tax on business-to-business transaction," he said.

Trimble said a lack of adequate harbor space hurts Honolulu business. He believes the creation of a vehicular ferry traveling among the islands would help the economy, provide a cheaper shipping alternative and dovetail with tourism.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.

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Lei Ahu Isa (R)

Address: 60 N. Beretania St.

Occupation: Professor of management at Hawai'i Pacific University and principal broker for Hilton Hawaiian Vacation Suites.

Family: A son, daughter and a grandson.

One big idea: "Helping our small businesses, especially our entrepreneurs. I'm looking at tax credits, more enterprise zones and helping them out about decreasing insurance costs."

Les Among (R)

Address: 1720 Ala Moana

Occupation: Musical director, Roberts Hawaii

Family: One daughter, age 7

One big idea: "We've got to take advantage of the retail space on the Honolulu waterfront — maybe having fisheries or boating activities; I don't think our waterfront has been capitalized on."

Gordon Trimble (R)

Address: 1350 Ala Moana

Occupation: Economist, teacher

Family: Married, one son who is serving as campaign manager

One big idea: "A marine highway of vehicular ferries to unify the islands and expand the markets of every small business in Hawai'i."

Jerry Drelling (D)

Address: 1778 Ala Moana

Occupation: President of Jerry Drelling Communications LLC, a public relations firm.

Family: Single

One big idea: "I think the big issue is that we really need to continue to reinvest in Waikiki and to continue investing in the Kaka'ako area."

Doug Luna (D)

Address: 700 Richards St.

Occupation: Architect

Family: Single

One big idea: "To reconcile the state/county and state departmental jurisdictions to end wasteful overlap and duplication of administration, facilities and services, and the self-serving, bureaucratic infighting and turf battles that result."

Pat McCain (D)

Address: 60 N. Nimitz Highway

Occupation: Candidate, former president of the Hawaii Restaurant Association (resigned to run).

Family: Single

One big idea: "Eliminating the state excise tax on federal contracts because it levels the playing field for our local contractors."

Cindy Rasmussen (D)

Address: Downtown

Occupation: Realtor associate

Family: A daughter, 23

One big idea: "If we were to run government more like a business, it would be much easier to achieve all we need."

Jon Yoshimura (D)

Address: Downtown

Occupation: City Council member

Family: Two sons, ages 15 and 13

One big idea: "We need to organize the various activities going on in our state harbors and open up some of that Honolulu waterfront property for public and private redevelopment, and we should also talk to Hawaiian Electric and get some definitive plan to relocate the downtown power plant."