Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Waipahu senator facing challenge

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Veteran Democratic Sen. Cal Kawamoto has enjoyed relatively easy elections since he first took office 10 years ago.

Cal Kawamoto

Age: 64

Occupation: Full-time legislator; retired Air Force officer

Family: Married; son, 37, and daughter, 33.

One big idea: Building the University of Hawai'i West O'ahu campus to help reduce traffic and increase higher education opportunities and resources in the area. "It's for the kids. ... (It will) improve the quality of life for our kids and our community."

Clarence Nishihara

Age: 61

Occupation: Retired vice principal, August Ahrens School

Family: Married; two daughters, 29 and 27

One big idea: Building communities. "An individual who represents a community should be out there speaking to the necessity of rebuilding a community. ... When people come together and they really have that intent, then you can get through some of the roadblocks — 'we can't do this, we can't do that.' "

But that may have changed this year, with Clarence Nishihara, the first Democrat to challenge Kawamoto for the Waipahu-Crestview-lower Pearl City district since the senator was first elected in 1994.

Nishihara, a first-time candidate, faces a likely uphill battle. Campaign finance reports as of June 30 show his campaign account of $8,663 dramatically lagged behind Kawamoto's $262,976.

Although Kawamoto was unopposed in 2002, more than a third of the votes cast for his seat by his constituents were blank.

The senator has also run into some controversy with the state Campaign Spending Commission, which recently fined him $21,000 for not reporting dozens of contributions and for using campaign money for personal expenses. Commission executive director Bob Watada has said he does not believe the violations were intentional, and Kawamoto acknowledged he and his campaign "made a mistake" and learned from the situation.

The district is such a Democratic stronghold that no Republican has run for the seat in at least a decade. So the winner of the Democratic primary will win the seat outright.

Traffic and drugs appear to be among the top concerns for district residents.

Kawamoto said traffic can be addressed by building the University of Hawai'i West O'ahu campus in Kapolei, as well as revisiting the idea of a fixed-rail transit system. And he said that while drug treatment is important, law enforcement needs more tools, such as easier wiretapping requirements and a constitutional amendment aimed at restoring "walk and talk" and "knock and talk" drug investigations.

Nishihara also said he would like to take a serious look at a fixed-rail system to help solve traffic issues. To help tackle drugs, he said he would like to see more drug treatment programs, as long as the treatment providers have a good success rate. He said he would also want law enforcement officials, service providers and others in the community to work together to develop a long-term solution.

Kawamoto said his top priority is to allocate $85 million in government bonds to begin building the UH West O'ahu campus. He also wants to complete a second access road from Leeward Community College to Farrington Highway. In addition to reducing town-bound traffic, Kawamoto said the West O'ahu campus would increase education opportunities in the area.

Kawamoto said he also wants to continue his push for public safety legislation, particularly on the roads. That includes establishing tougher penalties for drivers who speed, requiring children age 4 to 7 to sit in car child safety seats, installing photo enforcement cameras to catch drivers who run red lights, and a highway patrol.

Kawamoto also said he would like to make state campaign spending laws clearer, saying, "I would want to see that we have definitions for different things that people are getting violations for."

Nishihara said his first priority is campaign finance reform and that he would like to limit the amount of money that both incumbents and challengers can spend. That, he said, would cap the cost of campaigns and prevent large money interests from "buying elections."

Nishihara also said he would push for more accountability in the public school system. He said greater accountability could include removing school principals from the union and that he'd like to at least discuss the issue.

"I think when you have to show that your job is dependent on how well you do, and not how well your protections are to retain that job, I think that we move to a different level," he said.

Nishihara also said the state should have an independent review of additional funding and changes to the school system to analyze their impact.

Establishing a cohesive community in the district is a third priority for Nishihara. He said he would work with community groups, "pushing the message that we need to support our schools with more than just tax dollars; we need to actually have a physical presence, we need to participate, we need to look at the community as a broader perspective."

• • •

Senate district

Of the approximately 46,300 people in the district,

39.3 percent are of Filipino descent, according to 2000 Census figures. People of two or more races make up 15.5 percent, followed by Japanese at 15.4 percent and Caucasian at 12.4 percent.

Adult age groups in the district:

20 to 29     23%
65 and older     21%
50 to 64      20%
30 to 39      17%
40 to 49      16%
18 to 19      4%