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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Rural Puna district needs help

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

HILO, Hawai'i — Lower Puna residents have long felt neglected by politicians, and the community's problems have been growing as thousands of people moved into the rural area, lured by some of the cheapest real estate and rents in Hawai'i.


Portion of Kea'au, Pahoa, Hawaiian Acres, Orchid Land Estates, Hawaiian Paradise Park, Pohoiki, 'Opihikao, Kehena, Kaimu, Kalapana

The fast-growing District 4 has large numbers of newcomers, and Caucasians make up the largest racial group at almost 37 percent of the population. People of two or more ethnic groups account for 31 percent, while Native Hawaiians and Filipinos make up about 10 percent each. Japanese account for about 5 percent.

The District 4 neighborhoods often elect Democrats to the Legislature or County Council, but at times voters there do punch Republican ballots, either to punish Democrats, or to reward GOP candidates they like.

Age breakdown for adults: 18-19: 4 percent; 20-29: 15 percent; 30-39: 18 percent; 40-49: 26 percent; 50-64: 24 percent; 65 and up: 13 percent

Helene Hale (D)

Age: 86

Family: Widowed, two children, and one grandchild

Occupation: Full-time legislator, former teacher and former real estate broker

One big idea: As chair of the International Affairs Committee I have a vision to help make Hawai'i a world leader in trying to bring peace by exporting our Aloha Spirit as a solution to racial, religious, ethnic conflicts that rage today throughout the world. We are promoting former President Eisenhower's People to People and Sister City/State programs.

Brian Jordan (R)

Age: 49

Family: Wife, one child, two grandchildren

Occupation: Retired master sergeant, U.S. Marine Corps; teacher at Waiakea High School

One big idea: Local school boards and truly affordable modular housing. We could reduce the cost of housing by prefabricating single-unit dwellings. This could be financed with HUD money administered by state government and built by local contractors who bid to build. The lower-income citizen is being priced out of the housing market. The Normans realized 1,000 years ago that home ownership builds a strong state.

Gerard Silva (D)

Age: 50

Family: Wife and three children

Occupation: Noni farmer; retired from Honolulu Department of Public Works as abandoned vehicle coordinator

One big idea: The main issue that we really need to get done right away is the alternate route to Kea'au to Pahoa Road, at least a two-lane highway in and out of Lower Puna. Without that, we're stuck here.

Dennis Triglia (L)

Age: 50

Family: Single

Occupation: Contract research biologist for Research Corporation of the University of Hawai'i

One big idea: I envision a future in which all of Hawai'i's culturally, politically and socio-economically diverse residents learn to respect the rights of others to live their lives as they see fit, so long as they respect my right to do the same. This freedom does not have to be legislated, but it needs to come from the heart.

But once there, they find little work and widespread economic hardship. At Pahoa Elementary, for example, 92 percent of the students received reduced or free lunches last year, a common indicator of poverty.

Many of the rural Puna subdivisions have no water lines, and rush-hour traffic backs up on the Kea'au-to-Pahoa highway as commuters drive to and from jobs in Hilo or more distant places.

Ginny Aste, a retiree and community organizer, said Puna voters want answers to the area's drug problem. They also want want jobs closer to home and a public transportation system.

"There are so many barriers to creating businesses in Puna; many, many barriers," she said.

State Rep. Helene Hale is facing a challenge in the Democratic primary from Puna farmer Gerard Silva, with the winner advancing to a potentially difficult general election contest with Republican Brian Jordan. In 2002, Jordan captured 45 percent of the vote compared with Hale's 55 percent.

Also running is Dennis Triglia, the only Libertarian seeking state office this year. No Libertarian has ever been elected to the Legislature.

Hale is a longtime figure in Big Island politics, serving as a member of the county Board of Supervisors from 1955 to 1963, and as chairman from 1963 to 1965. That position was the county chief executive officer before the office of mayor was created. She later served eight years on the County Council, and is now seeking her third consecutive House term representing Puna.

Hale's son suffered from schizophrenia and died of heart failure earlier this year. She said she is committed to reforming the state's system of mental healthcare and wants to establish a task force to determine how to help people who are clearly mentally ill but are left to wander the streets because they won't accept medication or treatment.

Hale said she also wants to continue working to get a new gym for Pahoa School, and favors reform at the state's Child Welfare Services, formerly known as Child Protective Services.

Silva, a noni farmer who made an unsuccessful bid for a House seat in 2002, said he is running again because "I don't think the job's being done; we're falling behind out here."

He said he will push for state financing for an alternative to Highway 130, the only highway in and out of the Pahoa area; for new wells and reservoirs to expand the county water system to include Lower Puna subdivisions; and to subsidize inadequate police and firefighting services.

Getting control of the drug problem will require more rehabilitation programs and tougher sentencing for dealers, Silva said.

"They've got to get the message that they've got to stop it, and I don't know if these guys are getting the message," he said.

On the Republican side, Jordan said he was moved to run for office by his experiences as a Waiakea High School teacher. He said he's had to deal with high school students who read at a second-grade level and a Department of Education bureaucracy that won't budge.

Jordan favors creation of local school boards, instead of the single statewide board now in place.

He blamed state lawmakers for Puna's transportation problems, saying money for highway projects is being diverted for other needs.

The Libertarian in the race wants to make Hawai'i more business friendly by eliminating government regulations, lowering taxes and reducing the size of government.

Triglia said he is alarmed at what he believes is a gradual erosion of civil liberties, including a chill on free speech caused by the war on terrorism. People are increasingly discouraged from criticizing President Bush or his administration, he said.

A member of the Hawai'i Rifle Association, Triglia said Hawai'i has some of the strictest gun controls in the nation, and he believes those laws should be repealed. He also favors legalization of marijuana.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or (808) 935-3916.