Legislator touting rural roots
By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau
By Jan TenBruggencate
LIHU'E, Kaua'i — State Sen. Gary Hooser, who is running for the U.S. House seat in the 2nd Congressional District, likes to emphasize that this is a rural district, dominated by the Neighbor Islands and the outlying parts of O'ahu.
"I'm the only candidate from a Neighbor Island," he said, sitting on a picnic bench under a spreading Lihu'e monkeypod, dressed in an aloha shirt and a worn pair of blue jeans, his silver pickup truck parked nearby. A homeless man comes up and chats with him, and they have a comfortable discussion, ending with a handshake.
Hooser has lived in the Islands for 36 of his 52 years. He graduated from Radford, and later in life went to Kaua'i Community College and the University of Hawai'i at West O'ahu. He has been on Kaua'i for 26 years. Before getting into politics, he was co-owner of a publishing firm that put out magazines and special publications and did some early Internet work.
Hooser doesn't claim to be a farmer, but he says he has friends who farm and that he knows something about the issues of farming — and when he hears some Honolulu folks talk about agriculture being dead, he says it's clear to him that they don't know the 2nd Congressional District.
Outlying O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands have their pockets of density, but many people live and work here because it's "country." Agriculture, he said, is still a big part of this part of Hawai'i.
It's a region still dominated by the agricultural landscape. And while there's plenty of tourism, science, military activity and more, you can't ignore the fact that the state's two remaining sugar plantations are still grinding cane in this district, pineapple still sprawls in parts of O'ahu and Maui, and there are thousands of acres of pasture land and an immense array of diversified crops — from cut flowers and vegetables to coffee and macnuts.
"I live in the district on the Neighbor Islands. I know and understand the particular issues. I've run a small business here. I've been in an air ambulance — with my wife's mother — and I know what being far from the city is about. And I've got what I call the fire in the belly to do the work," he said.
Hooser said he sees a special niche for the district in the area of renewable energy, and he would work to bring research dollars from Washington to be used conducting important U.S. experiments in alternative-energy technologies.
He said Hawai'i has vast rural regions of agricultural land that could be put to use growing crops for biomass energy production — like the cane residue called bagasse that was once used to produce electricity for sugar companies. There are also options for creating biodiesel from crops and municipal waste. And a range of other technologies could be tested in Hawai'i's rural areas to provide an eventual benefit to Hawai'i's own energy situation, and the world's, he said.
While he shuns labels, it would be easy to label Hooser a liberal Democrat or a progressive. His environmental credentials include this: The Sierra Club's Environmental Scorecard gave him the highest ranking in the state Senate for his votes on issues involving the environment.
He sponsored a successful bill to prevent developers from prohibiting agricultural uses in agricultural subdivisions. He backed a resolution (which leadership killed) opposing the Iraq war before the war was launched. He has been a strong supporter of alternative-energy measures.
In Congress, he believes a stronger, traditionally Democratic presence is needed.
"I believe the Democrats in power have been too passive on issues at the core of the right things to do," he said.
He supports universal healthcare, strong environmental protections, education assistance and personal liberty.
"I don't want to lessen the privacies that we have. I want to increase them," he said. "I'm worried about the direction our country's going in."
Hooser said he supports an expansion of Medicare and Social Security benefits rather than cutbacks or just holding the line.
"Most of the talk I hear coming from other Democrats is about preserving Medicare and Social Security. Well, senior citizens can't afford to get their teeth fixed or get hearing aids. Those things are not covered. We have billions to spend on the war and tax cuts for the very wealthy — we can divert some of that to do other things," Hooser said.
Hooser is competing against nine other candidates for the Democratic nomination in the Sept. 23 primary. Two Republicans are competing against each other for that party's nomination. The winners will advance to the general election in November.
Hooser said he is a candidate whose positions are readily discernable.
"Some of the other candidates have just been silent, except for those who have been in the Legislature. To me, that's the difference. Where have they been?" he said.
Reach Jan TenBruggencate at firstname.lastname@example.org.