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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, October 29, 2006

Honolulu needs effective leaders to tackle urban issues

Urban Honolulu, the most densely populated area of the state, is coping with all the social needs that confront the state and then some. School facilities, roads, harbors all of them are vying for a share of public dollars for expansion and repair.

And in state House districts that are socioeconomic melting pots, the broad issues of criminal justice have become stark realities in neighborhoods plagued by property crime, drugs and graffiti. Elsewhere, residents are concerned about the high cost of housing, how redevelopment possibly along transit corridors may affect them, and how the taxpayer is supposed to afford it all.

Honolulu has the opportunity to elect a range of veteran lawmakers as well as newcomers with fresh ideas to represent them when the Legislature convenes in January. The Advertiser has reviewed the records and platforms of a long list of candidates.

Our endorsements in the urban districts begin with a recommendation to send Democrat Calvin Say, a well-grounded veteran of the 20th District, back to represent his constituency (St. Louis Heights, Palolo, Wilhelmina Rise). Say was elected to the House in 1976 and has held the top position of speaker since 1999. Among his top commitments: promoting the development of renewable energy sources such as ethanol. An inclusive lawmaker, he is open to hearing a wide range of ideas, a quality that's crucial.

And Scott Saiki, D-22nd (McCully, Pawa'a), should be re-elected to continue work as a liaison with other community leaders in managing the effect of redevelopment on neighborhoods. He has pledged to work on fixing stalled educational initiatives, such as the weighted student formula, and favors enhanced investment in early childhood education. On the economic front, he would back initiatives promoting ocean technology, healthcare and financial services.

Another incumbent, Kirk Caldwell, D-24th (Manoa), merits a return to public office. Caldwell led the charge to repeal the gas cap but believes the state administration must be pressured to follow through on making the oil industry's pricing calculations more transparent. We agree. On other matters, Caldwell echoes Say's support regarding the development of ethanol; he will be served by experience as an economist for an institute developing Brazil's now-flourishing ethanol industry.

The seat left open with Brian Schatz' run for Congress, the 25th district (Makiki, Tantalus), should be filled by Democrat Della Belatti. Bright and energetic, Belatti cites among her top concerns the need to improve public education, including giving teachers greater incentive to enter the profession. The state should diversify economically through agriculture and aquaculture ventures, she said, as well as alternative energy development. She's right.

Crime tops the list of worries for most urban Honolulu districts, and voters would be wise to have the experienced Judiciary chairwoman back in office: state Rep. Sylvia Luke, D-26th (Punchbowl, Pacific Heights, Nu'uanu Valley). Her approach balances the need for individual accountability (the stricter arson law is among her credits) with the recognition that making inroads against crime will require greater emphasis on drug treatment and alternatives to incarceration.

Sesnita Moepono, a Democrat seeking the seat in the 27th district (Liliha, Pu'unui), has put in time in the trenches, battling crime through neighborhood watch and chairing the local neighborhood board. She's clearly given serious thought to statewide issues as well, including the need to build the economy strategically and addressing the looming longterm healthcare crisis. And she has experience drafting laws as a legislative researcher and budget analyst. She deserves a House term.

Down the hill in the 28th district (Iwilei, Downtown, Makiki), Democrat Karl Rhoads presents the broadest range of experience and skills to serve the constituency in another high-crime area. Years of neighborhood board and crime patrol service have grounded him on the needs of the district. He also has sensible ideas about increasing urban density to preserve land for agriculture and open space.

In the two neighboring districts, however, Republicans present the best choices. Ken Harding is seeking to represent the 29th district (Kalihi, Sand Island). This educator has invested time and energy working with area schools and has lived longer in the district than his opponent. His experience working as a small-business advocate will serve the entrepreneurs of the gateway Kalihi community, home to many new immigrants who need an advocate in becoming established. Harding is also far more thoughtful on issues such as affordable housing and improving public education than his opponent.

The 30th district (Kalihi Valley, 'Alewa) would be best served with the election of Rick Manayan. His background working with the community's Weed and Seed Program has prepared him for tackling crime issues from the prosecutorial standpoint; that view coupled with the House majority's enthusiasm for rehabilitation programs should produce more thoughtful approach to crime and punishment. Manayan's work in the Lingle administration as a liaison to business and affordable housing agencies will align well with community's acute needs. And he has given more detailed thought to the issues than his opponent.

State Rep. Glenn Wakai, D-31st (Salt Lake, Tripler), present the best choice for his constituents. Wakai's no-nonsense approach to improving public education will serve Hawai'i's students and teachers well. He believes in funding schools properly while holding them accountable. And he's not afraid to roll up his sleeves to get things done, from leading bucket brigades to tackling landfill debris in his district to going door-to-door to poll his constituents on key issues.

In the 32nd district (Waimalu, Aliamanu, Airport), Republican incumbent Lynn Finnegan deserves re-election. She has proven to be an intelligent and effective legislator who knows how to work collaboratively with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. She believes in smart growth, supporting walkable urban communities while preserving greenspace. And she has a more sensible approach for improving public schools, including entrusting local school communities to define their needs and priorities.

In all of the races, The Advertiser urges voters to look past the gloss of brochures and election signs and closely at candidates' credentials and passion for public service. Taxpayers only have one chance every two years to make the best choices possible. The quality of life in the Islands depends on that leadership.