Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles examining contested Big Island primary election races. This story appeared in the July 26 edition.
By TOM CALLIS
Tribune-Herald staff writer
This time the voters will decide.
Four Democrats, including a state House member, are vying for the party’s nomination in the race for state Senate District 2.
The seat is held by Democrat Gilbert Kahele who was bumped out of the district due to redrawing of district lines. He is running in District 1.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Kahele to the position in January 2011 to fill a vacancy created when he made then-Sen. Russell Kokubun state Department of Agriculture director.
This time there will be no appointments and voters will make the nomination.
The Democrats running for the seat that includes Puna and Ka‘u are Bob Herkes, who currently represents House District 5, Wendell Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a, Russell Ruderman and Gary Safarik. Daryl Lee Smith is running as the sole Republican.
Some of those names may sound familiar.
Both Ruderman and Safarik, former County Council chairman, applied for the nomination; Ruderman was a finalist.
Ruderman, owner of Island Naturals Markets, said he chose to give it another go because he wants to bring “honest and effective leadership” to the district.
He said schools in the district continue to lag and infrastructure remains a concern.
Ruderman, 58, of Keaau said he would restore funding to the state Department of Education, and encourage more local control of schools and additional funding for charter schools.
“I don’t think people over there care what goes on in Pahoa High School,” he said, referring to Honolulu.
He said he supports the creation of a business incubator focused on “value-added food production” in the district.
Additionally, he opposes the expansion of geothermal operations in Puna and the creation of an inter-island power cable.
Ruderman said the cable would be too expensive, and installing solar power on every building could be done with the same cost.
Puna hosts the state’s only geothermal plant.
He served as an intervenor for the state Public Utilities Commission’s integrated resource planning hearings in 1990. He is also a member of the county’s Environmental Management Commission.
Safarik, 63, of Hawaiian Paradise Park is a business owner who represented Puna on the County Council from 2000 to 2006. He became chair in 2004.
He said he has been on the frontline of politics and is versed in the needs of the district.
“That now has given me the confidence and understanding that I can make a huge difference especially in the legislature,” Safarik said, adding that he has become more mellow over the years.
“I’ve become more willing to provide for everyone’s input,” he said. “You become wiser as you get older. That aspect for me has been a game changer.”
Infrastructure remains a problem for the area, Safarik said, and he noted facilities he help gain while on the council, including the fire and police stations in Puna.
To support agriculture, he said schools should include it more in their curriculum. The state should also provide marketing assistance to “help the farmer to go from the field to the consumer,” Safarik said.
Safarik called geothermal power a “risky energy source” and should be done with the least impact to nearby residents.
He runs Safarik and Associates, which assists with land use and tower placement for wireless companies. Previously, he was the owner of Western Pacific Communications and a Honolulu police officer.
He moved to the Big Island in 1979.
Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a, 69, of Pahla is a Na Leo O Hawaii production coordinator and farmer.
He said he would push for a hospital for Puna, a rehabilitation center for seniors and a youth center if elected.
He noted drop out rates at area schools, and said he wants to see classes for music, shop, farming and automotive increased or reinstated.
“You got to support the younger kids or they’re the criminals of tomorrow,” Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a said.
He said he also sees too much overhead in government and would like to see a 10 percent pay cut for administrators before reducing pay for other public employees.
“If they want to cut the pay from the union workers, how about they take a self-cut pay for administration,” Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a said.
On geothermal power, he said an office should be established to handle complaints. Additionally, he said state leaders in Honolulu should visit the area and speak to residents about prospects of geothermal expansion.
“I want the governor to personally come down here and talk with the community in person and explain to them how important it is,” Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a said.
Though he hasn’t held office before, this race is his 19th time running for election. He said he has run for every position but lieutenant governor and governor.
“I don’t care if I win,” Ka‘ehu‘ae‘a said. “The idea is to make sure that someone doesn’t have a free ride.”
Herkes, 81, of Volcano has had long career in politics, both as a Democrat and Republican.
He served in the House from 1992-2000 and from 2002 to today.
Herkes, a retired hotel executive, also served in the state Senate in 1988 and the Hawaii County Council from 1984-1988.
The veteran representative said he’s not done yet and has more to give the Big Island and his district.
“It’s a four-year term so it’s probably going to be the last time I run,” he said, adding that his experience is important.
“I know the senators so I don’t need any training. I just move my office and go to work.”
One of the biggest issues, Herkes said, is mortgage foreclosures.
He introduced Act 48, which gave home owners greater protections from their banks, in 2011.
Herkes said it has helped greatly to reduce the foreclosure rate and called it the “most gratifying thing I have ever done.”
He said he would bring pressure on the state Department of Transportation to find an alternative route through the district. Currently, Route 11 is the only road in and out of Puna and Ka‘u.
Herkes said he also a strong supporter of agriculture and supports an inter-island power cable. He is against building a second geothermal plant in Puna.
“I think we need more geothermal statewide,” Herkes added.
Herkes is chair of the House Consumer Protection & Commerce Committee. He also sits on the Energy & Environmental Protection, Housing, Judiciary, and Water, Land & Ocean Resources committees.
Email Tom Callis at email@example.com.