Election profile: U.S. House District 2

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles examining contested Big Island primary election races. This story appeared in the July 30 edition.


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Hawaii residents have a clean, if not full, slate in this year’s Congressional District 2 race.

Rep. Mazie Hirono, who has held the office since 2007, is running for U.S. Senate, leaving an open seat that eight candidates (six Democrats and two Republicans) are hoping to fill.

The district includes much of Hawaii minus Honolulu and its environs. All but two of the candidates reside on Oahu.

Democrats have had a monopoly on the seat and this race’s three most high-profile contenders — Tulsi Gabbard, Mufi Hannemann and Esther Kia‘aina — come from the party.

But then there’s Bob Marx.

The Hilo Democrat has a good chance of showing in the Aug. 11 primary. A Civil Beat poll last month placed him tied for third place with Kia‘aina, a former Office of Hawaiian Affairs chief advocate and Oahu resident.

Marx, 63, doesn’t lack liberal credentials, a potential asset in a race where most candidates are highlighting job outsourcing and tax loopholes for the wealthy.

The personal injury lawyer said he supports higher taxes on the “very wealthy,” an increase of the minimum wage to $9 an hour (when the economy improves), a reduction in overseas military bases, a less “aggressive” military policy, a single-payer health care system, and breaking up the big banks.

Such positions would certainly put him on the left of the Republican-dominated House if not this race.

“I’m one of the few candidates who doesn’t feel he has to win,” he said, noting his law practice.

“… But it makes me freer I think to tell you exactly what I think.”

Marx said he is still conscious of the burden the government can place and would oppose new taxes on the middle class.

He said he’s also “less liberal with spending of tax dollars” than in his younger days when he was a member of the Oregon state Legislature.

“If there was a little more taxes on the middle class they would be in trouble,” Marx said.

On Social Security, he said he supports increasing the payroll tax when the economy improves and eventually increasing the retirement age to 64.

Marx was elected to the Oregon House when he was 23 and served from 1973-1979. He moved to Hawaii in 1979.

He has not served office since, choosing instead to focus on his law career and family.

Like Marx, Gabbard also got into politics at a young age.

The 31-year-old Honolulu City Council member was elected to the state Legislature in 2002.

Her first term ended in 2004; the same year she deployed to Iraq with the Hawaii National Guard.

Gabbard has called for an expedited end to combat operations in Afghanistan, a position formed from her own military service.

Operations are scheduled to end in 2014. Gabbard said it should be done sooner.

“I think we need to remove troops from Afghanistan as quickly and as safely as possible,” she said, adding that the war now lacks “clear intent and purpose.”

Gabbard, who received the meritorious service medal, said the invasion of Iraq provided a distraction from military operations in Afghanistan.

Asked twice if she thought going into Iraq was the right choice, she said, “I don’t believe so.”

Gabbard said she supports universal health care and ending tax breaks for companies that send jobs overseas.

The owner of a small production company, she said she supports reducing the “tax burden” for small businesses.

“I truly understand first hand small businesses are our core job areas,” she said.

Gabbard said she supports the Akaka bill, which would provide federal recognition for the Hawaiian people.

She served with Sen. Daniel Akaka, the bill’s author, as a legislative aide.

Gabbard said she supports maintaining Social Security and Medicare by removing tax exemptions and removing the influence of insurance and pharmaceutical companies over policy.

Her main opponent, Hannemann, is a former Honolulu mayor and serves as President and CEO of the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association.

He’s also no stranger to Washington.

Hannemann, 58, has served roles in the Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush administrations ranging from special assistant in the U.S. Department of the Interior to member of the U.S. Secretary of Labor’s Advisory Committee on apprenticeship.

He said his experience will be an asset for the district, adding “there’s no time for on-the-job training.”

“It’s important that Congress not treat this person like a freshman,” Hannemann said.

Hannemann, a former Ka‘u resident, said he would support expansion of renewable energy and infrastructure on the Big Island.

“I really believe that the plan should be with an eye toward making sure that infrastructure funding from Washington, D.C., goes to the Big Island,” he said.

Hannemann said he would support a 5 percent Congressional pay cut, adding, “We have to lead by example.”

He said he supports a visa waiver for other countries “in this part of the world” to promote tourism in Hawaii.

Hannemann said he would support ending tax breaks for oil companies, and enacting more taxes for the wealthy.

“I point to the Buffet rule,” he said. “They (the wealthy) could absolutely pay more taxes.”

Hannemann said he would oppose cuts to Social Security and Medicare. He said government should look at eliminating inefficiency and waste to help keep them stable.

He also supports the Akaka bill.

The introduction of the bill was preceded by the Hawaiian Apology Resolution in 1993.

Kia‘aina, 49, attended the signing of the resolution, an official apology for the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

The former legislative assistant for Akaka said she supports the bill and that Congress needs more education on the issue to gain more support.

“I’ve been dealing with these issues for 20 years,” she said. “I’m probably more effective at answering more questions on people’s minds.”

Kia‘aina said she supports more assistance for Big Island agriculture.

“I pledge to do as much as I can with the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and other sectors … to help our farmers,” she said.

Kia‘aina said she is also in favor of taxing the “1 percent,” closing exemptions for large oil companies and businesses that send jobs overseas, and increasing tax incentives for small businesses.

She said she has experience in working on both sides of the aisle, including with former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich on the apology resolution.

“What I bring to the table … is the know-how to get things done,” Kia‘aina said.

She said she is supportive of the health care law but would like to see parts of it that cause a “burden on business” revisited.

On Social Security, Kia‘aina said she supports increasing the income threshold before increasing the retirement age.

The Republican candidates are Kawika Crowley of Hilo and Mathew DiGeronimo of Honolulu.

The other Democrats are Miles Shiratori of Oahu and Rafael Del Castillo of Honolulu.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.


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