Editor’s note: This is one in a series of articles examining contested Big Island primary election races.
By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
The primary’s the thing for the Big Island’s state House District 1.
With no Republican challengers, the Aug. 11 primary election race between current Democratic state Rep. Mark Nakashima and challenger Noralyn Pajimola will dictate who takes the seat to speak for East Hawaii residents along the Hamakua Coast between Hilo and Waipio.
Longtime Hilo state Rep. Jerry Chang announced earlier this year that he would not seek re-election after the state Redistricting Commission drew new boundary lines moving him from District 2 in Hilo to District 1.
This marks the third campaign for Nakashima, 49, who is finishing up his second term after first being elected to represent District 1 in 2008. Before that, he worked for the Hawaii State Teachers Association and as a teacher at Honokaa High School.
On Monday, Nakashima said he had chosen to run again as a way of holding up his end of an unspoken bargain with the voters of District 1.
“At the point where I kinda decided that I would run for office, I also thought I was leaving my career,” he said. “I thought I would do this until the voters didn’t want me anymore.
“I think that as an elected official, part of what you gain is experience and the knowledge … The people were making an investment in me, and as part of that commitment, I decided that as long as I could serve them, I would do that.”
Since his first campaign, Nakashima said he has placed emphasis on three major components of Big Isle living: energy self sufficiency, education and the environment. That, he said, has not changed.
“However, my depth of knowldge on those issues has increased quite a bit. My goals have been modified and refocused much better now,” he said.
“The real game changer will be getting off fossil fuels and getting us onto geothermal,” he said. “At one time I was supporting all renewables, however I think the primary focus needs to be getting us onto a base energy source where we’re not sending billions of dollars out of the state. I think that’s geothermal.”
As for the debate that has surrounded geothermal energy production on the island in the last few months, Nakashima said that he would like to pursue the inclusion of more public comment on the issue.
“I think a lot of the debate that surrounds geothermal rests on the fact that in the Legislature, we passed last session a bill that removed oversight and public input from the process. While I was supportive at the time, I think we could go back and revisit those issues. We didn’t want to delay the process in any way, but I believe public input is important to ensure public trust on these projects. I’ll be working with (state) Rep. (Denny) Coffman, (D-N. Kona, Keauhou, Kailua-Kona, Honokohau) to modify those provisions,” he said.
On education, Nakashima says he aims to pressure the state Department of Education on implementing performance evaluations for school principals, an issue which came to a head this year during negotiations between the state and Hawaii teachers.
“In 2006, Act 51 passed that did a couple things. It changed principals from 10-month employees to 12-month employees, along with a 20 percent pay increase. That was coupled with performance contracts. They’ve been collecting their additional pay for eight years now, and we still haven’t gotten the performance contracts. …
“I think employee evaluations of services around the state need to be looked at,” he added. “I don’t think we’re doing a good job of ensuring public satisfaction.”
In the area of the environment, Nakashima said he would continue to promote legislation that seeks to further Hawaii Island’s agricultural opportunities, including pursuing additional agricultural inspectors and promoting agricultural education programs.
“Another thing we would take a look at is to create special districts, such as in Waipio Valley. Some sort of special management area that kind of helps to sustain the rural nature and lifestyle in the area,” he said.
Nakashima is single and shares his home with two dogs, a Belgian sheepdog and a husky mix. Born in Hilo, he is a graduate of Honokaa High School and the University of Hawaii.
Challenging Nakashima for his job is Pajimola, 34, who had her first major taste of leadership in the public sector when she organized parents and teachers in Laupahoehoe in opposition to converting the town’s school to a charter school.
Pajimola, who has three boys — Raymon, 13, Rudy “Bubu” Jr., 7, and Graycen, 5 — and other parents felt that they had been lied to by organizers of the charter school and tricked into voting for the conversion. They attempted to stop the process, and ultimately failed when the state’s Board of Education voted to overrule a decision by the Charter School Review Panel to delay the process.
“That was my first motivation (to seek public office),” she said Monday. “When I first started those meetings out there (in Laupahoehoe,), people came up to me and said, ‘Nora, you gotta run.’”
While she still feels that she and other parents at the school got a raw deal, Pajimola said she has accepted the fact that the school has gone charter, and she will work to support the school and help it succeed going forward. But, she said, she hopes to address some of the issues which she said allowed the charter plan to move forward without taking public sentiment into account.
“My No. 1 main goal is education,” she said. “To me, we need more representation out there. You’ve got an appointed BOE now, and you just have one BOE member that represents the whole island.
“To be honest, any time you have somebody appointed, no matter what the business … more than likely that board will always be biased with those that appointed them.”
Pajimola said she was running in part due to her belief that many people in District 1 don’t think Nakashima has represented their interests.
“My main reason was that I feel we aren’t represented properly at the state level. Government officials should take community concerns to heart,” she said. “In the past two elections, he’s (Nakashima’s) basically had a shoe-in in there. If no one was to put their name in, he would have been unopposed. I think it’s about time.”
On many of the issues that are up for debate on Hawaii Island, Pajimola said she had yet to make up her mind.
“I’m just one person who doesn’t have all the answers,” she said in response to a question about her stance on addressing the economy. “I plan to go to other organizations, to people who know more about these things. … It takes money. It takes planning.”
Pajimola said on the issue of geothermal energy, she would like to see stricter wording in any legislation so as to prevent companies from building energy production facilities in areas that need protection.
“The way it (recent county legislation) was worded, they can go anywhere, they can go to a cemetery,” she said. “It should have been worded more properly. … To me, as long as it’s not affecting the health of the people, I’m for it.”
Meanwhile, she supports pursuing new technologies that could convert Hawaii Island’s solid waste into an energy source.
“We need to stop relying so much on fossil fuels, to provide energy for our community,” she said.
Pajimola currently works as an aide to the County Council chairman, Dominic Yagong. Her husband, Rudy, is self employed as a drywall installer.
Email Colin M. Stewart at firstname.lastname@example.org.