By COLIN M. STEWART
Tribune-Herald staff writer
It all comes down to this.
After months, and in some cases years, of fundraising, sign-waving and baby-kissing, it’s now out of the hands of the politicians. It’s time for Hawaii residents to head to the polls and cast the votes that will determine the future of their community, state and nation.
Hawaii Island’s 40 polling locations will open their doors to residents at 7 a.m. today, and they will remain open until 6 p.m. Registered voters may find their assigned polling place by checking the yellow voter card that was mailed to them in July, or by checking online at http://elections2.hawaii.gov/ppl/.
State officials say that they expect smooth sailing, after assuming control last month of Hawaii County’s General Election operations following a series of costly mistakes, including the late opening of many precincts in August.
“We’re on course,” said Hawaii elections chief Scott Nago on Friday. “We’re doing the best we can, and we think everything is going to go well.”
A total of 104,323 Big Isle residents are registered to vote, according to Hawaii County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi. As of Nov. 3, the county had received 20,019 absentee ballots. The deadline to submit absentee mail ballots is 6 p.m. today. They may be submitted by hand delivering them to the Hawaii County Elections Division in Hilo, or hand delivering to any precinct.
Absentee and early walk-in voting ended on Saturday, she added, netting 9,502 ballots.
Apart from the hotly contested showdown between Democratic incumbent President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — as well as Libertarian Gary Johnson and the Green Party’s Jill Stein — Hawaii Island voters will bear the responsibility of weighing in on a number of important races at the federal, state and county levels.
Longtime Sen. Daniel Akaka’s senate seat is up for grabs, and seasoned politicos U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-District 2, and former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle are fighting tooth and nail for the powerful position.
Lingle has portrayed herself as a proven leader with a track record of reaching across the aisle to make nonpartisan cooperation possible. Meanwhile, Hirono has painted her opponent as little more than a mouthpiece for the national GOP.
A decision between the two could have lasting impact, because Senate seats in Hawaii tend to remain filled for decades at a time. The winner will be only the state’s fifth senator.
U.S. Representative, District 2
Republican Kawika Crowley and Democrat Tulsi Gabbard are vying to fill the seat left open by Hirono’s bid for the Senate. Gabbard defeated Mufi Hannemann in the Democratic primary in a convincing upset. A former Honolulu City Council member and state legislator, Gabbard has run on the promise that her youth and experience would combine to combat “the same-old politics as usual” in Washington, D.C.
The cigar-chomping Crowley, formerly from Hilo, is this race’s underdog, despite the fact that he is endorsed by Hilo’s toughest resident: BJ Penn. Crowley is a Tea Party-style conservative who advocates deep cuts in non-military spending.
State Senate, District 2
Incorporating Puna and parts of Ka‘u, state Senate District 2 is being pursued by Democrat Russell Ruderman and Republican Daryl Smith.
Ruderman, the founder and owner of Island Naturals, knocked out state Rep. Bob Herkes in the primary to win the Democratic nomination. He is pro-labor, pro-gay marriage and a critic of corporate influence in elections.
Smith, the chairman of the Hawaii County Republican Party and a former contractor, is a self-described libertarian and fiscal conservative who is wary of government spending. He advocates reform and accountability.
State Senate, District 3
Seeking to represent Ka‘u and Kona in the state Senate are Democratic state Sen. Josh Green and Republican challenger Jeff LaFrance. Green, who ran unopposed in the primary, works as an emergency room physician in Kona and serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Health. He supports health care reform and has introduced legislation aimed at addressing Hawaii Island’s severe physician shortage.
A retired electrical contractor specializing in geothermal and solar electricity generation, LaFrance is running on a platform emphasizing energy independence, education, sustainable farming practices and strengthening local economic development.
State Senate, District 4
Comprising North Hawaii, state Senate District 4 is up for grabs between state Sen. Malama Solomon, a Democrat, and Green Party challenger and former County Councilman Kelly Greenwell.
Solomon is heavily favored to win after pulling out a narrow victory over former Hawaii County Mayor Lorraine Inouye in the August Democratic primary. She is a Waimea resident who served as one of the original trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs. Greenwell, who garnered only 18 votes in the primary election, is running on a platform that mainly emphasizes stopping the Honolulu rail project.
State House, District 3
Running along Highway 11, from Panaewa to Punaluu, and points in between, the new state House District 3 reaches into Ka‘u and Waiakea Uka and includes the subdivisions in the Puna mauka corridor. Three contenders are battling to represent the area after state Rep. Clift Tsuji was moved to the 2nd District. They include Libertarian Fred Fogel, Republican Marlene Hapai, and Democrat Richard Onishi.
Onishi picked up the Democratic nomination after defeating Councilwoman Brittany Smart in August. He is an advocate for sustainable agriculture on the island, development of alternative energy sources, and investment in infrastructure to create jobs.
Fogel is fiscally conservative, supporting the concept of “If you don’t have it, you shouldn’t spend it.” He says he would also push for the release of all people incarcerated for possession of illegal drugs.
Hapai has emphasized in her campaign a willingness to work on the economic recovery and jobs. She would encourage more public-private partnerships and local shopping to support the island economy.
State House, District 5
This West Hawaii district extends from South Point up north to the southern edge of Kailua-Kona. In contention are Republican Dave Bateman and current state Rep. Denny Coffman, a Democrat.
Coffman currently serves as the chairman of the Committee on Energy and Environmental Protection. He supports energy policies that would clear the way for geothermal electricity generation, and aims to continue funding for projects such as the Hawaii Community College campus at Palamanui and new court house facilities.
Bateman, a Kona coffee farmer, says he seeks to foster business and create jobs in Hawaii by lowering taxes, slashing electricity costs, limiting red tape and developing an educated workforce.
State House, District 6
Seeking to represent North Kona are candidates Roy Ebert, a Republican, and Democrat Nicole Lowen.
Lowen says her top priority will be working to improve public education and working to support development of local energy and agriculture. Ebert is a small business owner and touts his experience as necessary to help West Hawaii residents rebuild the economy.
County of Hawaii Mayor
It’s the race everyone is talking about: The well-funded incumbent, Mayor Billy Kenoi, versus the grass-roots-supported former Mayor Harry Kim.
Kenoi put another $90,000into his war chest between the primary and late October, while Kim, who operates on a self-imposed rule of not accepting any contributions over $10, had collected less than $10,000.
In August’s primary, Kenoi finished strongly, winning 43 percent of the vote. Kim beat out Council Chairman Dominic Yagong to push the race to a runoff, taking 34 percent.
During the campaign, Kenoi touted his ability to maintain services during tough economic times. Meanwhile, Kim has stated that he chose to run again, after serving as mayor from 2000-2008, in response to voters saying they are dissatisfied with local government.
County of Hawaii Prosecuting Attorney
Squaring off for the job of prosecuting attorney are Lincoln Ashida and Mitch Roth. Currently a deputy prosecutor, Roth says he would work to not just put people in jail, but to support outreach efforts that seek to pre-empt crime. Ashida also worked as deputy prosecuting attorney, and says he would take a tougher approach, by dealing harshly with repeat offenders.
County of Hawaii Councilmember, District 1
Valerie Poindexter faces Chelsea Yagong. Five candidates ran in the Aug. 11 primary, and these two were the ones left standing. Just 93 votes separated them in their bid to represent the Hamakua Coast, North Hilo and the northern edge of South Hilo. Yagong, daughter of Council Chairman Dominic Yagong, is a teacher at Honokaa Elementary School. She says she seeks to support agricultural sustainability for the residents of the former sugar towns along the coast. Poindexter works as a human resources manager at Hamakua Health Center. She says she will work to represent the community’s agenda through “community assessments.” She’s also an advocate for self-reliance.
County of Hawaii Councilmember, District 4
Councilman Fred Blas is working to deflect a challenge from newcomer Greggor Ilagan. Blas unseated former Councilwoman Emily Naole in 2010 to represent Puna makai on the County Council. He’s known for keeping his thoughts to himself during bill discussions at meetings, but speaks effusively in one-on-one conversations about all the plans he has for improvements in Puna. Ilagan, who hails from the Philippines, seeks to become the youngest person on the council, and has criticized Blas for not being more vocal, saying he plans to add to the conversation on the council.
County of Hawaii Councilmember, District 6
Maile (Medeiros) David and curent Councilwoman Brenda Ford seek to represent Kona, Ka‘u and Volcano. Ford was drawn out of the map for her current District 7, where she has served for three terms. She lives in Captain Cook, and if she wins will serve her fourth and final consecutive term, due to term limits. She highlights jobs as her top issue, saying she has sponsored a number of capital improvement projects aimed at getting construction moving in her district. She is also pushing for “serious revision” of the tax code.
David is a Konawaena High graduate who works as a legal specialist for the County’s Legislative Research Branch in the West Hawaii Civic Center. She, too, has targeted the county’s jobs sector as a top priority, as well as Hawaii Island’s ever-growing garbage problem. She also plans to work on making the Big Isle more energy independent.
County of Hawaii Councilmember, District 9
North and South Kohala will either be represented on the council by a pastor or an attorney. Oliver “Sonny” Shimaoka, pastor of New Hope Waimea Christian Fellowship, says he is running as a result of the disunity and gridlock on the council. A proponent of geothermal energy, he envisions it not only solving the island’s energy needs, but becoming a source of revenue. He also supports a waste-to-energy plant to address solid waste.
Margaret Wille agrees with Oliver that the council has suffered from disunity. She sees the county as trying to do too much with too little, and advocates focusing on core responsibilities and bringing in more revenue through outside funding, such as federal and private grants. She says the county also needs to require that HELCO add more renewable energy sources to its grid.
Three candidates — Robert K. Lindsey, William (Willy) Meyers and Edwin L.P. Miranda — are vying for the chance to represent Hawaii Island. Other OHA trustee positions up for grabs represent Kauai, Molokai and one at-large seat.
State Constitution Amendments
Voters will decide on two constitutional amendments.
One authorizes the state to issue special purpose revenue bonds and use those proceeds to assist dam and reservoir owners to make their facilities compliant with current safety standards.
The second would allow judges who are past the retirement age to serve as temporary judges.
County Charter Amendments
Six county amendments are also being brought before voters.
They cover areas ranging from notices of public meetings, to increasing the amount of tax revenue that would be set aside for the “land fund,” to establishing a game management advisory commission.
Email Colin M. Stewart at email@example.com.