By NANCY COOK LAUER
Wendell Kaehuaea is hoping the 19th time will be the charm.
He’s joined a growing list of candidates for Senate District 2, which became an open seat when reapportionment added a fourth Senate district to the Big Island. The Panaewa farmer and Na Leo O Hawaii production coordinator recently moved to Pahala to be closer to the KAHU community radio station he manages.
Kaehuaea, who turns 70 in September, has run 18 unsuccessful campaigns for political office over his career.
“I have a perfect record, 0-18,” Kaehuaea said. “But I’ve got a good feeling about this one.”
It promises to be a crowded field. Five Democrats have pulled papers so far, and the filing deadline isn’t until June 5. District 2, which includes parts of Puna and Ka‘u, goes east from the Punaluu Gulch, the boundary of the Ka‘u Forest Reserve and Ainapo Trail boundary and continues to Stainback Highway.
The candidate list features an old hand in the Legislature — Rep. Bob Herkes, from Volcano, a 10-year veteran of the state House. Also pulling papers are former Hilo County Council Chairman Gary Safarik, Hawaii Academy of Arts and Sciences Public Charter School Principal and former Lt. Gov. candidate Steve Hirakami and Russell Ruderman, founder and owner of the Island Naturals Markets chain of natural foods stores and a two-time unsuccessful County Council candidate.
Kaehuaea said he’s often run in the past just to ensure there were more than one candidate in the field, so “they don’t just cruise in.” This race, he said, is different.
His experience behind the camera at community meetings and his morning broadcast on KAHU have given him a real feel for the communities in Puna and Ka‘u, he said. He’s also earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and communications at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, which give him more confidence in his ability to lead, he said.
“Who else can handle the issues in both Puna and Ka‘u?” he asks.
Ballots in the three other Senate races are also filling up, judging by the candidates who had pulled nomination papers by 5 p.m. Thursday, according to the state Office of Elections.
Sen. Josh Green, a Captain Cook Democrat and the incumbent, is currently the only Democrat who has pulled nomination papers for Senate District 3, which picks up south of Kaiminani Drive and spans the bottom of the island to Punaluu Gulch, the boundary of the Ka‘u Forest Reserve and Ainapo Trail.
Republican John Totten of Kailua-Kona and nonpartisan candidate Michael Last of Naalehu have also pulled nomination papers.
District 4 Sen. Malama Solomon has pulled papers, as has former Sen. Lorraine Inouye. Both are Democrats.
Solomon, who represented that district from 1983 to 1998, was appointed in December by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to fill the seat vacated by former Sen. Dwight Takamine, whom Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed to head the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations. Inouye represented what was then District 1 from 1998 to 2008.
Former North Kona County Councilman Kelly Greenwell had pulled papers for the Senate seat as a Democrat. But Wednesday, he repulled papers, to file as a member of the Green Party, according to the Elections Office report.
District 4 spans the northern part of the island from Kaiminani Drive in Kona to Honolii Stream in Hilo.
In District 1, Sen. Gilbert Kahele, D-Ka‘u, Puna, Hilo, former East Hawaii campaign coordinator for Abercrombie, is the incumbent. He was appointed in January 2011 after Abercrombie named former Sen. Russell Kokubun chairman of the Department of Agriculture. County Councilman Donald Ikeda, a Hilo Democrat, who is term-limited after eight years on the council, is planning a challenge, saying he knows the district well from his time on the County Council.
District 1 runs from Stainback Highway and the Puna-South Hilo district boundaries to Honolii Stream.
There are a lot of candidates, but it’s not yet known if the Big Island’s fourth Senate seat is even going to stand. A group of island Democrats and attorneys sued to ensure the island’s people are fairly represented in the state Legislature after an Oahu-based Reapportionment Commission redrew legislative boundaries following the 2010 census without allocating the additional Senate seat the island is apparently due, based on its 24.5 percent growth rate over the past decade.
The Big Island won that battle in the state Supreme Court, but an Oahu group has since filed a challenge in federal court, saying eliminating nonresident military and students violates their rights of equal representation. A three-judge panel is scheduled to hear their arguments May 18.
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.