Incumbent touts bringing home the bacon
South Maui Rep. Kaniela Ing said he has helped secure more money for his district – around $250 million – during his first term than the area has seen in the last 20 years combined.
A major contributor to the money flowing into his district is the long-awaited Kihei high school, which received $130 million last year, thanks to Ing and state Sen. Roz Baker, who represents South and West Maui. Another project includes the $72.6 million Kihei-to-Haliimaile highway, which the state House passed in its supplemental budget earlier this year.
“Kihei high school was the No. 1 project that the community seemed to want and in previous years representatives would ask for $20 million or $17 million,” he said. “I went for the whole thing – $130 million – all at once, and that approached saved the state millions of dollars.
“It was a big ask, but with the people’s support and input we were able to convince my colleagues that it was a worthwhile investment.”
Ing, 25, is seeking re-election for a second term in the state House of Representatives District 11 seat. He faces Kihei resident Marie Minichino in the Democratic primary. The winner will take on Pat Brock, who is running as a Libertarian, in the general election.
“When I first ran, I was looking to change things up in politics on Maui and loosen the stronghold of special interests here,” Ing said. “That’s why I knocked on over 15,000 doors, making sure I made the people’s concerns my top priorities. That’s exactly what I did when I was elected, and put my head down and charged. And it worked.”
In 2012, Ing challenged Republican incumbent George Fontaine for the state House seat despite having little political background and won with 61 percent of the votes.
Minichino, who also has not held a position in politics, said she sees no reason she cannot do the same.
“Kaniela didn’t have any political experience when he came in either,” Minichino said. “I feel I have a lot more life skills and a lot more life experiences than he does. I have a broader educational background and that sets me apart from him.”
Minichino, 61, has lived in Kihei for the past 12 years and has a doctorate of pharmacy from the University of Connecticut, as well as a mortgage broker license (inactive). She also is the chief executive officer of Relief Pharmacists, which provides pharmacists a resource for temporary and permanent positions, she said.
“I wanted to run because I feel as a senior, that seniors need to be represented more in government,” she said. “And as a medical professional, there are not enough (medical professionals in the Legislature) and there are many medical concerns facing the whole state . . . I have a general background to answer a lot of issues facing Maui.”
While Minichino praised Baker for helping to secure funding for the Kihei high school, she said she would have “pushed harder” for the school, unlike previous South Maui representatives including Ing.
“I have a feeling it’s too little too late,” she said. “It’s sad we have to cart our students from Kihei to Maui High and Baldwin.”
Raising her son in Kihei, Minichino was forced to work from home in order to pick up, and drop off, her son at St. Anthony Junior-Senior High School in Wailuku every day. She said she would have sought more private funding to help get the school started faster, and she believes it will not be finished by the planned opening date of 2018.
Minichino added that, if elected, she would open a privately funded entrepreneurial school in the next two years, where students in Kihei can attend for free, while possibly charging outside residents.
“We were promised a high school in 2003,” she said. “My son was in 2nd grade at that time and now he’s in college. I feel it’s taking too long to provide a high school for the area.”
One of the main concerns Minichino has for Maui County is its growing elderly population (65 and older), which the county projects to increase to more than 35,000 – or 20 percent of the total population – by the year 2030.
Minichino said she is actively pursuing funding to house seniors, as well as veterans, low-income people and homeless people in Kihei.
“I’m working to help the people, and I’ve been doing it outside of the legislative process,” she said.
As the vote for a moratorium on genetically modified organisms inches closer to the Nov. 4 ballot, both candidates weighed in, with Minichino in strong support of the temporary ban and Ing looking to the public to decide.
“It excites me that people are passionate about this, and that level of involvement is a good thing for Hawaii,” Ing said. “This deserves to be on the ballot and have the full process.”
Ing said he could not fully support the moratorium, which was brought by the SHAKA Movement, because he needs more time to become familiar with the initiative.
However, Minichino said there is enough research on the dangers of GMOs, as well as similar bans in other countries, to vote in favor of the moratorium. “Food is a basic need for everyone in the world and if there’s a hint of any harm,” then it needs to be proven safe, she said.
In her work as a landlord and mortgage broker, Minichino is named in a listing of court actions on the state Judiciary website Ho’ohiki. Some involve property and payment disputes, though there are temporary restraining orders, both sought by and against Minichino.
Minichino attributed the listings to tenants, business owners and others who have threatened her or evaded payment and said that website information questioning her mortgage broker license is “totally inaccurate.”
“They’re people that are attempting to discredit me, and they’re being reported to the authorities because they are basically harming me and totally not factual,” she said.
Ing faced his own criticisms when he was first elected in 2012 after moving into the district the same year. However, the Upcountry native who later moved to Kihei said he has always identified Maui as home and is employing the same strategy of knocking on doors to win votes this election year.
“It’s been an incredible first term, but I don’t see myself as a career politician,” he said. “When I came in, I just wanted to see if I could make a difference and it’s been an extremely encouraging process. I plan on working just as hard for the next two years.”
* Chris Sugidono can be reached at email@example.com.
**Editor’s note: This story is a continuation of Maui News coverage of contested election races for state and county political offices. The primary election is Saturday. Winners advance to the Nov. 4 general election.