Baker and Amato in state Senate rematch
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s election feature, part of The Maui News’ coverage of contested Maui County races in Saturday’s primary election, focuses on candidates seeking to win the state Senate District 6 seat, covering West and South Maui. Stories on other races are being published in the days leading to the election. A primary election voter guide offering details on all county and state House and Senate contests was included in July 29 edition.
When West and South Maui voters head to the polls on Saturday to decide their Democratic nominee for the state Senate District 6 seat, they’ll have two candidates to choose from.
Clearly, the occupant of this legislative seat has a lot of ground to cover: The densely populated district encompasses the areas of Makena, Wailea, Kihei, Maalaea, Lahaina, Kaanapali, Napili and Kapalua.
Incumbent Sen. Roz Baker hopes to continue her work in the Legislature, while her opponent, Terez Amato, seeks to bring a fresh perspective to the state Capitol. The two women are no strangers to one another; they faced off in the 2014 Democratic primary race for the same seat. Amato lost to Baker by a vote of 2,699, or 52.6 percent, to 2,213, or 43.1 percent.
The winner of the Democratic primary will advance to the general election ballot on Nov. 6. Green Party candidate Melissah (Mish) Shishido will automatically advance to the general election to face the winner of the primary.
In 2014, Amato, a lifelong Maui resident and mother of four, entered the primary race for the 6th Senate District seat as a political newcomer and came within 486 votes of unseating her incumbent opponent. Four years later, her message remains the same.
“It’s time to end corrupt corporate Hawaii politics,” she said. “It’s time we put people first.”
In 2016, Amato suffered a near-fatal stroke and doctors said she would likely be paralyzed for life. But she beat the odds and says the experience gave her an even greater sense of purpose.
“After nearly dying, I vowed to stand up for those who can’t,” she explained.
It’s one of the many reasons why Amato — who refuses to accept any donations from corporations or lobbyists — entered the 2018 primary race.
“Maui deserves a new senator who is working for the people, not for the corporations and lobbyists who have hijacked our political system. The people of Maui will always be assured that I’m working for them, not for special interests. As the only truly progressive candidate in this race, I’m proud to have the support and endorsement of Hawaii doctors, dentists, teachers and environmentalists. The people we trust with our lives trust me.”
Amato said she is laser-focused on solving housing, medical and infrastructure problems while lowering taxes for residents, which she said can be accomplished through smart methods of revenue generation.
Additionally, Amato said, “It’s time to end the unethical corporate protection racket. Alexander & Baldwin and the real estate industry paid my opponent $58,900 (and) REIT (real estate investment trust) tax was blocked in her committee,” she said. “This giveaway will cost our residents over $540 million in our taxes — lost revenue that should be used for housing and fixing overcrowded roads. I will never take A&B money. I am not for sale.”
Amato said she will fully support hospitals and health care and reject any bills that increase patient costs and protect insurance companies.
“I learned to walk again after doctors thought I’d be paralyzed, even though the insurance companies cut off my physical therapy prematurely,” she said. “This must never happen to our children or kupuna. Maui families deserve better and must always come first, before corporate profit.”
If the state through airport-user fees can afford an expansion of Kahului Airport and a $340 million rental car facility, Amato said, “We can surely afford a West Maui hospital and better schools first. Our people must come first.”
And, she said, “I say it is high time we legalize recreational marijuana and tax tourists for its purchase. Hundreds of millions are being wasted.”
If elected, Amato says complete transparency will be non-negotiable.
“I’ll put cameras in my office ensuring the backroom deals stop. The corporate control and protection payments will end on my watch,” she said. “It’s time for change, honesty and transparency.”
Long before she answered the call to public service, Baker heeded the rallying cry of “old enough to fight, old enough to vote.” As a college student in the 1960s, she joined a movement on campus to lower the voting age from 21 to 18. A few years later, as a lobbyist for the National Education Association, she was part of the effort that led to the ratification of the 26th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on July 1, 1971.
It’s a day Baker will never forget. She says the experience not only inspired her to serve in public office but also helped mold her into a legislator who listens to constituents, finds collaborative solutions and brings those solutions to fruition. And when it comes to her position on the issues that matter to West and South Maui residents, Baker says her record speaks for itself.
“I’ve pumped out a lot of bills that have become law,” she said.
Among other things, she has authored, co-authored and helped pass measures related to elder and family caregiver services; reforms in fair housing and foreclosure laws; the strengthening of identity theft laws; renewable energy; the modernization of insurance regulations; and improving access to health care, emergency services and hospital care.
Since 2006, Baker has been the first primary introducer of 898 bills, 208 of which have become law.
Of her most recent legislative accomplishments, Baker, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health Committee, says she’s particularly proud of introducing Senate Bill 2340, which ensures certain benefits under the federal Affordable Care Act are preserved under Hawaii law.
Another source of pride is the passage of the Our Care, Our Choice Act (commonly referred to as Hawaii’s “Death with Dignity” act), which will go into effect on Jan. 1 and allow qualified terminally ill adult residents to end their life in a humane and dignified manner.
Now eyeing another term in office, Baker says she wants to keep the momentum going. She lists housing, traffic and education among her top priorities, noting she’s already made headway. Baker sponsored Senate Bill 2293, which was signed into law last month. It appropriates $30 million from the state’s rental housing revolving fund to build rental apartments in Lahaina and also requires the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp. to begin condemnation proceedings for the ground lease of the 142-unit Front Street Apartments.
Additionally, she cited the current $14.4 billion state budget, which includes $40 million she secured for the Kaanapali leg of the Lahaina bypass and $40 million for the construction of the new Kihei high school.
If re-elected, Baker said she will continue to focus on community and quality-of-life issues, get results for her district and push for funding for important projects, noting that all infrastructure must be planned with climate change and sea level rise in mind.
“The Senate has entrusted me with two committees in one because they know I work hard, I collaborate with my colleagues and others, and I’m a problem-solver,” she said. “But what I enjoy most is having the opportunity to meet people, hear their stories and find ways to help them.”
Occupation: Bookkeeper, farmer
Political experience: State Senate candidate, 2014
Education: St. Anthony Junior-Senior High School, Class of 1993; University of Hawaii Maui College
Community service: Sierra Club volunteer (former board member, treasurer); Maui Farmers Union United member; Surfrider Foundation volunteer; Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project volunteer; Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration Partnership volunteer
Family: Four children
Birthplace: El Campo, Texas
Occupation: State senator, 1993-1998, since 2002-present
Political experience: Elected to state House of Representatives in 1988 (West Maui, Molokai, Lanai district); appointed to Senate in 1993; elected to Senate 1994-1998; coordinator, Maui County Office of Economic Development (appointed by Mayor James “Kimo” Apana) 1999-2002; elected to Senate (South and West Maui) in 2002
Education: Educated in Texas public schools; Bachelor of Arts degree in political science and speech, Southwest Texas State College (now known as Texas State University), 1968; graduate work in political science and graduate assistant at University of Southwestern Louisiana (now known as University of Louisiana, Lafayette), 1969
Community service: West Maui Task Force; Women Helping Women; current member and past president, Rotary Club of Lahaina Sunrise (2007-2008); organist and ukulele choir member, Lahaina United Methodist Church