* Editor's Note - The Maui News is beginning a series of stories on contested general election races. Today: Republican challengers hope to unseat Democratic incumbents in the 4th Senate and 8th House districts. The series will continue Monday with a look at more legislative races. The general election is Nov. 2.
Political newcomer Dean Schmucker says he's running against longtime State Rep. Joe Souki to give voters in his district the option to choose a "conservative candidate."
"It's really an extension of my public service," said Schmucker. "If there is not a candidate on the ballot, how can they vote for him?"
Schmucker, a Republican, hopes to unseat Democratic stalwart Souki in the general election Nov. 2 for the state House District 8 seat, which includes Kahakuloa, Wailuku and Waikapu.
Although some of Souki's votes line up with his conservative views - he agrees with Souki's vote against civil unions - Schmucker's main beef is with the Democratic Party itself.
8TH HOUSE DISTRICT CANDIDATES
Dean Schmucker (R)
Born: Goshen, Ind.
Occupation: Civil service
Education: B.A., Goshen College
Community involvement: Akaku: Maui Community Television board (2007-09); Maui Camera Club
*Joe Souki (D)
Occupation: Realtor, legislator
Education: St. Anthony School; Woodbury University
Community involvement: Maui Charter Commission (1967); J. Walter Cameron Center (emeritus); Hale Makua trustee; Maui Economic Opportunity executive director (1967-82); Federal Land Bank director; state Constitutional Convention delegate, 1976.
Family: Married, two children.
"The problem is he is a member of a party that has gone completely corrupt," said the 52-year-old Waikapu resident. "I suppose if there is one main thing or reason I would say, 'Vote for me and not Mr. Souki,' (it's because) he's a Democrat."
Schmucker said that at one time the Democratic Party was honorable and represented working-class families.
"But over the years, the lefthand side of the party has hijacked them," Schmucker said. "The only way to reform the Democratic Party is to vote them out of office."
But Souki is hoping voters will send him back to the Legislature for another term, after 28 years of service. He said he's had a "relatively productive" track record and still has work to do.
"I always attempted to represent the district and the island and the state in an honorable fashion," said the 77-year-old Wailuku resident. "On Maui, I was always trying to bring home the bacon."
Souki said he didn't want to go "on and on" about the money he has brought to Maui for capital improvement projects such as the new Wailuku elementary school and the Binhi at Ani Maui Filipino Community Center, but added that if re-elected he could bring in more money for projects, which will translate to more jobs for Maui County residents and have a trickle-down effect for island businesses.
As the House Transportation Committee chairman, Souki tried unsuccessfully last session to push through the state's highways modernization plan, which would bring millions of dollars worth of highway projects to the islands.
Souki said he will again try to pass the measure this upcoming session, even if he is not the committee chairman again.
He said some of the funding from the modernization plan could be used for projects such as the upcoming access road to Kahului Airport and a permanent fix to help traffic heading to Paia and beyond.
Souki said other priorities will include ensuring there is sufficient funding for Maui Memorial Medical Center's upcoming projects, and protecting the county's nearly $17 million share of Transient Accommodations Tax revenues, which the legislature has threatened to withhold for the past two years.
Within his district, Souki said he wants to see a location identified for a new elementary school in Waihee, to provide relief to the overcrowded Waihee Elementary School.
He would also push for harbor improvements, including installing a gasoline storage facility and dredging Kahului Harbor so tankers could deliver larger fuel shipments. Those changes could help reduce the price of gas on Maui, he noted.
Schmucker said he's running on some "pretty basic points."
"I will not vote to increase taxes in a recession. I suppose Joe (Souki) will say the same thing. (But) his party has already made promises to the worker unions, no matter what we will fund (their) pay increases. They made a lot of promises to the worker unions," Schmucker said.
Like many of his fellow Republicans, Schmucker says he would also request an audit of the state Department of Education as a way to see where the money is being spent in that department.
Schmucker said the Kihei Charter School shows that schools with local school boards can operate better than public schools that must deal with a massive Honolulu bureaucracy.
He would also like to push for changes, including requiring the Legislature to be subject to the Sunshine Law as well as have term limits for legislators.
Within his district, Schmucker said residents of his Waikapu Gardens neighborhood want permission to install a barrier to protect homes fronting Honoapiilani Highway from speeding and out-of-control cars.
Schmucker said residents had tried to work with the state to set up a barrier, which would be paid for by the residents and put up on state land. He said it's probably being held up because of liability issues but that he would like to work on the problem if elected.
Schmucker moved to Hawaii in 1995 from Indiana to attend Youth with a Mission's University of the Nations Kona campus on the Big Island.
Having a tax background from Indiana, he started doing taxes to make a living in Hawaii and eventually moved to Oahu, where he had a tax and accounting business. In 1997, he moved to Maui when a job opened up in the state tax office.
Schmucker acknowledges the irony that he's both a Maui Tea Party member and a state General Excise Tax assessor.
Schmucker said he supports government spending on public safety and infrastructure.
"I'm not against taxes. I'm a tax collector. I'm against poorly used taxes," he said. "I want to see reform in how we spend the money."
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.