Editor's note - This is the fourth in a series of stories covering contested legislative and County Council seats leading up to Saturday's primary election. The winner of the Democratic primary will advance the Nov. 6 general election. In this race, the nonpartisan candidate needs at least 10 percent of the vote to advance.
Longtime state Sen. J. Kalani English represents the Senate's largest geographical district, which stretches across four islands - a distinction he says requires a special understanding that sets him apart from his opponents in Saturday's primary election.
J. Kalani English (D)*
English, 46, has held the seat that covers Hana - his hometown - East Maui, Upcountry, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe since he was elected in 2000. The Democrat was re-elected in 2004 and 2008, and is seeking re-election this year in a race against two Molokai residents who have stepped up to challenge him.
"I have a very strong feeling and understanding of the district, the vastness of this district and the intricate needs of each area," English said. "You're never home because of the uniqueness of this district. You're constantly traveling. I'm in Hana, I'm on Molokai, on Lanai and Kahoolawe."
Molokai natives Barbara Haliniak and Kanohowailuku Helm - both first-time political candidates - say the entire district needs more of a presence at the Legislature.
Haliniak, 70, a Democrat and past president of the Molokai Chamber of Commerce, says she wants to be a voice for Molokai.
"I've been consistently saying that I'm running because we have been underrepresented in our district, especially Molokai. He's been virtually nonexistent, as far as I'm concerned," Haliniak said of English. "If you're a lawmaker, you need to be in the district. You need to make yourself available. The people don't work for you. You are working for the people and carry their voice."
Helm, 31, who is running as a nonpartisan candidate, echoed some of the concern and said he chose to run in response to a "feeling in my gut."
"I never aspired to file for office. I just felt that it was kuleana that I needed to run for the sake of my home, Molokai, and for the rest of the state," said Helm. "I want to get people plugged in. I don't see that happening right now. The bottom line is that the connection between these rural communities and our government is not in place."
Although Helm doesn't have a nonpartisan opponent, under the rules for Hawaii's open primary, Helm will need at least 10 percent of the votes in his district to advance to the Nov. 6 general election.
English disagrees with the criticism that he's out of touch with his constituents.
"I don't agree with that perspective. I have been in touch and have done a really good job," he said. "Likewise, I could say they're out of touch with Maui - with the needs of Kaupo, and of Hana and Makawao."
English said in addition to regular physical visits, he takes advantage of multimedia technology to stay connected across his district. He's also plugged in through family members.
"I use Skype and emails, Facebook and Twitter, and I go to the islands quite a bit," he said. "I have a huge family on Molokai, in Hana and Upcountry and elsewhere. I know who's giving birth, getting married, graduating and any issues in my district."
Helm said he'd like to see easier access for residents in the rural communities to participate in the legislative process at the state Capitol in Honolulu.
"I think there should be a special room for people to Skype in and connect with the Legislature," he said.
He also thinks regular visits across the district should be mandatory.
"I'm hearing there needs to be more community involvement. We should ensure there's a place and time to meet with the public," he said. "It should be mandatory to come out to the rural islands at least every couple of months - at least. And it should be a public process when they do come."
Haliniak, who runs a small bookkeeping and payroll service company, said that she's had to get involved in matters that she thinks should have been handled at the Capitol.
"For example, Young Brothers raising their rates. I, on my own, negotiated a lower rate for Molokai and Lanai," she said. "I wasn't getting paid to be president of the Chamber of Commerce, but I was fighting for what we needed in addition to running my small business."
One thing all three candidates do agree on: No one wants to see windmills erected on Molokai or Lanai.
Helm is founder and president of I Aloha Molokai, a grass-roots group that was formed to oppose the development of a 200-megawatt wind farm on Molokai and the construction of an undersea transmission cable to send power to Oahu.
The Molokai project would be half of the state's so-called Big Wind project that would join another 200-megawatt wind farm planned for Lanai.
I Aloha Molokai testified against controversial legislation earlier this year that sets up a regulatory framework for an undersea cable if one is ever built.
English voted in favor (with reservations) of Senate Bill 2785, which passed on the Senate floor with a 22-3 vote, and was later signed into law by Gov. Neil Abercrombie. The move was seen by some as paving the way for an undersea cable.
"With this issue, there was very little public input. Those who opposed the cable bill outnumbered those in favor," Helm said. "The process I witnessed, of how decisions are being made, I've seen first-hand how our representatives and legislators haven't been transparent with us."
English downplayed the cable bill's effect, likening it to a building code.
"It's like we adopted a building code, but it doesn't mean that we'll build buildings," he said.
"I think the windmills are moot issues," English added. "I've never supported windmills for Molokai. I don't want to see windmills there. It seems we've passed that point. And with new ownership on Lanai, there's a new vibrancy and outlook there. I don't think the windmills will be built."
Haliniak said she doesn't see how Molokai and Lanai would benefit from housing the large wind farms.
"I don't support Big Wind. Molokai and Lanai aren't going to get whatever benefits are promised," she said. "The utility company and the developers are the ones that are going to come out the winners. And that's BS that the cable bill was just for regulatory. The government doesn't put something in place for that reason."
English touts his seniority and experience in office as strengths of his campaign.
He serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Transportation and International Affairs, which oversees about $1 billion of the state's budget for highways, airports and other transportation infrastructure.
"Transportation is the biggest issue for a multi-island district," he said. "I took the chairmanship because I wanted to ensure connection between the islands, making sure that sea lanes and airways and roadways are all lined up for the movement of goods and people."
He added: "I'm reaching a point in seniority where I can really get the big projects that we need done. It's been a long haul and one that I want to continue."
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at email@example.com.
SENATE DISTRICT 7
(East Maui, Upcountry, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe)
J. Kalani English (D)*
Born: Aug. 7, 1966; Miami
Residence: Hamoa Village, Hana
Education: 2003 certificate, Program for Senior Executives in State and Local Government, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University; 1995 master of arts degree, University of Hawaii, Pacific Islands Studies; 1991 certificate, East-West Center, Institute of Culture and Communications; 1989 bachelor of arts degree, Hawai'i Loa College, Pacific Islands Studies; 1988 certificate, National Chengchi University, Center for Public and Business Administration Education, Taipei, Taiwan; the Kamehameha Schools, Kapalama, 1984
Community involvement: Chairman, Senate Committee on Transportation and International Affairs; member, Hawai'i Invasive Species Committee; board member, Maui Arts & Cultural Center; board member, Friends of Maui Drug Court; board member, Hui Aina o Hana
Barbara J. Haliniak (D)
Born: Feb. 21, 1942; Maunaloa, Molokai
Education: Hawaii Pacific College, 1988, nondegree credits only
Community involvement: Molokai Island Foundation, president; Maui Economic Development Board Inc., board member; Maui County Workforce Investment Board, board member; Molokai Chamber of Commerce, president, 2001-2009; Molokai Planning Commission, chairwoman, 1999-2001
Family: Married, three children
Kanohowailuku Helm (N)
Born: Sept. 8, 1980; Hoolehua, Molokai
Community involvement: Founder and president of I Aloha Molokai; founder and president of Ke Ala Pono, nonprofit educational outreach organization; co-founder and coach, Kukui o Molokai (canoe club); member, Molokai Land Trust; co-founder, writer, vocalist of Anahaki Box House Band
Family: Married, three children