First-time candidate Kaniela Ing secured the Democratic Party nomination Saturday to face incumbent Republican state Rep. George Fontaine in the South Maui House race in the Nov. 6 general election.
Ing handily beat out his three Democratic opponents. If elected, the 23-year-old would be one of the youngest - if not the youngest - members in the state Legislature.
Ing credited his campaign's outreach efforts for securing 43.3 percent of the 2,438 Democratic votes cast in the district that covers Kihei, Wailea and Makena.
Kaniela Ing’s happy supporters storm the set as he is interviewed by Chivo Ching-Johnson, Akaku: Maui Community Television senior producer, not long after the second election printout Saturday night showed the candidate victorious. He captured the 11th District Democratic House race, defeating three other candidates, to earn the right to face incumbent Republican George Fontaine.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
"This campaign was never about me. It was about the people of South Maui," Ing said shortly after election results were released.
"I knocked on 10,000 doors, some of them twice, and I heard from the people that they want something fresh. They're tired of the special interests that typically have a stronghold on politics on Maui," said Ing, who was a constant presence along Kihei's roads and Piilani Highway, sign waving in his trademark blue aloha shirt and red lei.
He credited the support of his family - his mom, Annette, and stepdad Bob Lytle, and siblings Matthew, Micah and Sarah - and his campaign team.
"I've worked as hard as I can, gave it my all and tried to get my message out," Ing said. "I know I left nothing on the table, and we were positive and clean the whole time."
Ing was born and raised on Maui and graduated from Kamehameha Schools Maui in 2006. He attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where he earned an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master's in public administration.
Ing said he returned to Maui about a year ago and decided to enter the highly contested race instead of pursuing more lucrative jobs.
He had come under criticism from some of his opponents and their supporters who felt he was too inexperienced for the job, and hadn't spent enough time as a South Maui resident.
"Like I've said, no matter how you spin it, a young person coming home to serve the community after being educated is not a bad thing," he said. "When you look at the relevant experience among the candidates, I have the most. I'm able to pass law."
Netra Halperin, who finished second with 26.5 percent of votes, said she was disappointed, not only because she didn't win, but because Ing did.
"I'm disappointed that someone would come here with no relationship at all to the community, yet, very slick marketing, and that he would get the most votes," Halperin, 53, said. "He put up the most yard signs, he did the most sign waving. I did go door to door just as much and connected with the voters."
Halperin, who unsuccessfully ran for the seat in the 2010 primary, added: "I think he's just totally inappropriate for our district. I think he can't beat Fontaine, and I think I could have beat Fontaine. I think we'll be stuck with an ineffective Republican."
Former Democratic state Rep. Joe Bertram III, 55, received no contributions and spent no money on his campaign, and instead relied on name recognition from his two terms in the House before being defeated by Fontaine in 2010.
Bertram finished fourth in Saturday's primary with 12.7 percent of votes, not far behind Colin Hanlon, who got 13.7 percent of the vote.
Bertram said Ing won the race the same way Fontaine did, "going door to door relentlessly."
He said that has been effective, especially among new voters in the district. "They're not going so much on what has been the candidate's experience," Bertram said.
He said he met Ing at the Democratic convention and has run into him in the community.
"He's very young and very personable, so that's definitely going to be a big plus 'cause they got to like you," Bertram said. "I think he made a nice impression on the voters going door to door."
Hanlon did not return phone calls or emails seeking comment.
Ing ran a relatively small campaign in terms of fundraising and expenses. He's reported raising a little more than $15,200 for his campaign, and spent $10,261 as of last week.
Because Ing has opted to receive public matching funds from the state, he could not exceed an expenditure cap of $16,199 for the election. He qualified to receive as much as $2,430 in public matching funds for the primary, and another $2,430 for the general.
"Winning a campaign isn't about spending money. It should be given to the candidate with the best ideas, not just the biggest contributors," he said.
Asked whether the expenditure cap could hamper his general election run, Ing said he's "comfortable with the limit and we'll stick to it."
Controversy over the planned development of two large shopping centers in Kihei - dubbed the Kihei "mega-malls" by opponents - had become a hot issue for the race.
Ing has said he opposes the development, but said he plans to hold a town hall meeting in coming weeks to hear from the community.
Irvine, Calif.-based Eclipse Development Group has started grading work on the site where it plans to build the Maui Outlets, a 300,000-square-foot shopping center on a 30-acre site, and Piilani Promenade, a 400,000-square-foot retail complex on 68 acres, both mauka of the Piilani Highway-Kaonoulu Street intersection.
The development has been challenged before the state Land Use Commission by the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, South Maui Citizens for Responsible Growth and a Kihei resident, who claim the centers are dramatically different from the light industrial park previously approved in 1995 for the former landowner.
"The whole point of my campaign is listening," Ing said. "I know there are those who don't want the malls, and there are some who do, and I want to hear from the entire community."
Ing said he's feeling energized and confident heading into the general election.
Fontaine, a retired Maui Police Department captain and businessman, said he was somewhat surprised that Ing won the Democratic race.
"Kaniela is somewhat a newcomer. He doesn't have a lot of track record within my district," he said. "He's never really been involved with the South Maui community.
But then again, he's worked really hard. He's gone out and campaigned really hard and sign-waved and gone door to door."
Fontaine said he thought Bertram and Hanlon, chief professional officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Maui, would have fared better in the Democratic primary.
As for the general election, Fontaine said "what it will come down to is who has the most experience, who's actually been involved in the community over the last 20-plus years and who has actually represented the community."
"Looking forward, I just hope that the voters in the general election will look at the person that has been most representative of the community, that has been most involved in the community," he said. "I'm running on my voting record, my experience of what I have done for South Maui. We'll see how it plays out in the general election. May the best man win."
In other state legislative races, current state House District 10 Rep. Angus McKelvey easily defeated Democratic challenger Edward Kaahui, 66.8 percent to 27.1 percent.
McKelvey will face-off against Republican Chayne Marten in the general election for the seat representing West Maui, Maalaea and north Kihei.
"I'm humbled and grateful for the support we received," McKelvey said early Saturday evening via phone from Fu Lin Chinese Restaurant in Lahaina, where his supporters had gathered. "Everyone who came out and voted, no matter how they voted, I'm very grateful for that."
Looking ahead, he added: "We are going to campaign on a positive message and a positive campaign. The bottom line, we are not going to get into negative campaigning and complain. You stay positive; you stay focused. That's how you get things down in Honolulu and the community, too."
Kaahui could not be reached for comment.
Maui voters re-elected incumbent Democratic state Sen. J. Kalani English to represent the district covering Hana, East Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe.
English, who's held the seat since 2000, dominated the race, securing 66.8 percent of his district's vote.
"It's a clear mandate to continue working together with everyone in the district and all of Hawaii," English said of his win. "Throughout this campaign, there's been a trend to look at representation on an island-by-island basis. We can't look at it like that. We've always survived as a state, and we're all in this together."
He beat out Molokai natives Barbara Haliniak, a Democrat, and Kanohowailuku Helm, a nonpartisan candidate. Helm did not receive enough votes to advance to the general election. With no Republican challenger, English won outright.