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Parade

Forum puts heat on candidates

WAILUKU ­ Heading into a general election rematch with Republican challenger Don Couch, state Sen. Roz Baker said she’d gotten results for her district in the form of better ambulance services, school improvements, environmental protections, and the new Maui medical helicopter.

“I not only listened, I delivered,” she said.

But Couch said his experience working for Mayor Alan Arakawa taught him about the community’s needs and showed that he could work with people of all political parties.

“We all get along, and we all do the job for the county,” he said.

Baker and Couch, who also faced off in 2002 for the then-open seat of the 5th Senate District representing West and South Maui, led a slate of candidates speaking at the Maui Young Business Roundtable candidates forum Tuesday night.

Incumbents touted their accomplishments and challengers promised change, while others fanned themselves while they waited for their turn to speak in a sweltering Iao Theater in Wailuku. The profusion of candidates and their supporters outnumbered neutral audience members by a wide margin.

While Baker said “very tough” unfunded mandates like the Felix Consent Decree and the federal No Child Left Behind Act meant the state had to budget extra funds to pay for mainstream school programs, Couch said the problem was with school bureaucracy.

“I feel the Department of Education needs to look at where they spend their money,” he said, adding that local school boards would ensure more efficient use of funds.

“Let’s let the local communities decide,” he said.

While Couch said his experience in the Mayor’s Office would give him a solid background on traffic and transportation, Baker said her strength was her experience in health care issues, as chairwoman of the Senate Health Committee. She pointed to her work on state prescription drug assistance programs and increased funding for Maui Memorial Medical Center.

“Access to affordable health care is my goal,” she said.

State Rep. Brian Blundell also spoke Tuesday night, although he was not joined by his two Democratic challengers.

Blundell, a Republican, pointed to his work toward securing $30 million to start the first phase of the Lahaina Bypass and his efforts to improve small boat harbors, particularly those in his West Maui district, as highlights of his freshman term in the state House of Representatives.

“I’d like to finish some of the work that I started,” he told audience members.

Blundell said he’d also like to see more local control of Maui roads.

“We have too much buck passing when it comes to highways,” he said.

He said he was proud to have worked on plans for Maui’s helicopter ambulance, although he added that he’d like to see a private company take over the service “as soon as possible,” to save taxpayers from subsidizing it.

A question about the purpose of state government and the reason behind its size and expense revealed differences between candidates running for the 6th Senate District, representing East Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

Democratic incumbent J. Kalani English said that while the primary purpose of government was the “safety and welfare” of its citizens, the high cost of government was “the price of democracy.”

The American system of checks and balances between executive, legislative and judicial branches is designed to distribute power for a more fair and democratic society – but it also results in a slower and more complicated system for getting laws passed and operating government.

“To me the amount of money it costs is almost irrelevant when it means we live in a free democracy with civil rights in place,” he said.

But Republican challenger Robert Finberg called the state government “unwieldy” and “terribly expensive.”

“I believe that the government that governs least governs best,” he said.

The state has too many taxes, and it should focus its efforts on key crucial programs while letting others “fall by the wayside,” he said.

Republican Elaine Slavinsky, who will face Finberg in the Sept. 18 primary election, also felt the state government was too bloated.

“I think we keep adding more and more programs and not tightening our belts to shrink government,” she said.

In the 8th House district, Republican Robert Min stressed his “family values,” and nonpartisan challenger Fred Ruge said he’d push to make state offices nonpartisan, while Democratic incumbent Joe Souki said he’d bring years of experience he’d use to help Maui if re-elected to a 12th term.

“I understand the system. I know how it works,” he said.

Asked what they would do to help failing schools, Ruge said he’d support increasing salaries for teachers, while Souki said he’d consider increasing funds for education to make up for the cost of unfunded mandates on the school system. Min said he’d support Gov. Linda Lingle’s call for a referendum on home rule for schools.

“You make the decision if you want to bring the local school boards here to Maui,” he said, receiving loud applause.

The three also had differing ideas on housing, with Souki calling for “balance” and for cooperation between state and county agencies, and Min pointing to the Paukukalo Hawaiian homestead subdivision he calls home as a successful example of affordable housing.

Ruge called for a “luxury tax” on million-dollar homes, and said development should be concentrated on infill housing before it’s allowed to spread beyond established towns.

“We need to do everything we can to eliminate this urban sprawl,” he said.

Ilima Loomis can be reached at iloomis@mauinews.com.

 
 
 
 

 

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