Familiar faces aim to be the new face for 8th District House seat
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s feature on candidates seeking the 8th House District seat marks the beginning of coverage of contested Maui County races in the Aug. 11 primary election. Stories on other races will be published in the days leading up to the election. A primary election voter guide offering details on all county and state House and Senate contests is included in today’s edition.
Familiar faces to Maui politics are vying for former House Speaker Joe Souki’s House District 8 seat in a four-way, winner-take-all contest in the Aug. 11 Democratic primary.
Among those running for the district seat that serves residents from Waikapu to Kahakuloa is Troy Hashimoto, the former executive assistant to Maui County Council Chairman Mike White. In April, Gov. David Ige appointed Hashimoto to fill Souki’s seat after he resigned because of sexual harassment allegations.
Also running is Dain Kane, a substitute teacher at Iao Intermediate School who was a Maui County Council member from 1999 to 2006. Another candidate is elementary school special education teacher Justin Hughey, who until recently was Hawaii State Teachers Association vice president. And filling out the foursome is Mary Wagner, an information technology manager for Maui County who served on the state board of directors for the Hawaii Government Employees Association.
All four were among a group of eight candidates who checked out nomination papers this spring to be vetted by a 21-member Democratic Party district council committee formed to nominate Souki’s successor. The committee forwarded the names of Hashimoto, Kane and Joe Wildman to Ige.
Whoever is victorious next month may need to deal with a state constitutional amendment proposed to establish a surcharge on investment property to help fund public education. On the general election ballot, voters will be asked whether the surcharge should be established to fund the state Department of Education’s budget, but the amount of funding would be up to the Legislature. Currently, the state constitution only authorizes counties to levy property taxes.
Of the four candidates, Hughey is strongly in favor of the amendment, which the teachers union advocated.
“I’m excited we actually have a solution on the table for finally achieving a dedicated funding stream solely for education,” the 42-year-old Wailuku resident said.
He pointed out that the funds could help recruit more teachers and provide better facilities, which have been issues for years.
“This finally allows voters to approve adequate funding for our keiki,” he said.
Asked about the possible negative ramifications of the amendment, such as the Legislature solely depending on the surcharge and not pulling from the general fund for the DOE budget, Hughey said there are people who do not want public schools to receive more funding, and “they are going to make up reasons so that funding does not go there.”
He said every single legislator campaigns on supporting education.
“Is education a priority for you, or isn’t it?” he asked.
People can think of all the possible negative things that could occur with the amendment, but Hughey said he wasn’t going to go down that line.
“I don’t believe in that,” he said.
Hashimoto agreed with all the other candidates in acknowledging that public education needs additional funding and resources, but he said the “the electorate needs to think hard” about how it votes on the amendment.
The amendment is “very vague” on what investment properties would be taxed, he said.
“We are going to have to be very careful it doesn’t have the potential to impact renters, in terms of investment properties,” said the 30-year-old Wailuku resident.
He cautioned that the surcharge is not a “silver bullet” to solve all funding woes, although it might be another tool for funding. He also questioned what would happen if there were an economic downturn that would impact investment properties and, in turn, affect surcharge revenue for schools.
Hashimoto pointed to the effects the charge could have on the counties, which rely on property taxes to fund government operations and services.
“You are taking the tools away for the county and giving it to the state,” he said.
Kane recognized the public school system has struggled for a long time and that there have been the teacher shortages and aging facilities. He says he’s lived through the struggles as a teacher.
“I think this constitutional amendment is providing an opportunity for our community to make a decision on how to move forward,” Kane said.
But, whatever the outcome is, “it’s not going to be an easy job for the state government,” he said.
The 56-year-old Wailuku resident said that if the amendment were to be approved, the Legislature would need to have a clear definition of an investment property and ensure that the population that can least afford any charges does not get impacted.
And, if the amendment were to fail, that wouldn’t take away from the Legislature’s responsibility to search for more funding for education.
Wagner said she has mixed feelings about the amendment, but she understands the need to fund public education as well as giving teachers adequate pay and addressing aging facilities.
“But what troubles me is this constitutional amendment doesn’t define how the money will be spent,” she said.
She pointed out that there are other important needs in the state, such as affordable housing and aging infrastructure.
“Are we going to impose a tax for every need we have for our state budget?” she asked.
The 64-year-old Wailuku resident said she agrees taxing nonresidents with investment properties because they benefit financially while taking away housing from residents.
The candidates’ district contains market-priced and affordable housing subdivisions, including some yet to come online. And all believe that more needs to be done to make available affordable units, including rentals on Maui, but maybe not all in their district.
Hashimoto said areas for development in Central Maui are getting smaller, but that doesn’t mean he or other legislators would stop searching for other land and opportunities elsewhere.
“It’s making sure we are mindful of the density and mindful of the location,” he said.
Hashimoto said affordable housing needs to be near bus lines and services as well.
He also pointed to government, which can help with subsidies.
He noted House Bill 2748, which the Legislature passed this year and the governor signed. It gives $200 million to the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corp.’s Rental Housing Revolving Fund. The measure also appropriates $10 million to HHFDC’s Dwelling Unit Revolving Fund, extends the general excise tax exemption for certain affordable rental housing projects and increases the cap on general excise tax exemptions to $30 million until 2030, according to Gov. Ige’s office.
When canvassing door to door, Wagner said that top of mind for constituents is affordable homes. But like Hashimoto, she said the current density of the Wailuku district is full and pointed to the fairly new Pu’u Kukui Elementary School, which is already full.
She noted that development should be in a suitable location.
Wagner said there is a true need for affordable housing because many residents work in service industry jobs where their “pay is low to begin with,” and the income does not match housing costs.
“We don’t have homes to match their income. We have to do something about that,” she said.
But she added that lawmakers have to be cautious and not offer too many breaks to developers when housing is put up just in order to get it done.
She said that, in many affordable projects, there will be families with children and infrastructure including sidewalks and crosswalks needs to be completed.
To help with the affordable housing crisis, Hughey said he would use his experience as a former vice president and client of Na Hale O Maui, a nonprofit that helps turn foreclosures into permanent affordable housing in perpetuity.
First, he would ensure the mechanisms are in place so that the state could dedicate funding for a community land trust like Na Hale O Maui. He would then take the program statewide.
In Hughey’s case, the nonprofit bought the house in foreclosure for $375,000, and it owns the land. Hughey has a 99-year renewable ground lease, with smaller monthly payments than homebuyers of regular market-priced properties. Hughey is able to sell the house to his children but cannot “flip” it to make a profit.
“All of the homes Na Hale convert will stay affordable perpetuity,” he said.
Kane said getting more affordable housing on the ground would be collaborative effort, whether he works with the Legislature and or with county government.
He pointed to the recent money approved by the Legislature for affordable housing, but he said the money would not be for all projects but for those projects ready to go.
Kane said he understands that housing is a crisis, especially for local people. People with money, usually not from Hawaii, are able pay high prices to live here, while limiting supply for residents and their families.
“We don’t have affordable housing. There is such as high demand. We have limited supply,” he said.
Kane said tough decision-making has to be done to figure out a way to remedy the issue.
Before Souki’s resignation this year, he had been ousted from the powerful position as speaker at the end of the legislative session in 2017. That left the Neighbor Island state lawmakers without a member in such a powerful leadership position as they compete with a larger number of Oahu-based legislators.
Kane thanked Souki for his work over the years.
“With the loss of Speaker Joe, I think it’s important for us to regroup,” Kane said.
No matter the outcome of the election, Kane said Maui legislators need to support leadership that is supportive of Maui.
And, if Maui House members have differences in opinion, things could still work out. Kane noted that the late Kahului Rep. Bob Nakasone was a member of the House Finance Committee and was not part of the same House faction as Souki years ago.
But, “they still were able to unify and take care of each other,” he said.
Hashimoto said the Maui delegation will need to rebuild key positions in the House. He noted that incumbents this session had chairman positions in the Education and Higher Education committees, as well as a key position in the Finance Committee.
“We need to continue to stick together in a 51-member body, you have to be collaborative,” he said.
Wagner said the Maui delegation would have to see how the legislative leadership shakes out after the election, especially if new candidates oust incumbents.
Wagner said it’s OK to be different, especially if the representative votes for her constituents, which may not be in line with other Maui representatives’ views. But she said the Maui delegation should be able to work together.
But, overall, Wagner said Maui’s delegation has long had a good standing in the House.
Hughey said that the first order of business for the state Legislature with its newly elected members would be to gather up and come together.
“It’s very important for all of the Maui team to be working together to do what’s best for Maui,” he said.
“I’m not committed to anyone,” he added. “I’m completely open to leadership, to any leadership and to focus on who will provide what’s best for our community.”
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Occupation: Appointed House representative; executive assistant to Maui County Council Chairman Mike White, 2011 to 2018
Political experience: State Board of Education, 2005; Maui County Democratic Party chairman, 2013 to 2017; State Central Committee – Democratic Party of Hawaii, 2013 to 2018
Education: Bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business administration, University of Denver
Community service: Ka Ipu Kukui Fellows board of directors, 2012 to present; Rotary Club of Valley Isle Sunset, secretary, 2012
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Birthplace: Elgin, Ill.
Occupation: Third-grade special education teacher, King Kamehameha III Elementary School, 2005-present
Political experience: Democratic Party of Hawaii State Central Committee, Education Committee chairman, 2014-present; ad hoc Democratic Party of Hawaii District 8 Committee chairman, 2013; Democratic Party of Hawaii District 8 chairman, 2010-14; Democratic Party of Hawaii State Central Committee, District 8, 2010-14; Democratic Party of Hawaii State Central Committee, District 10, 2009-10; Mazie Hirono’s Maui Liaison, 2008 re-election campaign; Democratic Party of Hawaii, District 10 chairman, 2006-10
Education: Master of Science in education, Northern Illinois University, 2005; Bachelor of Arts, The Evergreen State College, Wash., 2000
Community service: Hawaii State Teachers Association community organizer for the constitutional amendment; Hawaii State Teachers Association, vice president, 2015-18; Na Hale O Maui, vice president, 2012-16; King Kamehameha III Elementary School, Aloha Club, president 2012-16
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Dain P. Kane
Occupation: Substitute teacher, Iao Intermediate School, spring/fall semesters 2017, spring semester 2018; self-employed consultant, 2013-16
Political experience: Maui County Council member, Wailuku-Waihee-Waikapu residency seat, 1999-2006
Education: University of Hawaii at Manoa, Bachelor of Education in secondary education, social studies
Community service: Wailuku Country Estates Community Association president, 2012-present; Hawaiian Swimming board member, 2015-17; Maui Age Group Swimming Association board member, 2015-17; Democratic Party of Hawaii State Central Committee board member, 2014-16; Democratic Party of Maui District 8, Precinct 4, council representative, 2014-2018
Family: Married, three children
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Mary D. Wagner
Occupation: Information technology manager, Maui County
Education: Dual degrees of associate of arts and associate of applied science in law enforcement from Joliet Junior College, Ill.; Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice from the College of St. Francis, Ill.; and Master of Business Administration in technology management from University of Phoenix Maui
Community service: Board member, Kehalani Community Association, 2013-present; board president, Bargaining Unit 13 (scientific and professional members), Hawaii Government Employees Association, 2017-present; HGEA Unit 13 state negotiations team member, 2015-present; HGEA state board of directors, 2013-17; volunteer, American Cancer Society Reach to Recovery Program, 2013-present
Family: Three adult children