For candidates, similar issues, different takes
EDITOR’S NOTE: Today’s election feature focuses on candidates seeking the 9th House District seat, part of The Maui News 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 was included in Sunday’s edition.
State Rep. Justin Woodson says he’s seeking re-election to the House District 9 seat to continue work on issues including affordable housing, homelessness, public school funding and kupuna care.
“We have a lot of momentum happening right now,” said Woodson, 41, who has held the seat representing Kahului, Puunene, old Sand Hills and Maui Lani since 2013. “Right now, I feel it’s very crucial because we have all these projects happening that we fought to get the money for, and now it’s time to execute.”
He faces a challenge in the Democratic primary election from Kauanoe Batangan, 28, who says his focus is on “four core issues” of elderly care, the economy, environment and education.
“I do bring new energy and new ideas,” said Batangan, who is running for elected office for the first time after working as an aide to the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka and current U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard. “I think my values are better rooted in this community, and I’m more integrated into the community. So I’m able to connect with the community a little bit better.”
The race also includes nonpartisan candidate Andrew Kayes, 44, medical director at Maui Diagnostic Imaging in Kahului. He would need to receive 10 percent of the vote cast in the primary contest or receive votes equal to or greater than the nominated partisan candidate to advance to the general election.
Woodson, who was named chairman of the House Education Committee last year, said more money is needed to repair schools and to build new schools. “And there’s simply not enough money available,” he said.
A proposed state constitutional amendment, which will be on the general election ballot in November, would establish a surcharge on investment property to help fund public education. If the amendment is passed by voters, the amount of funding would be up to the Legislature.
If the amendment passes, “we should target the very specific investment property of illegal vacation rentals statewide,” Woodson said.
“There is already broad agreement that illegal vacation rentals are an issue across the entire state,” he said. By some estimates, he said the surcharge could generate $850 million a year for the Department of Education.
Batangan said that “if the amendment passes and I’m elected, I would give a good faith effort to carry out the will of the people.”
“This would not be my first choice for how to fund education,” Batangan said. “I don’t like that we are infringing upon the county’s authority. If not, I’d prefer to go a different route.”
Currently, the state constitution authorizes only counties to levy property taxes.
When he reached out to school principals in the district, Batangan said overcrowding was one of the biggest issues raised. “They need more physical space,” he said. “We need to do more to alleviate the overcrowding of our classrooms.”
He said buildings burned in a 2010 fire at Kahului Elementary School still haven’t been replaced, and the same grades were affected by a fire that destroyed classrooms last year.
“I don’t know what the clog is, but we need to do more,” Batangan said.
He said more also needs to be done, possibly by increasing a tax credit, to help teachers, who often end up paying for classroom expenses.
“I know how much you have to put in of your own resources to serve your students,” Batangan said. “That’s just kind of the nature of the job.”
His mother and aunt are teachers. Batangan worked as a long-term substitute, teaching 9th-grade English at Kamehameha Schools Maui, before deciding to run for the House seat.
Woodson said four buildings are under construction to replace the ones burned in the 2010 fire at Kahului School. He said he is working on getting money to rebuild the classrooms destroyed in last November’s fire.
He said he has a staff member designated to watch about 15 construction projects at schools in the district.
“If you don’t do that, we have seen in the past where projects take 10 years, 12 years to complete,” he said. “You have to stay on the projects.”
Other construction projects are for a larger band room and new weight and wrestling rooms at Maui High School, Woodson said.
“I have always fought for capital improvement projects on the District 9 campuses,” he said.
He said the district is on track to become the first in the state to have air conditioning in all public school classrooms.
Both candidates acknowledged that traffic is an issue in the district.
A project to widen Puunene Avenue from two lanes to four lanes between Wakea Avenue and Kuihelani Highway should help, Woodson said.
“We fought for and received money for the Puunene road widening,” he said. “That’s a project that’s going to start shortly.
“That is a main throughway. They say if you relieve the main throughway, it has an impact. What we try to do is listen to what the community is telling us and that dictates our action. Puunene is something that the community wants us to address.”
Batangan said the Puunene Avenue widening project is in the design phase. “We can do more to help speed that along,” Batangan said. “That is an issue that came up as I was knocking on doors as well. It is something that constituents have asked about.”
Batangan said he supports state Department of Transportation work on implementing an islandwide system to control traffic lights so officials can better judge the flow of traffic when there’s a disruption.
As for addressing the homeless problem, Batangan said the state should implement legislation, including $200 million added to the state rental housing trust fund last session.
“I myself live in a four-generation household,” he said. “I get the need for affordable housing.”
Batangan said he returned to Maui from Washington, D.C., in large part to help take care of his ailing grandmother.
He said Hale Mahaolu and Hale Makua both have expansion plans that need support. “Given the demographics of the district and Maui at large, we can do better to prepare for the future with our aging population,” he said.
Woodson said he wants to see as many units brought to Maui as possible from a $570 million measure, also passed in the last legislative session, to create more affordable housing units statewide by 2030.
With Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Center in Wailuku as the hub, micro-unit condominiums would be built at 40 percent of the normal cost, Woodson said.
Woodson, who was born and raised in Topeka, Kan., moved to Maui about eight years ago after spending seven years on Oahu, where he worked at the Legislature and as a Realtor and became involved with the Hawaii Democratic Party. His wife, Stacy Suyat Woodson, was born and raised on Maui. They have four children.
During the 15 years he has been involved in state politics, Woodson said he has developed “strong relationships with key players” that would help move his projects forward.
“I want to stress the importance of this,” he said. “It is crucially important, especially now and especially for these issues, because the groundwork has been laid, and I have been a part of creating the foundation. Now what is needed is effective execution.
“I feel I am in a good position to work with key individuals in government, nonprofit and the private sectors to produce positive results for Maui.”
Batangan, who moved to Maui when he was 6 months old, said he is running for the House seat “because I love this community, and I believe in the power of the Legislature to help people.”
“It’s my home district,” he said. “I grew up here. I have roots here.”
“The Legislature is a place where, yes, you allocate funds,” Batangan said. “But you can do so much more.
“That’s something I learned from Sen. Akaka — it’s a place where you can bring people together, work together. You can help people. You can debate grand ideas. You can change hearts and minds as well. It’s more than a platform to discharge dollars.”
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.
Occupation: Political analyst; long-term substitute teacher, 9th grade English; former aide to U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
Education: Kamehameha Schools Maui; Stanford University, Bachelor of Arts in political science; Columbia University, Master of Public Administration; University of Tokyo, Master of Public Policy
Community service: Royal Order of Kamehameha I, member, 2015 to present; Tri-Isle Resource Conservation and Development Council, board member, 2017 to present; Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce, board member; Maui Historical Society, board member; Maui Matsuri Japanese Festival, subcommittee chairman
Occupation: Medical doctor; medical director at Maui Diagnostic Imaging, Kahului
Education: Doctor of Medicine, Duke University, 2000; Bachelor of Science, mechanical engineer, Duke University, 1995
Community service: Youth basketball coach, Maui Youth Basketball League, 2015 to present
Family: Married, three children
Justin H. Woodson
Occupation: State House representative since January 2013; owner/operator of Aloha Distribution Advantage; former owner/operator of Woodson’s Eco Auto Wash
Political experience: Past president, Young Democrats of Hawaii, 2006-08; state coordinator, College Democrats of Hawaii State, 2007-08; Hawaii young democrats rep, Democratic National Committee, 50 State Strategy, 2006; special assistant to State Party Chair, Democratic Party of Hawaii, 2005-07; precinct president, District 9-4, Maui Democratic Party, 2010-12
Education: University of Oklahoma, microbiology; Bachelor of Arts, University of California State, Fullerton
Community service: Maui Economic Opportunity, board member, 2014 to present; Gospel of the Alpha and Omega International Inc., vice president, 2005 to present; Friends of Maui Waena, member, 2013 to present; Kahului Alii, Pop Warner Football, commissioner, 2012 to present; Kahului Elementary PTSA, volunteer, 2011 to present
Family: Married, four children