×

District 13 Democratic primary features new faces with deep ties

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Maui News is continuing to feature the profiles and platforms of candidates in the lead-up to Saturday’s primary election. Today’s story focuses on the Democratic primary race for House District 13 which covers East Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe.

Linda Clark

House District 13 has seen plenty of turnover in recent years. In 2015 Lynn DeCoite was appointed to the seat after the death of former Rep. Mele Carroll. In 2021 Linda Clark was appointed to the office after DeCoite moved over to the Senate.

Now Clark is looking to win election to the seat outright as she faces challengers Chase Nomura and Mahina Poepoe in the Democratic primary for House District 13, which covers East Maui, Lanai, Molokai and Kahoolawe. All are Native Hawaiian candidates who have deep roots in their district and know firsthand the issues of transportation, water rights, access to services and other concerns in their communities.

The winner will move to the general election against Republican Scott Adam and Green Party candidate Nick Nikhilananda, both of whom have no opponent in the primary.

LINDA CLARK

When Linda Clark tells people she was born and raised on Oahu, they often assume, “Oh, she’s a city girl,” says Clark, who’s anything but. Clark grew up in a small plantation town in Waialua where her father and uncle worked as cowboys on a ranch. She and her cousins spent summers swimming in freshwater ponds and carrying fish bags to Kaena Point where their dads would throw net.

Chase Nomura

The 1983 Kahuku High School graduate moved to Maui in 1984, where she married her husband Gaylane and raised four kids. The family lived in Kihei then moved to Kula in 2008 and then to Kaupo, where her parents and grandparents are from, in 2015. After all this time, Clark’s still not a city girl, living off the grid in a solar-and-battery-powered home.

“We decided to pour ourselves into the Kaupo community where I’ve inherited family land and made my home, so you know, it was kind of like coming full circle for me,” said Clark, who served as president of the Kaupo Community Association from 2015 to 2021. “I never thought about being a legislator or, you know, going into this field, but after this last session, which was my first, I really enjoyed it and I see the good that we can do and help people, and I want to continue that work.”

Clark wasn’t sure she should go for the job after her husband was diagnosed with ALS in October 2020, “but it was with his blessing that I put in my name when the position was vacated by Lynn DeCoite.” Gov. David Ige appointed her to the position in July 2021, shortly before her husband died in November.

Buoyed by her late husband’s support and the desire to “be strong” for her kids, Clark went into her first session and eagerly proposed the maximum 10 bills, even as other lawmakers cautioned that in her first year, “your bills will probably all die.” She was happy to see some of the measures she was involved with make it through, including House Bill 1635, which establishes a Rural Health Task Force to seek solutions on nurse recruitment and retention in rural areas of Maui, Molokai and Lanai; House Concurrent Resolution 36, which requests the University of Hawaii to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Department of Education to create a Coral Reef Advisory Team of Youth; and House Concurrent Resolution 29, which encourages the Department of Transportation to work with stakeholders to develop a holistic management plan for Hana Highway.

Clark hopes this will help lead to solutions for traffic and safety issues on Hana Highway, which state officials have tried to address in recent years by installing “no parking” signs and increasing fines.

Mahina Poepoe

“I think that it’s clear to me that the ‘no parking’ signs isn’t the solution because people are continuing to park right next to them,” Clark said. “So we’re going to need to look at enforcement — enforcement in different ways. I realize Maui Police Department cannot alone handle this issue, so what are our options? So that’s why I think we need to bring everyone to the table.”

Clark, who’s housed stranded tourists when storms made parts of Piilani Highway impassable, also likes the idea of community hubs that would provide shelter and emergency supplies for East Maui residents. She supports improving broadband and assessing the cost of extending telephone lines, pointing out that when she calls 911 from Kaupo, she gets connected to Hawaii island dispatchers before transferred to Maui.

If elected, Clark said she’d also like to focus on access to telehealth, which “worked really well for our rural areas” in the pandemic, and climate issues for residents who live along the coastline.

“If we look at projected numbers as to where the water mark will be … that’s going to be a huge issue,” Clark said. “So that’s real important for me.”

 CHASE NOMURA

 Growing up in his family’s mom-and-pop shop in Kuau, Chase Nomura watched his grandmother “talking up a storm with everybody who came in.”

“That’s the Podagee side in her,” he said. “She just talk story with everybody, gets their insight, make friends. She can make a friend anywhere, and that’s kind of what I aspire to do, to kind of go out into the community, make friends with everybody, hear what they have to say, and then use that knowledge and that insight … to kind of carve out the legislation that I would want to see in the community.”

Leona Bak Nomura, a former Maui County Council candidate and Chase Nomura’s campaign manager, is one of his inspirations as he runs for office. The other is the Maui community he knows and loves.

Nomura and his sister were raised by a single mother on a 2-acre retired Norfolk pine tree plantation in Haiku. He graduated from Kamehameha Schools Maui in 2012, and after initially studying ethnobotany and Hawaiian language at the University of Hawaii Maui College, he transferred to UH-Manoa to get his degree in applied linguistics. Nomura, who studied both Hawaiian and Japanese languages in high school and college, saw it as a way to connect with others, to hear what they had to say and speak to them in a way that they could understand.

That passion led him to the Peace Corps, where he taught English in a rural Cambodian village for two years.

“I came back to Maui with kind of like this new sense of purpose,” Nomura said. “If I could go abroad to help these students in Southeast Asia that didn’t have much, why am I not here in Hawaii, in Maui, doing the same thing for my people, for my community and for my family? And so I fell back in love with Maui.”

Now the executive director of the Maui County Workforce Development Board, Nomura has watched the local workforce shift in the pandemic. He’s seen a lot of people getting small business loans, and believes that economic growth starts with “supporting the industries that support local people and local businesses.”

Nomura wants to see the state invest in the “in-between industries,” the fields that bridge gaps, such as agricultural technology. Finding innovative ways to plant crops or automating processes would not only make farming more efficient but perhaps attract more workers, he reasons. If elected, Nomura said he’d create legislation to support workforce development for these types of “ag tech” jobs and support funding to help farmers financially as well as with marketing and advertising.

Nomura also thinks technology is key to helping address water rights, a major issue in East Maui, whose abundance of fresh water has long been diverted for uses outside of the district. To ensure accurate and fair water allocation for farmers and others, Nomura said he’d back funding to do environmental impact studies and install updated measuring equipment or automated diversion systems.

As for whether government or a private company should oversee the system, Nomura said, “I think the people should choose who runs the water system and they should vote on who they want to have it controlled by.”

Community input will also guide Nomura’s decisions on managing traffic on Hana Highway. Nomura said he’d like to have town hall meetings to discuss how to improve transportation in the area and supports having more signage, more patrols for illegal parking and more education for tourists.

Transportation is a major issue in District 13, where a bad storm could easily cut off the limited air and ground options. Nomura envisions the state offering funding and tax credits to local businesses that could provide transportation solutions, such as private pilots whom the state could contract for emergencies or regular commutes.

He’s also mulling the idea of a water taxi system that could run from Hana to Kahului.

“Nothing as grand as the Superferry, but a water taxi service that people could hop on to do their weekly grocery run, go there and come back, similar to the ferry to Lanai,” he explained. “I would have to do more research on how that would be best implemented, and using that as a possible alternative to ground and air transportation.”

MAHINA POEPOE

Over generations of living in Pukoo and Mapulehu, Mahina Poepoe’s family has watched the community change as more tourists came in and nonresidents bought housing.

People staying in short-term rentals have picked fruit in her yard, created conflicts with local fishers and snapped photos of her and her family cleaning fish “like a roadside amusement attraction,” she told the Maui County Council in 2020.

“I think that’s what sparked my community advocacy, was the short-term vacation rental development in Pukoo,” Poepoe said. “That was my first experience in organizing a petition and getting signatures and going to the county and advocating for capping the short-term rentals.”

After nearly three years of discussions and a petition of about 900 signatures, the council passed a bill in 2020 to cap short-term vacation rentals on Molokai at zero.

“I think that first success was what really opened my eyes to a lot of the other issues that were happening, and I started to get involved a lot more with water issues and other land issues here,” Poepoe said.

Born and raised on Molokai, Poepoe earned a Bachelor of Arts in Public Administration from the University of Hawaii, West Oahu. She operated Malama Surf Shop in Kaunakakai from 2012 to 2019, and now serves as the project coordinator for the nonprofit ‘Aina Momona as well as the education/outreach assistant for the Molokai subcommittee of the Maui Invasive Species Committee.

Passionate about conservation and the environment, Poepoe has helped with native seed collection, invasive limu removal, bird banding and hawksbill turtle monitoring. She founded the nonprofit Kupeke Ahupua’a, which focuses on fishpond restoration, and has also been involved with the Ho’ahu Renewable Energy Cooperative and the community initiative to buy Molokai Ranch.

Poepoe knows how precious and limited natural resources are, which is why she thinks the state needs to better protect its water supply, investing more in watershed restoration, invasive species control and feral ungulate management, and passing policies “that hold these egregious (water) users accountable” by ensuring compliance with permits and levying fines.

“I think that in-stream flow standards should be set for all historically perennial streams to restore mauka-to-makai connectivity and that traditional customary uses need to be accounted for as well as shoreline needs,” Poepoe said. “Freshwater seepage into the nearshore areas are really important for fishponds, for limu, for all kinds of ecosystem services.”

She’s also interested in establishing a population cap for different areas of the islands “to really figure out how much can our resources sustain.” Poepoe acknowledged that she’s still mulling how to enforce a cap but would like to at least start the discussion and determine a method for measuring.

“If we are going to manage our resources for the future generations, we have to have a limit to growth, especially new growth from people moving here and buying up our land,” she said.

If managed well, the land can also be an economic driver — Poepoe wants to see more of the state’s budget allocated toward regenerative agriculture, which would not only help feed the community and ease dependency on the global food supply, but also keep money in the local economy.

She sees a potential for more funding through raising the conveyance tax rates, targeting the bracket of properties that are “more prone to investment speculation, as a way to one, try to curb investment speculation and retain our lands and homes for our residents, and also as a way to generate more funds that could be put into the land conservation fund.” Additional tax revenue could also go toward rental assistance.

If elected, Poepoe said she’d like to adopt buffers around cultural sites to protect them from desecration, and look at policies that plan for sea level rise retreat.

Investing in place-based behavioral and mental health services is also a high priority.

“What I’ve been hearing is that it needs to come from us, because we’ve had people come in, just the copy-and-paste Western application of mental health treatment doesn’t always work for everyone, especially for people that have been disconnected from our culture or disconnected from our community,” Poepoe said.

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

NEWSLETTER

Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper?
     

COMMENTS

Starting at $4.62/week.

Subscribe Today