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State House dissidents win in tough races

By Susan Essoyan

LAST UPDATED: 4:35 p.m. HST, Oct 23, 2012

State Rep. Jessica Wooley toppled House Majority Leader Pono Chong in Windward Oahu, as redistricting forced some legislators into tough races where they faced off against other Democratic incumbents.

“We had a great campaign — it was very community and issue based,” Wooley said. “I’m just very thankful and humble for all the people who came out to help.”

The contest for the 48th District (Kahaluu-Ahuimanu-Kaneohe) was one of a few that could help shape the future direction of the state House. Chong, 41, is closely aligned with House Speaker Calvin Say, while Wooley, 43, is part of a dissident group that has challenged the speaker.

“It was a tough campaign from the beginning, the way the lines were drawn,” Chong said. “The majority of the district was in her area. It was an uphill battle.”

A former deputy attorney general, Wooley was first elected in 2008. She said her focus is on community issues and the needs of working families, as well as promoting agriculture and the environment.

In another race that pitted two incumbents against each other, longtime Rep. K. Mark Takai soundly defeated Rep. Heather Giugni, who was appointed by the governor in February. Takai normally would have the advantage in the race, given his 18 years in elected office, but he lost most of his district when lines were drawn for the 33rd District (Halawa-Aiea-Newtown.)

“Although my base is intact in Newtown, the rest of the district is all new,” said Takai, a member of the dissident faction in the House. “So I had to do a lot of work.”

Giugni, an independent filmmaker and Aiea resident, was making her first bid for public office, although she grew up in politics as the daughter of the late Henry Giugni, longtime aide to U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.

In a match-up between two former legislators hoping to make a comeback, Bertrand “Bert” Kobayashi, 68, derailed Brian Yamane, 65, in the contest for the 19th House District (Diamond Head-Kaimuki-Kapahulu). Kobayashi served in both the House and the Senate in a legislative career that spanned 16 years, and also ran the state’s community hospitals.

Yamane, a business insurance agent, served in the House from 1994 to 2000.

On Maui, Rep. Gil Keith-Agaran, head of the powerful Judiciary Committee, faced a strong challenge from Joe Pontanilla, who was barred by term limits from staying on the Maui County Council. But Keith-Agaran prevailed in House District 9 (Kahului-Wailuku-Puunene.) With no Republican candidate, that race ends with the primary.

In the sprawling House district that stretches from Mililani to Mokuleia, voters opted for a fresh face. First-time candidate Jake Bradshaw was leading veteran legislator Ollie Lunasco, who spent a decade in the House in the 1970s. Bradshaw, an active “Young Democrat” and former property manager, was making his first bid for public office at age 31.

A wide-open seat in District 40 (Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point), was hotly contested, but Chris Manabat came out on top among the six Democratic candidates. The district had no incumbent. Manabat, a 27-year-old office manager at the state Capitol, was running in his first election. He will face Bob McDermott, a former state representative, the lone Republican in the race.

Gregg Takayama, public affairs director for the University of Hawaii,  defeated former state senator Eloise Yamashita Tungpalan in District 34, (Pearl City-Waimalu-Pacific Palisades). The winner of that race takes it outright as there is no Republican candidate.

Romy Cachola, 74, managed to extend his career in public office by heading back to the state House after a stint at City Hall. Nicole Velasco, a 26-year-old first-time candidate who used to work for the state auditor, put up a spirited fight and fell just short in that race for District 30 (Sand Island-Kalihi-Airport).

Rep. Scott Saiki easily turned aside Lei Ahu Isa, a former state representative and school board member, in House District 26 (Downtown-Kakaako-McCully). Although Saiki has represented McCully and Moilili for many years, he had to win over new voters in the redrawn downtown district. He is a leader of the dissident faction that opposes Say.

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