POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jul 30, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 02:27 a.m. HST, Jul 30, 2012
A Windward Oahu primary election race could turn out to be a referendum on the Democratic leadership of the state House.
Democratic House Majority Leader Pono Chong, who has aligned himself with Speaker Calvin Say, is running against a critic of their leadership style and policy.
Because of reapportionment changes, Chong is running in the newly constituted 48th District (Heeia, Haiku Valley, Kapunahala, Kaneohe) against a fellow Democrat, Rep. Jessica Wooley. Chong formerly ran in House District 49 (Maunawili-Kaneohe), and Wooley in District 47 (Laie-Kahaluu).
The primary winner becomes the District 48 representative because there is no opposition in the general election.
"I am not from a culture of insider politics," said Wooley, first elected in 2008.
Chong, 41, first elected in 2004, said to characterize the House leadership as exclusionary is "inaccurate and unfair."
He added, "Speaker Say is well known for including and welcoming new lawmakers to the process."
Chong said Say has given relatively new legislators key assignments, including Wooley, who was a Finance Committee member in her first year and is now vice chairwoman of the House Committee on Agriculture and chairwoman of the House Committee on Culture and the Arts.
Chong has served on several committees, including as vice chairman of the Committee on Housing.
Chong, who is single, worked as a senior analyst for the state Senate Ways and Means Committee from 1994 to 1996 and was president of the Honolulu Japanese Junior Chamber of Commerce in 2000-2001.
Wooley, 43, who is married to Earthjustice attorney and Kahaluu Neighborhood Board Chairman David Henkin, has worked as a deputy attorney general and an attorney at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii.
She has a master's degree in agriculture and resource economics and a law degree from the University of California, Berkeley, and moved to Hawaii in 1997. She also has worked as a steering committee member for the Oahu Land Trust and a board member of the Hawaii Bicycling League, as well as a volunteer for AARP.
Wooley said the House leadership, including Chong, didn't do enough to try to avoid public school students losing 17 days of instruction in 2009-2010.
The Hawaii State Teachers Association and Department of Education agreed to 17 furlough days to meet a 7.9 percent pay cut.
Wooley said she felt legislators should have called a special session to shift priorities and find the necessary funding.
"I just personally believe there was no excuse for Furlough Fridays," she said.
Chong said a two-thirds vote is required for the Legislature to convene, and there was little support for a special session.
He said the issue was being negotiated among the governor, teachers union, education officials and state Board of Education.
"Most members believed it would have been inappropriate for the Legislature to intervene."
Chong said Wooley has opposed taxing high-income pensioners for revenue that could be used to help to pay for core services, including health care for seniors and children.
"Hawaii has the most millionaires per capita in the country," he said. "Some pay and some don't, and that's unfair."
Wooley said the pensioners made their financial plans for supporting themselves in retirement based on the understanding that their pensions would not be taxed.
"For me the issue of whether to impose an entirely new tax on pensions presented an issue of fundamental fairness," she said.
Wooley also criticized Chong's support for Senate Bill 755, which would exempt some coastal projects from the environmental review process.
"While I support making environmental review more efficient, I am strongly opposed to exempting projects from public input and review altogether," she said.
Chong said the purpose of the bills was to discuss whether it would be possible to streamline the permit process but not at the expense of the environment.
He said the discussions focused on state exemptions for projects with no impact or minimal impact that would also have to go through a federal review.