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House leader Say challenged by 2 women

By Gregg K. Kakesako

LAST UPDATED: 10:39 a.m. HST, Nov 1, 2012

If re-elected, Palolo state Rep. Calvin Say would become the longest-serving lawmaker in the 76-member state Legislature.

Say was first elected to the state House in 1976 — the same year U.S. Rep. Daniel Akaka was elected to Congress. Akaka will retire from the U.S. Senate this year after 36 years of service.

Say, 60, a self-employed businessman, has served as speaker of the state House for 13 years, the longest reign in that position in state history.

With the retirement of GOP Rep. Barbara Maru­moto and the primary election lossof state Sen. Carol Fuku­naga, Say survives as the longest-serving member in the Legislature. Maru­moto and Fuku­naga both were first elected in 1978.

Challenging Say's re-election are Republican Julia Allen, a legislative aide; and Green Party candidate Keiko Bonk, who in 1992 after her win as a Hawaii County Council member became the first person to be elected from her party to serve. Bonk, longtime political and cultural advocate for the protection of Hawaii's natural and cultural environment, also ran twice unsuccessfully for Hawaii County mayor, in 1996 and 2000.

The three want to represent House District 20, which comprises Palolo, St. Louis Heights, Wilhelmina Rise, Mau­na­lani and Kaimuki. State voter registration figures show that there are 15,408 people registered this year to cast general election ballots at the district's four polling places.

Community leaders describe the demo­graph­ics of the district as elderly but becoming multigenerational where issues primarily center on property taxes, rising electrical, water and sewage rates, and road improvements. The majority of the district's voters — nearly 8,500 — are 50 years or older.

Lyle Bullock, chairman of the 11-member Kaimuki Neighborhood Board No. 4, said one of the major concerns of the district is "the rehabilitation of Wai­alae Avenue" and "revitalization of Kaimuki town."

If re-elected, Say faces a challenge to his continued leadership when the Demo­crats meet after the election to organize for next year's legislative session.

Say said he hopes he can continue to bring "continuity and stability" not only to the residents and businesses in his House district, but also to the operations of the Legislature.

Say sees his role in the House as a bridge between the older and younger members in his caucus, saying that the Demo­crats should understand and appreciate the struggles that occurred before statehood in 1959.

Campaign spending disclosure data show that Say had out-raised his opponents as of the last reporting deadline in August, with $192,141. Bonk followed with $17,698 and Allen had raised $1,089. Bonk had taken out loans amounting to $9,923 to finance her campaign.

During the primary race, Say spent $53,108; Bonk, $16,599; and Allen, $440. Candidates running in the general election aren't required to file reports on the amounts they raised and spent until today.

Allen, 64, first filed to run against Say in 2004 since no other candidate would oppose him, and has run in every election since then for the same reason.

"We don't elect kings here. I think it is important that there are real choices on your ballot," said Allen, who started as a part-time GOP legislative aide in 2005 and has worked for state Sen. Sam Slom, the lone Republican senator, since 2006.

Allen attended Wai­ma­nalo Elementary School for one year and graduated from a California high school. She returned to Hawaii in 1976 and worked as a businesswoman.

Bonk, 57, said she decided to return to electoral politics this year because of the passage of Act 55, the law passed by the Legislature that established the Public Land Development Corp. It allows the agency to develop state lands to generate revenue for the cash-strapped state Department of Land and Natural Resources. However, critics like Bonk said the corporation eliminates local controls and home rule. "That is why every County Council, except Hono­lulu, is against it," said Bonk.

"Everything that I have worked on has been dismantled," said Bonk, who formed PONO, a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the Native Hawaiian concept of "pono" to Hawaii's cultural business and political institutions.

Say said he is open to having the law reviewed during next year's legislative session, but doesn't support any move to repeal the measure.

"I am willing to work towards some compromise," said Say, "but not total repeal."

Bonk graduated from Hilo High School in 1972 and the University of Hawaii in 1976, and received a master's degree in fine arts from Hunter College in 1982.

Bonk has been endorsed by Veteran in Politics, Hawaii Ohana, Progressive PAC, Sierra Club, Hawaii Women's Progressive Caucus and Aikea.

Say's endorsements include the Hawaii Building Trades Council, National Association of Social Workers (NASW-PACE), ILWU Local 142, Ironworkers Union Stabilization Fund, Equality Hawaii, Building Industry Association, Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association, United Public Workers, State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers and Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Allen has not yet received endorsements.

Say, a 1970 Saint Louis High School graduate, earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Hawaii in 1974. He worked part time at the old Flamingo Chuck Wagon restaurant until he joined his wife's family business — Kotake Shokai — in 1980 and is now its president. Say is also secretary of Tokyo Bento Nichiyo. He was first elected to office in 1976 and elevated to lead the state House in 1999 He served as chairman of the powerful House Finance Committee from 1993 to 1998. Say has been president of the National Speakers Conference executive committee since 1999.

He and his opponents disagree on the issue of same-sex marriage, with Allen opposing legalization. Both Say and Bonk said they support civil unions.

All three said they oppose any forms of legalized gambling.

Allen said she opposes the city's current steel-on-steel fixed guideway mass transit system, while Bonk said her opposition is because it will take away too much agricultural land. Say said he supports a combination of an elevated and at-grade mass transit system.


Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Bonk was endorsed by the GLBT Caucus of the Hawaii Democratic Party.

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