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3 Democratic candidates differ on taxes and gambling

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The three candidates running in the Democratic primary for the 18th House District (Kahala, Aina Haina, Kuliouou) have varied business backgrounds and some differences in positions on gambling and general excise taxes.

Democrats Albert Lee, Mark Hashem and T.J. Lane are vying to fill the seat vacated by Democratic state Rep. Lyla Berg, who is running for lieutenant governor.

The winner of the Sept. 18 primary will face Republican Chris Baron in the Nov. 2 general election.

Lane, 51, an attorney specializing in worker injury cases who has taught law at Hawaii Pacific University, said he is opposed to allowing gambling in Hawaii.

He said gambling invites an increase in crime and unfairly takes money from the poor who hope to get rich quick.

"One thing about Hawaii is there isn’t any gambling," Lane said. "It adds to its pristine nature."

Hashem, 42, an entrepreneur with a business administration degree from Pacific University, said he is against gambling, except a lottery.

Hashem said he thinks the money from a lottery should go into the general revenue fund.

Lee, 27, whose family runs two Subway sandwich restaurants in Waikiki, said he is confident the state can find other ways to stimulate the economy without jeopardizing the community’s integrity.

But he said he might change his mind about a lottery if residents of his district support it.

Lee said with businesses already weakened by the economy, he thinks the state needs to carefully consider how it funds needed programs.

One alternative would be a nominal increase in the general excise tax combined with a sales tax adjustment and a plan that more directly taxes tourist revenues.

Hashem said he is against a general excise tax increase because the state needs to first examine every reasonable way to reduce spending and identify areas of waste and abuse in the budget.

Hashem said he supports exempting food and medicine from the general excise tax.

Lane said he is also opposed to an increase in the general excise tax.

None of the Democrats has run for a prior public office before.

Lane has served as president of Hawaii Loa Ridge community association, is a past director of the People’s Law School and has managed a law firm for 25 years.

Lee served on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee staff under Democrat David Obey of Wisconsin from 2008 to 2010.

Hashem operated two businesses in Japan: a language school and a retail billiards equipment network.

He also worked as a legislative aide for state Rep. Kyle Yamashita in 2009-2010.

All three Democratic candidates support civil unions, while Baron opposes them.

Baron, 41, is serving his third elected term on the Kuliouou-Kalani Iki Neighborhood Board.

He has worked at the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism since 2007, including as a special assistant for international relations and a renewable-energy planner.

Baron formerly worked as a foreign service officer at the China desk at the U.S. State Department.


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