Two Republicans and three Democrats are vying to replace Sen. Fred Hemmings in the 25th Senate District stretching from Kailua to Hawaii Kai, one of the few state Senate seats long held by Republicans.
The GOP primary pits Kailua Neighborhood Board member and businesswoman Virginia Enos against Joe Pandolfe, a tea party activist who owns a construction company. Hemmings is leaving the Senate after 10 years and has thrown his support to Enos.
"She’s a balanced person who’s lived in the district a long time and served very successfully in the private sector, and likewise is a community leader," Hemmings said.
In the Democratic column, retired city planner Chuck Prentiss, chairman of the Kailua Neighborhood Board, is facing off against Waimanalo Neighborhood Board member Andrew Jamila Jr. and Kailua resident Pohai Ryan, legislative office manager for state Sen. Brickwood Galuteria.
Enos, 53, co-founded the nation’s first offshore aquaculture operation, working with state and federal regulators to create a framework for the new industry of ocean farming. She considers the economy the most pressing issue.
"I am 30-year resident of the state and have owned businesses, built a home, raised a family, worked within the community, all within the district," she said. "I believe that recovery will come with more taxpayers, not more taxes. Job creation must come from the private sector, attracting business investment to the state through tax incentives and small-business support."
Pandolfe, 46, who moved to Hawaii 10 years ago, said he got politically active when the economy went sour and the federal government began bailing out big companies. Last year he helped stage the first tea party event in Honolulu, and said he would work to lower taxes if elected.
"I don’t want my daughter growing up in bondage to the government, with 70 percent of her paycheck taken away before she even gets it," said Pandolfe, president of Joe Builder Inc. "We need to keep the American dream alive."
Pandolfe has won the endorsement of Build-PAC Hawaii and Hawaii Right to Life.
While the district tends to vote Republican, the three Democratic candidates are hopeful that voters will have an open mind about the open seat and elect a senator who can work with the legislative majority.
Prentiss, who has a master’s degree in government administration, was a city planner for Honolulu for 20 years and executive secretary of the Honolulu Planning Commission. A retired lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii National Guard and a Vietnam veteran, he has been endorsed by the Sierra Club as well as the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
"Our environment supports both our quality of life and our economy, and needs to be protected for both those reasons," he said.
Prentiss, 74, would help stimulate the economy by expediting infrastructure projects that are already on the books, and making sure federal stimulus money is spent promptly. He also advocates tax reform, saying, "We can do better with the same amount of revenue that’s coming out of our pockets now."
Jamila, a fourth-generation Waimanalo resident and president of the nonprofit Waimanalo Construction Coalition, touts his "community involvement and willingness to listen at a grass-roots level." He has been endorsed by the ILWU and the Iron Workers Union.
Jamila, 54, chairs the Waimanalo Health Center’s board of directors, and served on the task force that dealt with shoreline erosion at Makapuu. His priorities are the economy, education and homelessness.
"We need mentoring to help out-of-work people get trained," he said. "We also need mentoring for teachers and incentives so that they want to stay here and teach our children."
Ryan, 48, worked as executive director of the Kailua Chamber of Commerce from 2000 to 2004 and later for the nonprofit Parents and Children Together, before becoming a legislative staff member.
"My experience working directly in challenged communities, and also with business people and in the Legislature gives me a unique mix of skills and a lens that is multifaceted, probably more so than my opponents," she said. "It helps with creative problem solving."
Ryan has been endorsed by the Laborers International Union, Plumbers-Fitters Local 675, the Sheetmetal Workers Union Local 293 and IBEW Local 1186.
As for where they stand on last year’s hot-button legislative issue, Enos, Jamila and Pandolfe said they opposed the bill to establish civil unions that was vetoed by Gov. Linda Lingle. Prentiss said he would have voted for it. Ryan did not indicate how she would have voted.