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Political newcomers seek East Oahu seat

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For the first time in six years, the East Oahu House district extending from Kahala to Hawaii Kai will be sporting a new representative, with two neophyte politicians squaring off in the general election.

On the Republican side is Chris Baron, an Asia-Pacific expert who has worked at the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism since 2007. He is opposed by Democrat Mark Hashem, a former small-business owner in Japan and legislative aide. Both are relatively the same age: Baron is 41 and Hashem, 42.

Only Baron has ever run for public office; he is serving his third term on the Kuliouou-Kalani Iki Neighborhood Board. Both candidates have worked at the state Capitol as legislative aides.

Both were born outside the district — Baron in Taipei and Hashem in Japan — arriving in Hawaii when they were toddlers.

To date, Republican Baron has raised $36,777 and spent $10,254, while Democrat Hashem has raised $13,455 and spent $13,555.

Baron, whose parents met while East-West Center students, has lived in the Kuliouou area for the past 35 years after returning to the islands in 1973. He graduated from Punahou School in 1987, Duke University in 1991 and then received a master’s degree from the University of Hawaii in 2000. Prior to joining the Foreign Service in 2002, Baron worked as a legislative aide for state Sen. Sam Slom and as a Pentagon intelligence analyst specializing in Asian affairs. He joined the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism as a special assistant for international affairs in 2007 after working a legislative session for Rep. Gene Ward.

Hashem, who moved to Aina Haina last year when he joined the state Capitol staff of state Rep. Kyle Yamashita of Maui, has been in the islands since he was 3. He graduated in 1986 from McKinley High School, where he now coaches wrestling. He said that "sports kept me out of trouble and got me into college," and returned to McKinley to coach after he graduated from Pacific University in 1992. After graduating from college he entered the master’s program at Hokkaido University and also operated an elementary English school and a billiard supply network in Sapporo.

Hashem is married with three children. Baron is single.

The race for the 18th District seat became wide open when incumbent Rep. Lyla Berg decided to seek the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor. More than 15,000 people are registered to vote in the district.

Robert "Bob" Chuck, chairman of the Kuliouou-Kalani Iki Neighborhood Board, said "overdevelopment" of the area — which encompasses one private high school, one middle school and eight elementary schools — is a concern that comes up regularly at monthly meetings. Issues include worries over an increasing number of bed-and-breakfasts and live-in adult care homes, possible upzoning of Paiko Ridge and a proposed cemetery in upper Aina Haina.

Chuck added there are concerns that developers have tried to restrict beach access by closing rights of way that have long been used by residents.

Hashem said he is "against inappropriate development" but supports some development on a smaller scale "because people need to live someplace."

Baron said he will work to retain the area as "a peaceful, beautiful residential district."

Baron and Hashem oppose legalized gambling, although Hashem said he would make an exception for a lottery whose proceeds would be deposited in the general fund.

Baron and Hashem are on opposing sides when it comes to civil unions. Baron said he would not have voted for the bill passed by the Legislature, which he describes as "same-gender marriage by another name." Hashem said he is opposed to discrimination based on race, gender, religion, age, disability or sexual orientation.

The two candidates are against raising the general excise tax and support exempting food and medicine from the tax.

Hashem said he has the support of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the Hawaii Association of Realtors. Baron has not been endorsed by any organizations.

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