Lynn DeCoite, a first-term state representative, businesswoman, farmer and rancher, will face a state substitute teacher in the Democratic primary race for the district that covers Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe and East Maui.
Gov. David Ige appointed DeCoite, 45, to District 13 in February 2015 after late Rep. Mele Carroll resigned because of cancer. This will be DeCoite’s first election.
She is facing Alex Haller, 28, in the Democratic primary on Aug. 13. The winner will run against Nick Nikhilananda, of the Green Party of Hawaii, in the November general election.
Haller, of Haiku, said he was inspired to run for office after noticing some county elected officials failed to understand finances, such as land appraisals.
“We definitely need to get more finance education within our government,” he said. “We’re not in the best financial state right now.”
After graduating with a finance degree from California Polytechnic State University in 2010, Haller worked in the accounting department at Marriott’s Maui Ocean Club in Kaanapali. He is currently a substitute teacher for the state Department of Education and teaches at his old school — Haiku Elementary.
“I’ll definitely be fiscally responsible” if elected, he said. “If there’s a red flag, I’ll call it out. I’ll try to make our government more transparent and more accountable.”
A former Eagle Scout, Haller said he’s knocked on a thousand doors in East Maui and learned the concerns are: finishing the Paia bypass road, maintaining infrastructure and roadways, providing affordable housing for residents, distributing funds for rural schools more equitably, offering services for the elderly, and monitoring the East Maui water rights issue. He would also like to see more bike lanes on certain roads, such as the road going down Haleakala.
Haller, who has worked with the Maui Invasive Species Committee, said he also wants to focus on stopping the spread of the little red fire ant and coqui frog in East Maui.
He has endorsements from the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the Hawaii Center for Food Safety Action Fund.
Haller, who played defensive end on Cal Poly’s football team, said his work ethic, perseverance and education would make him an effective legislator.
DeCoite, a Molokai resident and third-generation homestead farmer, runs L&R Farms Enterprises with her husband, Russell. DeCoite’s farm grows the Molokai purple sweet potato, a red-skinned variety developed by DeCoite’s grandmother, Becky Mokuau.
Since becoming District 13’s representative, she brought about $150 million into her district for improvement projects, new construction and aid to nonprofits.
DeCoite also serves on several committees, including the agriculture, economic development and business, and finance committees.
She said she wants to ensure her district’s rural areas receive their share of funding, including for jobs and health care.
She also has applied her farming and ranching expertise to help agriculture around the state. She said her more than three decades of farming experience gives her the ability to analyze agricultural issues in a way that other lawmakers couldn’t. For example, she introduced a bill that became law in July that provides funds for the state Department of Agriculture to run a certification program. That program is meant to help farmers comply with new requirements under the federal Food Safety Modernization Act.
DeCoite touted many accomplishments during her time in office, including getting Lanai’s only bottle and can redemption center running again after it shut down for about a month earlier this year, providing funding for the Paia bypass road, and helping to air-condition Kaunakakai and Kilohana elementary schools.
She also pushed for a
$17 million injection of funds to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands through the state budget. She believes helping DHHL will lead to bringing more people back to the land and reducing the state’s homeless population.
In addition, she pointed out how she was able to turn a setback as a legislator into an opportunity. Early in her term the Molokai public library, the only library on the island, had priority for state funding, but Kapolei’s library jumped ahead on the list. DeCoite continued to push for funds to expand Molokai’s tiny library and was able to secure $4.5 million for the project.
She said the library incident highlights the importance of having good representation that considers all parts of the rural district to make sure important needs are met.
DeCoite, who finds motivation from her family, including three children, said she studies issues carefully and listens to various sides to ensure that projects that receive funding are self-sustainable or offer a long-term benefit to youth.
“I make sure (the constituents) have a voice,” she said. “There’s a lot of things that can be done for our district. We sometimes just got to keep digging, and finding out and asking questions and looking for the resources and the people who have those answers.”
DeCoite received endorsements from numerous labor organizations including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, Hawaii State Teachers Association, Hawaii Carpenters Union, Maui Hotel &Lodging Association, and the AFL-CIO.
She said her honesty, openness and willingness to listen make her a good candidate, adding: “What might be a priority for one person might not be the same priority for another person, but every issue to me is an important issue.”