Democrats voting in the District 2 state House primary race have three vastly different choices.
Rep. Clift Tsuji, 75, first elected in 2004, is seeking a seventh term. He currently heads the House Agriculture Committee and is a vocal supporter of biotechnology and genetically modified crops.
Janis Cowser, a 63-year-old Hilo woman who has lived on Hawaii island for 22 years, is a self-described political activist. This is her first campaign for public office.
And Jonathan Wong, 36, a recent transplant from San Mateo, Calif., has the backing of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, the Progressive Public Action Committee and the Sierra Club of Hawaii.
The incumbent, Tsuji, has plantation roots, graduated from Hilo High School in 1959 and served with the the Army Reserve in Hawaii. He holds a degree in communications from the University of Hawaii at Manoa and studied banking and economics at the University of Washington for three summers.
Tsuji was vice president of Hilo Candy Co. from 2003 to 2004, and for 34 years he worked as a banker at Central Pacific Bank.
He has supported business, mostly recently spearheading an effort to get a bill signed into law in April, HB 2422, HD 1, which streamlines the process of transferring liquor licenses.
As agriculture chairman, Tsuji has come under fire for supporting biotechnology and GMOs, as well as for the support he has received from large chemical companies. His Campaign Spending Commission filings show he has received donations from Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta.
Tsuji is a longtime proponent of geothermal energy as an alternative to imported oil. He says geothermal provides employment, a tax base and millions in royalties to the state, Hawaii County and the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs.
Cowser, a former Los Angeles firefighter and a Los Angeles County probation office counselor, fell in love with the islands while vacationing in 1994 on Hawaii island and stayed.
She would end the statute of limitations for crimes as a way to help victims.
If elected, she aims to create an outreach facility equipped with washrooms and laundry facilities for the homeless using abandoned buildings, and to provide small apartments for singles and families, with a community kitchen.
Wong has worked in marketing for Tequila El Rey, a startup tequila company, and headed online marketing campaigns for various small businesses in California.
The political novice holds a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness with a concentration in marketing from California Polytechnic State University, and an environmental science degree from UH Hilo.
Wong, who has crafted a platform palatable to environmentally concerned voters on a wide range of issues, is at odds with Tsuji’s take on agricultural and environmental issues.
On the energy front, Wong supports a cooperative like that on Kauai as opposed to Hawaii Electric Light Co.
He’s interested in various energy alternatives including hydrogen fuel, solar thermal power and creating micro- and smart grids. If elected, he promises to seek funding and resources for such alternatives. Also, Wong said would like to see modern technology applied to the geothermal industry with an eye toward public safety and health.