Sen. Laura Thielen draws on years of government experience as she faces first-time candidate and retired chaplain Robert Nagamine running in District 25, which stretches from Kailua through Waimanalo to Hawaii Kai, in the Nov. 8 general election.
“I want to give people a choice,” Nagamine, the Republican nominee, said in an interview. “I feel like there are some things that need taking care of, like the homeless situation, which is not improving. … I think I have to step in. My background is in helping families.”
While Thielen, a Democrat, has been a senator for only one term, she has held high-profile jobs as director of the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and director of the state Office of Planning. She also has served as a member of the state Board of Education.
Her decision to run for Senate was propelled in part by her concern over land use decisions. She has pushed to preserve farmland, including allocating state funds to purchase parcels from Dole Food Co. in Central Oahu.
“These ag lands are being marketed for development,” she said. “The only way to keep them in long-term agricultural use and grow our agricultural sector is to get them into the state inventory and get them out to long-term leases for farmers.”
She wants to “tighten up our land use laws to stop luxury residential development on agricultural lands.”
Nagamine, 63, was raised in Kalihi but has lived in Kailua for years. His son and daughter graduated from Kalaheo High School. He retired in 2011 as a lieutenant colonel after 33 years in the military, serving as a chaplain in the Army and the Hawaii Air National Guard. He also spent three years on active duty with the U.S. Air Force.
He maintains that his wide-ranging community service gives him a good base for stepping up as a legislator. He has taught elementary school children and counseled youth, singles, couples and families. He coordinated respite support for elderly caregivers and served as a pastor at First Southern Baptist Church at Pearl Harbor.
Tackling homelessness, he says, requires sustained focus and efforts targeted at individual needs.
“I’m just saying, go after the roots of them all,” Nagamine said. “Affordable housing is just one part of it. Treat the mentally ill. Treat the drug addicts. Treat the vets. I’m trying to see who can round up as much support to work together to wrap our hands around it and fix it.
“If we do nothing, it’s going to stay the same,” he added. “We have to draw our attention to the problems that we have, like homelessness, crime and curbing wasteful government spending.”
He advocates investing in job creation on neighbor islands and encouraging people to move there.
“Housing would be less expensive, instead of trying to cram people into one island,” he said.
Thielen, 55, and her husband brought up their daughters in Kailua, and moved to Waimanalo several years ago, where they have a small farm business. She has served as president of Hawaii Women Lawyers and is a member of the Women’s Legislative Caucus.
She said the district, which wraps around the eastern tip of the island, is rich in cultural and recreational treasures that residents work hard to protect. But its beaches are a magnet for vacationers, and conflicts are cropping up more with competing interests, and home prices pushed up by short-term visitors and offshore investors, she said.
She wants the city and state to focus more on housing geared toward the needs of local people, with micro-units, “Housing First” for the homeless, and limits on vacation rentals.
Both candidates are wary of proposed tax increases.
Thielen voted against the governor’s proposal to fund state road projects by raising gasoline and vehicle weight taxes, saying the state Transportation Department wasn’t using federal funds it already had.
“If they come back with the same proposal, I would oppose it,” she said. “But I am willing to listen if the department is serious about restructuring their internal operations so that they can manage these contracts and get the projects done.”
As for rail, she voted against the general excise tax extension two years ago, and opposes it again because she thinks the city has not shown it can manage funds for the rail contract. “They have not been transparent about the subcontracts and the cost overruns.”
Nagamine said he would vote against both transportation-related tax proposals.
“My answer is no to that unless there is a strong, compelling argument to say otherwise,” he said. “We have enough money to take care of what we need to if we use it wisely.”