Big Island redistricting forces 2 state senators to run against each other

The new Senate district boundaries on the Big Island created a competitive Democratic primary race featuring longtime Sen. Lorraine Inouye, Sen. Laura Acasio and former Hawaii teachers’ union leader Wil Okabe.

Since 2014, Inouye has represented District 4 on the island of Hawaii, a large area that includes Hilo, Hawi, Waikoloa and Waimea. But new legislative district maps drawn by the Hawaii Redistribution Commission last January moved Inouye to District 1, which encompasses the greater Hilo area.

Governor David Ige nominated Acasio to fill the District 1 seat in January 2021 after U.S. Representative Kai Kahele quit him to run for Congress, making her a relative newcomer but also the incumbent of the District 1 primary. August 13.

District 1 is still familiar ground for Inouye, who lives along the Hamakua Coast, just north of Hilo. She was born in Hilo and raised on a nearby sugar cane plantation in what she described as “the Filipino section.” A former hotelier, Inouye previously served as Big Island mayor, county council member and planning commissioner. She also served as a state senator from 1998 to 2008.

Sen Lorraine Inouye Civil Beat after the cross panel.
Senator Lorraine Inouye is running to represent District 1 in this election following changes to the district’s boundaries last January. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“I’m the hometown girl,” she said.

Inouye’s long political resume is impressive but could also be a liability, Acasio said.

Voters are hungry for change, she said, especially in light of recent corruption scandals that have rocked Hawaii state politics — though none have implicated Inouye.

A native of Los Angeles, Acasio is a 25-year Hawaiian resident who has worked as a public school teacher, doula, and lactation counselor. She served for five years on the State Central Committee of the Hawaii Democratic Party and three years as a board member of the Surfrider Foundation, according to her campaign website.

She is passionate about environmental protection, civic engagement, accountability and transparency in government.

“I also apply my approach in life to the Senate. This is a place of complete aloha and transparency, truth and integrity, and community learning,” Acasio said.

One of its overarching goals, she said, is to “transcend the special interest politics that currently govern the Legislative Assembly” by supporting reforms aimed at enhancing transparency. She touted the recent convening of the Commission for Improving Standards of Conduct and said she hoped the group would return with good reforms, including proposals submitted by her office.

Senator Laura Acasio is running to retain the seat the governor gave her last year.

The nine-member commission is responsible for reviewing government practices, including election laws, open meetings, ethics, campaign finance, fraud and criminal prosecution laws. The organization issued a interim report in March and is expected to issue its final recommendations in December.

Okabe, a former teacher and former head of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, also served as chief administrative officer for former Big Island Mayor Harry Kim from 2016 to 2019, according to his resume.

He did not respond to messages seeking comment.

During the 2022 legislative session, Inouye served as Majority Whip while chairing the Water and Lands Committee and serving as Vice Chair of the Transportation Committee.

Some of Inouye’s major accomplishments include funding the head of major buildings and improvements at the University of Hawaii Hilo and Hilo Medical Center. She also cites her support for the $93 million Hale Kaulike, Hilo’s courthouse complex, and pushes for major upgrades to Hilo Harbor’s Pier 4 cargo dock, Daniel K. Inouye International Airport and Saddle Road. , which connects Hilo and Kona.

During her previous term in the legislature, Inouye said she secured funding for a new gymnasium at Hilo High School and worked to develop portable recreational facilities for Kalanianaole School in Papaikou, among other things. achievements.

Wil Okabe served as chief executive under former mayor Harry Kim.

If she wins the District 1 seat, Inouye said her top priorities would be improving transportation infrastructure, encouraging the construction of affordable housing projects, tackling homelessness and tackling the effects of the climate change.

Inouye said voters should choose her because of her leadership skills, vast experience and the public trust she has built over many decades in elected office.

“I’ve been here for so long,” Inouye said. “There’s a lot of trust that people have placed in me.”

Acasio thinks voters in the district want new energies and alternatives.

“They want transparency in representation. They want their voice to be heard, not that of the lobbyists. They want their legislators to be accessible,” she said.

Acasio also sees himself as someone who can bring greater collaboration between the state and county government.

“I was surprised to learn that there is relatively little coordination between the two branches. And I’ve seen that when both levels of government work together, greater progress is made,” Acasio said. “It’s something I bring to the table.”

Inouye raised $194,000 for his campaign, of which nearly $48,000 went to him from April 26 to June 30, the most recent reporting period. She spent $38,000 during that same period.

One of Inouye’s biggest donors is Everett Dowling, president of the Maui-based Dowling Company. The real estate developer contributed an additional $2,500 to his campaign last month, bringing his total to the maximum of $4,000 allowed for Senate races.

The Plumbers and Pipefitters Political Action Committee also gave Inouye $4,000 for this election. Other significant contributors include Barbara Umamoto, executive vice president of Hilo Fish Co., Hawaii Realtors PAC and ILWU Hawaii PAC.

Acasio received $28,000 in the last reporting period this summer and has raised $35,000 since taking office, spending just under $10,000 on her campaign to date.

Its three main contributors are pro-choice Patsy Mink PAC, former Hawaii Deputy Attorney General Edward Bohlen, and Kim Coco Iwamoto, business owner, lawyer, and former Board of Education member. They each donated $4,000.

Read more about Civil Beat’s election coverage here.

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