* EDITOR'S NOTE - This is part of a series of stories covering contested legislative and County Council seats and County Charter and state constitutional amendments leading up to Tuesday's general election.
If re-elected to a fifth term in the state House, Rep. Mele Carroll said her first priority would be repealing Act 55, which created the Public Land Development Corp.
"We're always worried about development and this is public lands. It gives the state too much leeway," said Carroll, a Democrat representing the 13th House District including East Maui, Molokai, Lanai and Kahoolawe. "Everybody thinks I voted for it, but I didn't. I was in the hospital at the time. If I was there, I would have voted no on it.
"The community is always worried about transparency in the process. Any time you have a development corporation and it gives a lot of exemptions in the process, from the public's perception, it's not a good bill."
Republican challenger Simon Russell also supports repeal of the law, which was passed in three days in 2011 and allows for commercial projects to be developed on public lands with no county oversight.
HOUSE DISTRICT 13
(East Maui, Molokai, Lanai, Kahoolawe)
Born: May 9, 1964; Honolulu
Elected offices held: State House Representative District 13, since 2005
Education: Campbell High School, 1982; Hawaii Community College, 1982-84; University of Hawaii-Hilo, 1985-1986
Community involvement: Maui Economic Opportunity Inc., board director, 2010-12; State Cable Advisory Committee, governor-appointed member, 2004-05; Maui AIDS Foundation, board president, 2000-04; Maui Adult Care Center, board director, 2001-05; Na Wahine Hui O Kamehameha Moku O Maui Heiau O Kahekili Helu Eha, member, 2008 to present
* * *
Born: 1973, Kingston, Jamaica
Elected offices held: University of Hawaii student government; UH Student Caucus Maui representative
Education: University of Hawaii with a major in computer science and minor in journalism
Community involvement: Vice chairman for Events Maui County Republican Party; board member Maui Master Gardeners; founder and president of Kauai Community College Environmental Club - Hui 'O Malama 'Aina; founding member and secretary of GMO Free Maui; volunteer with Waste Not Want Not
Family: Married, one child
"People did things that were not the will of the people," Russell said. "I haven't spoken to one person who thinks we should have a hotel at Waianapanapa. They could build a hotel at Polipoli or put an airstrip up there. I'd rather just repeal the whole thing, start all over again."
The law was meant to raise revenue for the state Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Russell, a farmer, said he has other ideas to generate revenue for the state, including a farm tax credit that, in the long term, could translate into economic growth for rural areas like those in the district.
"The state's having a major budget crisis, which is another reason I think I'm a good candidate," he said. "I think the best idea is to grow our economy through the agricultural sector. If there was an incentive for people to farm, then people would do it. I know it."
During a recent visit to a Kahului store, he said bananas from Ecuador were selling for 70 cents a pound, while Hawaii-grown bananas went for $1.60 a pound. "Nobody bought the bananas from Hawaii," Russell said.
He said that state lawmakers could help change that by exempting farming purchases, such as tractors and fertilizer, from the excise tax and also exempting produce purchased from Hawaii farmers from the tax. He also proposes a tax exemption that would cover other business activity, such as a bed-and-breakfasts on agricultural land where there are small- and medium-sized farms.
"We have the best farm land in the world," Russell said. "We should be able to at least grow our own food. I want to see farming succeed in Hawaii."
He would propose a sunset on the farm tax credit in 10 years.
"I think it would stimulate the economy in these really remote areas like Hana, Molokai and Lanai," Russell said. "They do love their farming and their agricultural lifestyle. We could produce a lot of food and a lot of jobs if we grew all of our own food in Hawaii."
To further help farmers facing high labor costs, he said the approximately 150,000 people now receiving food stamps in the state could be put to work on farms in exchange for the U.S. Department of Agriculture benefits. "I think able-bodied folks on food stamps should be given an opportunity to work on farms," he said.
Russell said he opposes large-scale genetically modified crops in Hawaii but wants to help small farmers, who have "less impact on the aina."
Carroll said she also wants to support small farmers, proposing a "small farmers innovation economic incentive" legislation that would include tax benefits, work force development, educational opportunities and community partnerships.
"The whole idea is to decrease the importation of food and to grow local and eat local," she said. "We always want to move forward on sustainability. We can if we can provide some kind of benefit package for small farmers to survive."
Carroll said she will again push for a measure to create a shipping task force to address the high cost of shipping, especially for the Molokai farming community. While a bill passed the Legislature last session, travel costs for the task force -- to include Neighbor Island residents, Young Brothers and the state Department of Transportation and Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism - weren't funded, Carroll said.
As for plans for the Neighbor Islands to provide alternative energy for Oahu through an undersea cable, Carroll said, "there's not enough data."
"Before we build any kind of huge project, such as the undersea cable, why not build on sustaining one island first?" she said. "We already have some renewable alternative energy projects in play."
Russell said he opposes the undersea cable plan, which he believes would translate into higher electricity bills for Neighbor Island residents.
Maui Electric Co. has asked the state Public Utilities Commission for permission to raise rates, Russell said. "So as soon as they start laying cable, our electric bills are going to go up," he said. "We are not being treated fairly. I don't see any need for us to supply Oahu with their electricity.
"Maybe they should put some limits on growth and not depend on the other islands. The next thing is going to be a water pipeline from Waikamoi."
Russell said a major focus of his campaign is education, and he would like to see the state education system decentralized to create local schools boards.
Although the state is spending tens of thousands of dollars a year per student on education, "it seems like the money is not trickling down," Russell said.
He said a teacher friend is spending $1,000 a year of her own money buying crayons for her students and district schools have had to contend with significant budget cuts.
"Molokai, Lanai and Hana are getting major short shrift," he said. "That's one of the reasons I'm running. I'm running for the future, for the children. I'm running a positive campaign of ideas."
Carroll said she wants to continue to advocate for funding to repair the Molokai Irrigation System and also work on a drought mitigation plan for the island. "My style has always been where I work with my constituents and have them tell me how to move forward," she said.
She said she would support bills that create jobs and improve infrastructure and also will pursue funding for community health centers in Hana and on Lanai and Molokai.
With an annual $30 million appropriation to the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands ending in about two years, Carroll said she will propose that a percentage of funding from the public land trust go to the agency so it can continue to develop infrastructure to put people on the land.
Carroll also supports more funding for the University of Hawaii Maui College's Molokai campus so it can expand its programs.
"Who knows? You might get other people wanting to go to Molokai to go to school there," she said.
She said there's a "great need" to restore positions in the state Department of Human Services for workers who help people applying for welfare, food stamps and medical benefits. She also wants to keep positions for residents of Molokai and Lanai.
"That's their only lifeline," Carroll said.
In Keanae, she said she will work to create a substation for emergency medical technicians, police and firefighters, as well as a landing zone for an emergency medical helicopter. That would provide quicker medical care for Keanae residents with medical emergencies who, in some instances, have had to be driven to the Hana Community Health Center to be transported by helicopter to Maui Memorial Medical Center, Carroll said.
When Act 55 was voted on in the 2011 legislative session, Carroll said she was hospitalized for staph infections. But she said she feels "better than I've felt in the last year and a half" and is in remission from breast cancer.
"I would be honored to continue the work that I started ever since I have been elected," she said. "My doors are always open."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
**CORRECTION: State House 13th District. Rep. Mele Carroll said that her position on the undersea cable was not stated correctly in a story about the race published on Page A1 on Saturday.
"There is not enough data, and more studies should be done to address the cost, environment, and cultural impacts on the undersea cable," she said in an email on the issue. "We should focus and work toward sustaining each island with its own alternative/renewable energy by developing its natural resources such as geothermal, solar, wind and wave instead of burdening the taxpayers with transferring energy from island to island in the state."
The Maui News apologizes for the error.