In the News – Star Advertier July 8, 2016

by Susan Essoyan
Honolulu Star Advertiser July 8, 2016

“Aiea Neighborhood Board member Tracy Arakaki has clocked 100 miles walking door to door in hopes of beating state Rep. Sam Kong in the race for the 33rd House District seat, after falling short by 85 votes last time.

Kong prevailed in a three-way race in the 2014 Democratic primary to replace Rep. Mark Takai, who moved on to the U.S. House of Representatives. This time Arakaki, 52, and Kong, 56, are running head to head in the Democratic primary for the district that includes Halawa, Aiea and Newtown.

Kong had made unsuccessful bids for the seat as a Republican before switching parties and running as a Democrat. An affable part-time cabdriver, he was also well known in the community as a longtime owner-operator of the Aiea Florist shop.

Even as the incumbent, Kong is an unconventional candidate. The only money he has spent on his campaign is $500 of his own, on banners that, he said, “I can use forever.”

Added Kong, “I accept no donations and I seek no endorsements. That way, my constituents know I’m beholden to no one. … Everyone complains about how politicians are bought or influenced by money and outside powers that be or whatever. I don’t want to be like that.”

Arakaki owned a screen-printing shop for 20 years and is a former news cameraman for KHNL and KHON television stations, which he said gives him a “unique perspective” on news and what happens “downstream” after legislators pass laws.

He now has his own television production company and does independent projects. His bid for higher office follows 17 years as a volunteer elected to the neighborhood board.

“My life has been devoted to a lot of community service,” Arakaki said. “To become a state representative, to me it’s the ultimate, helping to be their voice at the state level.”

The two candidates stand far apart on the issues. Arakaki is a firm Democrat while Kong follows a more conservative line.

“My family has been lifelong Democrats,” Arakaki said. “I was the former precinct president for the Democratic Party for Aiea District. Strong Democratic values is what I believe in. I didn’t change parties. I’ve always been a Democrat.”

Both candidates consider traffic a top issue for their district. Kong opposed the rail tax extension because the costs had become a moving target and he didn’t trust the numbers.

“When nobody’s speaking the truth, it’s hard to agree, to say, ‘I’m going to allow you to do this based on lies,’” he said. “You tell me the truth and I’ll be willing to work with you.”

Arakaki says he would have supported the rail tax extension because cutting off the project at Middle Street makes no sense.

“It does no one any good by stopping it short and not supporting rail to make sure it does go where people need,” said Arakaki, who has been endorsed by the Carpenters Union.

As a freshman legislator, Kong tried to repeal the recycling fee levied on cans and bottles, which encourages people to recycle beverage containers for refunds rather than discarding them as trash. Arakaki supports the recycling system.

“I tried to work on cost-of-living issues,” Kong said. “For example, eliminating even the bottle tax. I was thinking of just starting simple, by eliminating certain programs just to see how that would help our own bottom line for the consumer, but it didn’t go anywhere.”

Kong voted against a bill prohibiting the sale of tobacco products to people under 21 and against establishing a medical marijuana program. He said he figures that if young people can fight and die for their country, they ought to be able to light a cigarette. His added that his wife insisted that he oppose medical marijuana.

Arakaki would have supported both bills. He said raising the smoking age to 21 from 18 makes it harder for teens to get cigarettes and might have kept him from starting the habit. He quit smoking in his late 20s, not long after his aunt died of lung cancer.

“As a former smoker, if the age was 21, it would have been a lot harder for me to have acquired it, instead of it being at 18,” he said.

Arakaki also supports medical marijuana dispensaries in Hawaii. “Medical marijuana has its validity as medicine,” he said. “I know folks who have had MS and who had cancer, and it would have been beneficial to them.”

The winner of the Democratic primary will be elected outright because no Republican has filed to run for House District 33.”