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When Hawaii House Democratic candidate Kent Fonoimoana was out campaigning earlier this week, he was shocked to find a flyer alleging that he owes money in taxes and may be operating his home inspection business illegally.
Worst of all, the mailer said Fonoimoana supports same-sex marriage and is endorsed by a political action committee called Honolulu Pride and Progressive, a group that advocates on behalf of the gay community.
The allegations could be damning in House District 47, which stretches from Waiahole to Waialua on the North Shore and includes the highly religious community of Laie. The town is home to a temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and in 2012, more than 90 percent of voters in the district voted for Mitt Romney as the Republican presidential nominee.
After seeing the mailer, Fonoimoana raced home to set the record straight. He emphasized he doesn’t owe $3,000 in taxes and that his business is legal, and said he would have voted against gay marriage if the majority of people in his district had wanted him to do so.
He even called the PAC to ask it to rescind its endorsement — he had no idea that it had been granted in the first place.
It was one more sign of the tension in tight races playing out on the North Shore, where Republicans and Democrats are competing head-to-head with no incumbents in the mix.
Fonoimoana’s opponent is Feki Pouha, a Republican nearly half Fonoimoana’s age who just graduated from law school. Both candidates are members of the Mormon Church who grew up on the North Shore and are of Polynesian descent, but they differ in their ideologies, particularly concerning growth in the rural community.
They’re campaigning for a seat currently occupied by Republican Rep. Richard Fale, another Mormon who was a strong opponent of the same-sex marriage bill the Hawaii Legislature passed last fall.
Fale has set his sights on Senate District 23, which spans from Kunia to Kaneohe, and is running against Gil Riviere, a former representative himself. The two faced off in the Republican primary in 2012 when Riviere lost. Riviere has since switched to the Democratic Party, saying it’s more in line with his beliefs (although he, like Fale, still opposes same-sex marriage).
In both races, the candidates have raised about the same amount of money, but the campaigns have turned ugly in recent weeks. Both races are also being influenced by backers and opponents of highly controversial development projects that have divided many in the North Shore community.
The major difference between the candidates in both races is their stance on contentious development proposals.
Riviere is adamantly against the planned addition of two hotels at Turtle Bay Resort and the construction of 800 homes on ranch land in Malaekahana.
The homes are part of a project known as Envision Laie that is being pushed by Hawaii Reserves, a land management company affiliated with the Mormon Church. The plan would also allow for the expansion of Brigham Young University-Hawaii and more stores in the neighborhood.
“We have to keep (the North Shore) rural and desirable for our future generations and we have to find economic activity that works,” Riviere said. “When we stimulate more local agriculture for more local people, that money circulates in our community. Building a Target on Malaekahana is not going to improve things, it’s just going to create urbanization.”
Riviere’s stance has resonated with opponents of the projects, including Unite Here Local 5, a union for hospitality and service workers that donated $2,000 to his campaign.
Fonoimoana also has concerns about the projects and whether the hotels will provide unionized jobs. He opposes the addition of more homes in Malaekahana because he doesn’t think there’s adequate infrastructure in place.
Fale is an outspoken supporter of both projects. According to data from the Hawaii Campaign Spending Commission, Fale has received $750 this election cycle from affiliates of Brigham Young University, including $350 from the university’s president, Steven Wheelwright.
“We have to keep (the North Shore) rural and desirable for our future generations and we have to find economic activity that works.” — Gil Riviere
Wheelwright also donated $500 to Pouha, who received $4,000 from groups representing operating engineers, which have backed Envision Laie.
Pouha said he still has concerns about more homes in Envision Laie but believes Turtle Bay Resort would provide needed jobs for the community. The resort donated $1,000 to his campaign.
Fale said he supports more housing in Malaekahana because he thinks it will help bring down the cost of living.
“In the discussions on what should and shouldn’t happen on the North Shore, the people who make this place special have kind of been forgotten,” Fale said. “To say the only thing we care about is ‘Keep the Country, Country,’ is a disservice to the diversity of our community.”
He said there are too many “outside interests” driving the agenda in the North Shore, pointing to a mailer attacking him sponsored by the Sierra Club, an environmental group that has doggedly opposed the expansion of Turtle Bay Resort.
The Sierra Club political action committee’s financial disclosure reveals the group spent more than $2,800 on mailers and postage to support Riviere and more than $2,000 on mailers and postage to support Fonoimoana.
The group urged voters not to vote for Fale, calling him “belligerent” and “polarizing.”
Fale said that’s ironic considering the group endorsed the sitting senator, Clayton Hee, whose aggressive personality may have contributed to his defeat in August when he sought the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor.
Riviere thinks it’s funny that Fale is calling the Sierra Club a special interest group, given the recent negative mailers attacking both Riviere and Fonoimoana.
Riviere recently checked his mailbox to find two mailers, one from Fale’s campaign with the slogan “Promises Made, Promises Kept.” On the same day, he received a flyer that called him a flip flopper, opportunist and untrustworthy.
The negative mailer came from Hawaii Solutions, a political action committee whose treasurer is Earle K. Kealoha, Fale’s father-in-law.
“To say the only thing we care about is ‘Keep the Country, Country,’ is a disservice to the diversity of our community.” — Richard Fale
Fale acknowledged that Kealoha is his father-in-law, but said he had no idea that the mailers were being sent.
“I wasn’t aware that the flyers were coming out and definitely haven’t coordinated with them in any way,” he said.
Kealoha and Hawaii Solutions chairman Jose Perez did not reply to requests for comment Thursday. Dylan Nonaka, who is also affiliated with Hawaii Solutions, similarly did not reply.
The political action committee’s financial disclosure form reveals that it has spent $1,232.46 printing flyers to oppose Fonoimoana and $1,442.93 printing mailers to oppose Riviere from Aug. 10 to Oct. 20. Those figures exclude the $5,000 spent on postage and mailing.
Pouha said he doesn’t condone negative campaigning and had no idea what Hawaii Solutions was before the flyers came out.
“(Fale’s in-laws) are from Kalihi and I don’t actually know them very well,” Pouha said. “This is all coming to light for me as well.”
But Fonoimoana thinks that’s no excuse.
“Whether he knows it or not, these are his supporters and he’s done nothing to stop it,” Fonoimoana said.