The race for a Hawaii state Senate seat representing a Big Island district was the topic of a debate Saturday at the University of Hawaii Hilo — even though there’s still two months to go before the candidate filing deadline.

Seeking to represent District 2 (Puna and Kau) are Russell Ruderman, owner of Island Naturals stores and the incumbent; Greggor Ilagan, who represents the Hawaii County Council District 4 seat; and Fred Fogel, a former Marine active with area nonprofits.

Ruderman, a Democrat who is finishing his first four-year term, is pushing good government bills at the Legislature and working to secure public libraries and emergency room services in the vast, rural district. He’d like to see the minimum wage raised to $15 an hour.

State Sen. Russell Ruderman and two men who want his job: Hawaii County Council member Greggor Illagan and Libertarian Fred Fogel.
State Sen. Russell Ruderman and two men who want his job: Hawaii County Council member Greggor Ilagan and Libertarian Fred Fogel. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Ilagan, a Democrat, is a young immigrant from the Philippines who is fast making a name for himself in Big Island politics. He is focused on health services and infrastructure.

Ilagan said he does not support a proposal to move UH Hilo’s pharmacy school to Manoa (in exhange for UH Manoa’s ag school moving to Hilo), calling it an economic driver. Ruderman said the idea makes “a certain amount of sense logically, but that it has no support, including from me.”

Fogel, a Libertarian, wants term limits for state lawmakers, a flat income tax for workers earning above the poverty level and for political parties to pay for primary elections instead of the state. He thinks a state lottery is not a bad idea.

Other issues at play: telescopes on top of Mauna Kea, coqui frogs, albizia trees, mosquitoes and rat lungworm disease.

Biggest laughs of the forum: when Fogel said he looked like a “Duck Dynasty” reject, and when he said he had failed to make a profit raising cats. Ilagan later told Fogel he had to stay in the Senate race — Fogel has pulled papers for two other contests and must pick just one — as he made candidate forums more enjoyable.

Saturday’s debate was part of the UHH Media Symposium, co-hosted by the school’s student paper. Radio reporter Sherry Bracken and UH Hilo poly sci prof Todd Belt moderated.


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