KAILUA-KONA — The West Hawaii delegation welcomed two new, yet familiar, faces to the fold following the results of Tuesday’s general election.
Dru Kanuha, three-time District 7 county councilman, made the leap to the state Senate, capturing the District 3 seat vacated by Hawaii’s newly elected Lieutenant Governor, Josh Green.
Kanuha will spend the next six years representing Kona and Ka‘u from his new perch on Oahu after soundly defeating Libertarian Michael Last by a count of 9,926 votes to 2,529 votes. A total of 1,297 votes were left blank.
David Tarnas, who served two terms in the state House of Representatives from 1994-98, will assume the District 7 House seat after a hard fought primary rematch against eight-time incumbent, Cindy Evans, and a victory in the general over Republican Tom Belekanich by a total of 6,424 votes to 1,932 votes. A total of 628 votes were left blank.
Tarnas’s district includes North Kona, South Kohala and North Kohala.
Both men felt as though Tuesday’s triumphs functioned as the culminations of long journeys characterized by years of effort to, in Kanuha’s case, reach this level of public service, and in the case of Tarnas, to return to it.
“I’ve always wanted to represent Kona or Hawaii in some aspect of community service,” said the 34-year-old Kanuha, who won his first county election in his late 20s. “But I never expected the timing.”
Tarnas said his choice to step away from politics in the late ‘90s to focus on family and building a business was an easy decision, but added his journey back was anything but easy — or simple.
“I’m looking forward to returning after 20 years, it’s just delightful, and I don’t regret taking 20 years off,” Tarnas said. “It took three and a half years to take out (Evans) … and I honor her service. That’s 16 years of work. That’s a big deal.”
Neither newly elected candidate is intimidated by the venture into state politics, and both believe they have existing, meaningful relationships that will allow them to be immediate players for their respective districts.
For Kanuha, the number one name is Green. Kanuha listed his top priorities as more affordable housing in West Hawaii and advocating for access to health care in a significantly rural district limited in that regard.
Green, a doctor in that region for years and an advocate for health care and homelessness who represented the same constituency as Kanuha will, now holds a top political office in the state. Green has said throughout his campaign he also has the leeway from Gov. David Ige to bring teeth to the position.
“While on the council, I was able to work with everybody,” Kanuha said. “To have somebody at the (lieutenant governor) level that represented this district, I’m extremely looking forward to the opportunity to work with (Green).”
Tarnas entered the political arena the same year as current House Speaker, Scott Saiki, who he said remains a friend.
“I’ve got good relationships with the leadership and certainly with our delegation,” Tarnas said. “I was the Chairman of the Hawaii County Democratic Party. In that capacity, I got to know all the delegation and I remain close to them.”
During his first stint in the House, Tarnas worked in the arenas of energy, education and the environment. But he said he’s told Saiki to put him wherever he’s most needed.
Wherever that ends up being, Tarnas said he’ll push for sustainable economic development that includes workforce training and lifelong learning, environmental protection across the board from watershed protection to the fight against sea level rise, and to facilitate community involvement in the legislative process.
“I want to make it easier for us in the district to follow legislation, testify from a distance,” Tarnas explained. “I’m going to advocate for video testimony.”
The two other state races in West Hawaii were absent challengers Tuesday night, as Rep. Nicole Lowen of District 6 and Rep. Richard Creagan of District 5 ran unopposed in the general election.
Lowen represents Kailua-Kona, Holualoa, Kalaoa and Honokohau, while Creagan represents Naalehu, Ocean View, Captain Cook, Kealakekua and a portion of Kailua-Kona.