The Kona County Farm Bureau hosted a two-hour candidate forum Sunday evening at the Queen Emma Community Center behind Christ Church Episcopal in Kealakekua. Candidates participating included for State Senate District 3 (Kona), the incumbent, Dr. Josh Green, and his challenger Jeff LaFrance; State House 6 (North Kona) candidates Nicole Lowen and Roy Ebert; State House 5 (South Kona) candidates, incumbent Denny Coffman and challenger Dave Bateman; and County Council candidates for District 6, South Kona to Volcano, incumbent Brenda Ford and challenger Maile David. Around 45 people attended.
Sherry Bracken of LAVA 105 and KKOA 107.7 fm radio and Hawaii Public Radio served as moderator. All the questions were focused on agriculture issues.
As candidate Dave Bateman said after the forum, “We all agree on a lot of things.” And they did. All concurred that the percentage of Kona coffee required for a Kona blend should be greater than 10%, as required now–Council Member Ford and Bateman both said 75% would be appropriate. But the key thing was, the labels had to accurately reflect the percentage of beans, not just from Kona, but from anywhere. All candidates also said any foods with genetic modification should be labeled as such, including Senator Green, who had introduced such legislation at the state level. The Hawaii County Council has asked the Hawaii State Association of Counties to lobby for such a bill at state level for 2013.
The candidates believed that inspection of green coffee beans should be restored, with funding for ag inspectors allocated by the State. Senator Green said he’d voted against removing the inspection requirement, the only Senator to do so. His opponent, Jeff La France, said the state should stop allowing importation of green coffee beans from other countries. Council Candidate Ford said she did not object to the importing of beans, but felt the inspection was mandatory if that’s to continue.
One question that got a lot of emotion was about the Public Lands Development Corporation. The bill calls for a separate state entity, a public/private partnership, to develop state lands. But as it stands now, the PLDC would not be subject to County Zoning and building laws. All candidates said the bill was ill-advised and advocated for its repeal or significant modification, including Rep Coffman, who said he made a mistake in voting for it, and Senator Green, who said he did vote for it but would like to see it modified or repealed.
The Kona County Farm Bureau asked each of the candidates to support or initiate a task force to review regulation affecting Farmers Market. Right now, the State Department of Health is trying to “force fit” Farmers Markets into existing rules and it’s proving extremely cumbersome and expensive for Farmers Markets vendors. All agreed, but Senator Green and Rep Coffman both said they felt immediate legislation was the most important thing. Rep Coffman said he’s seen too many task forces either take too long or have no funding, and therefore be pointless. Both the incumbents said legislation is the way to go.
Most of the questions were focused on State issues, but the County Council candidates weighed in on all. They also addressed the issue of agricultural theft, which is a County issue. The police define “agricultural theft” as anything related to ag, whether the stolen items are crops, farm equipment, sprayers, or farm vehicles. Maile David said the community needs to work together to be vigilant and spot suspicious people and look out for each other. Brenda Ford wants to get a bigger, permanent police station at Captain Cook (there is currently a small sub-station next to the Captain Cook Fire Department). She feels County funding can be found to add enough police to staff a new station. That would make the Kona District (Manuka State Park to Pu’uanahulu) the only police district to have two stations. The issue of ag theft is complicated as stolen crops are not readily identifiable. And, before the forum, some farmers who have had farm equipment stolen said the only logical user would be another farmer.
The two County Council candidates who prevailed in the Primary, and therefore have already been elected, were each given two minutes to speak. Dru Kanuha, Council District 7, Central Kona, said he’d like to see better use of agricultural lands. Karen Eoff, Cuncil District 8, said she’d support more water rights. Both agreed that agricultural issues are especially important for West Hawaii.
The State House and State Senate candidates, joined by Malama Solomon and Kelly Greenwell, will meet again Tuesday evening at 6 p.m. at Kealakehe High School in a forum sponsored by Kona-Kohala Chamber of Commerce and other community groups.