3 candidates vie for new
House seat in Kona

Editor's note: This is the 11th in a series of profiles of political candidates for the primary election Sept. 21.

By Pat Omandam

Having once led a mainland county school board with a $150 million operating budget for 20,000 students, Thomas Davies hopes to bring this experience to the state Legislature.

Election 2002

But the 67-year-old retired businessman must first get past primary election opponent Marni Herkes, 69, of Holualoa, for the Democratic nomination in the newly reapportioned state House seat in Kailua-Kona.

That winner faces Republican Mark Jernigan, 42, in the general election.

Davies, a retired educator, businessman and real estate broker, said he was encouraged by friends and neighbors to run for the redistricted house seat that covers North Kona, Keauhou, Kailua-Kona and Honokohau.

Because of reapportionment to all 76 legislative districts, Republican legislators Paul Whalen and Jim Rath share the district seat until the new districts take effect on Nov. 5. Rath is running for the neighboring House seat, while Whalen is a candidate for the area's state Senate seat.

Hawaii GOP officials hope to retain this seat as part of their attempt this year to gain majority control of the 51-member state House.

Davies said the environment, the economy and education top his lists of concerns. Having been a math and science teacher, a college professor and a school administrator for 30 years, he believes he can help initiate change in the state's public school system.

He said the school system must be one where everyone "comes out on top." Students need a better education than they're getting.

He feels his advantage over other candidates is his broad experience in business and education, and his honesty and integrity.

Davies has been endorsed by the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the faculty union, as well as by the Sierra Club, Hawaii chapter.

Herkes has received the political support of the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the Hawaii Carpenters Union.

Herkes, a former executive director of the Kailua-Kona Chamber of Commerce, said she entered this race because she wanted to explore opportunities to help small business. Other big issues for her are the economy and education.

Her discussions with West Hawaii voters show people want change, she said.

"They want to see a government that they can feel involved in ... and that they can trust," she said.

To that end, she only accepts campaign donations of $25 or less, and returns donations over that amount.

"It's more a Republican community for the most part, but we're finding pockets of Democrats," said Herkes, who is familiar with political campaigns as the ex-wife of former state Rep. Bob Herkes.

Although the district may have a majority of Republicans, Jernigan said he isn't taking anything for granted. The Kailua-Kona businessman and former Hawaii GOP county official said the state is in serious economic trouble and there needs to be people in government that can make good business decisions.

Jernigan, president of the Keahole Agriculture Association, wants to see a decentralized school system that gives parents more say in their children's education. That, in turn, will lead to a better economy through a more educated population.

Jernigan said he was motivated to get involved in politics during Linda Lingle's first run for governor, when many realized that there was a possibility of change in state political leadership.

Now he wants to be a part of the decisions that can help a community.

"I don't see myself as a professional politician," Jernigan said.

District 6 at a glance

Here's a snapshot of state House District 6 (North Kona-Honokohau), based on U.S. Census 2000:

Total population:

20,152 (50 percent male, 50 percent female)

Major ethnic populations:

White:48 percent
People with 2 or more races:22 percent
Native Hawaiian: 9 percent
Japanese: 7 percent
Filipino: 7 percent

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