A newly expanded House District in Windward Oahu, District 48, has drawn the attention of an influential environmental group and two public worker unions as two democrats prepare to square off in the Aug. 11 primary.
The Sierra Club, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the HGEA are targeting House Speaker Pono Chong for alleged distortions of his voting record.
Chong faces fellow democrat Rep. Jessica Wooley in the primary, and since there is no republican challenger, the winner of the primary wins the seat. Wooley's district was folded into District 48 because of reapportionment, and all three groups targeting Chong endorsed her candidacy.
Robert Harris, director of the Sierra Club's Hawaii chapter, said Chong has been flooding the district with mailers that contain "misstatements" and "half-truths."
"We're going to be communicating this information out to all of our respective members, and trying to make sure that the voters are able to make an informed decision based on actual facts," Harris said during a press conference at the grounds of 'Iolani Palace.
"We want to make sure voters can make an informed decision," Randy Perreira, the Executive Director of HGEA, added in a written statement.
The new coalition created a website, NotPono.org, which attempts to educate voters about the representative's true voting record.
The website claims Chong, who has served eight years in the House, failed to commit to an effort to end public school furloughs, known as furlough Fridays, before they began in October of 2009.
However, Chong tells KITV4 he resisted the urge to set aside any additional funds to keep the furloughs from happening until he received solid commitments from former Gov. Linda Lingle and the teachers' union to end their stalemate over a contract dispute.
"What people have to understand, it's not just one person. You have to get a majority of your colleagues," said Chong. "Actually, I was one of the people who helped move forward the bill that funded the $60 million to end furlough Fridays."
NotPono.org also claims Chong voted to raise taxes, attempted to scale back solar tax credits for homeowners, and did away with environmental safeguards.
But like many seasoned politicians, Chong has an answer for each of the criticisms.
Chong said his vote to raise taxes only came after he and a majority of other lawmakers instituted cuts totaling more than $1 billion, as the state faced the severe impacts of the Great Recession.
And as far as tax credits for solar energy are concerned, Chong said he was simply attempting to close a loophole that allows homeowners to take multiple $5,000 credits by installing more than one circuit breaker.
"The law was never intended for that," said Chong. "The Council on Revenues, which is made up of tax and economic experts, has said it's going to cost the state about $100 million in unexpected revenue loss."
Finally, when it comes to waiving environmental safeguards, Chong voted with the majority to suspend environmental impact statements and other measures so that repairs to 11 bridges could be expedited.
Wooley said she was unaware of the effort being launched by the three groups, but appreciates the opportunity for voters to learn more about the District 48 candidates.
"This is a good effort I think to help educate voters that there are real differences between two Democrats," said Wooley, who has spent the past four years in the House. "If you look at our votes, we're very different."
According to the Office of Elections, 17,121 registered voters are in District 48.