LIHUE — Gary Hooser may no longer have a seat on the Kauai County Council, but he’ll continue trying to make a difference in the lives of island residents.
“I’ve come to realize when big, important things happen in government, that’s only when people get involved, and that goes from national to local, whether you’re talking about civil rights and marriage equality or regulating chemical companies,” he said.
Hooser, who has spent almost 20 years of his life in public service, wants to encourage that mindset.
“I want to focus on increasing community involvement and supporting that.”
One way he plans to do so is continuing work with Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action, or HAPA. Hooser founded the organization in 2014 as a way to empower the community to take steps to value the environment.
“We have a group called the Kuleana Academy which trains emerging leaders. It’s about getting people involved,” he explained.
In this year’s election, Hooser received 10,408 votes. He ended the night in ninth place, behind fellow incumbent, KipuKai Kuali’i who also lost in his bid for reelection.
Hooser, 62, was first elected to the County Council in 1998 and served until 2002. He then served in the state Senate for eight years before returning to the council in 2012, where he served another two terms.
“When I first ran for office it was because I was dissatisfied with the status quo,” the Wailua resident said.
Hooser has dedicated himself to increasing environmental and health protection for Hawaii residents.
“I was just drawn to it (the environment). You don’t get another chance at the environment. Once a stream, waterfall, ocean access is gone, you don’t get another chance,” he said. “Contaminating our land, water and air, which is what we’re doing, we can do much better. The law is supposed to protect, and that’s what I’ve done and continue to do.”
During his time in office, Hooser championed measures that protected health and the environment, including Bill No. 2491, which sought to regulate pesticides and genetically modified organisms. The bill, which was passed by the council in 2013, but later overturned in federal court, required mandatory disclosure of pesticide and GMO use by large commercial agricultural entities and required a buffer zone around schools, hospitals and other sensitive areas. It also prohibited open air testing of experimental pesticides and experimental GMOs.
“I’m really proud of the work I’ve done in the community to increase environmental and health protection, connected with the chemical companies,” Hooser said. “As a result of those efforts, there are larger buffer zones, greater disclosure and there’s less pesticides being used today. So consequentially, the health of our community is better.”
While Bill No. 2491 didn’t become law, Hooser said chemical companies have scaled back and implemented good neighbor policies, such as disclosure.
“All that happened because of the work myself, Councilmember Tim Bynum and the community had been doing,” he said. “That’s probably one of the most important public initiatives I’ve worked on.”
Other measures Hooser is proud of include a lobbyist regulation bill and a cap on property tax assessments.
While he hasn’t committed to running for a council seat in 2018, Hooser said there’s no doubt he will continue to be an active voice in the community.
“I’m taking it one day at a time, but I’m going to remain engaged in civic policies, whether it’s as an elected officer or as an individual citizen,” he said.
Hooser said being involved in politics has been “very fulfilling.”
“People come up to me daily, people I don’t know, who give me a hug and thank me,” he said. “It’s a very cool feeling when random people come up and say they want to thank me for the work I’m doing. It keeps me going.”