Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 9 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Warner Kimo Sutton, one of three Republican candidates for lieutenant governor. There are also five Democratic candidates and one Independent.
Name: Warner Kimo Sutton
Office: Lieutenant governor
Profession: Entrepreneur / Financial Analyst
Education: Punahou High School, Whittier College, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, University of Hawaii.
Community organizations: Delegate to the Constitutional Convention 1978. Helped develop OHA, the Intermediate Court of Appeals and Tax Refunds. Vice chair, Elections Appointment and Review panel (before Elections Commission). Delegate, GOP National Convention 2012. Past president, Waikiki Lions. Past president, Honolulu Quarterback Club. Save Ka Iwi Action Council and Save Sandy Beach. Waikiki Elks member. 25 years on his Neighborhood Board as vice chair and chair. Soroptimist of Waikiki Foundation.
1. Why are you running for lieutenant governor?
I am running for lieutenant govervor to serve the people of Hawaii. I will do my best to help Duke Aiona bring trust, respect and balance to the people of Hawaii.
I will help many minority efforts and stand up for causes that build trust between the people and their government.
We must reform the elections oversight process so voters can respect the electoral process.
Our cost of living is artificially high and needs action to reduce it.
Houseless people have different problems that can have a state solution.
My background in business and public service gives the ticket balance. I know how to help Duke Aiona win.
2. Are you satisfied with the current plans to pay for the state’s unfunded liabilities? If not, how would you propose to meet pension and health obligations for public workers?
The state of Hawaii has a $26 billion unfunded liability hanging around its neck. Each Hawaii resident owes over $14,000 just to pay off this debt. It could come due and payable immediately and that would make us all pay the bill in full with extreme taxes. Can you pay another $14,000 per household member in this year, as in now?
The Democrats in the legislature, who have no strong plan in place, are dealing with this enormous, long-term problem by simply kicking the can down the road, leaving the problem for our children and grandchildren.
It should be approached from a systematic long-term perspective. Large payments to bring it down sooner than later. Debt is hurting the state.
Stop kicking the ball down the road for the next generation. We are in financial trouble.
The Democrats have made this issue theirs, but have not made the hard decision to fix it. They have a partial payment now and will act in 2019 but that could be changed in the next legislature. Kicking the can or ball means to put off the problem to the next year.
We must cut public spending and pay down the unfunded liabilities before it’s too late. And there is interest.
3. Where do you stand on labeling of genetically engineered food and pesticide regulation? Are these public safety issues, or are the dangers exaggerated?
This problem is neither new nor unique. Gregor Mendel began genetically engineering plants as early as 1856.
Genetically engineered plants are essential to modern, sustainable life in Hawaii. Papayas that are genetically modified to resist the ringspot virus make up 75 percent of Hawaii’s commercial crop. Soy beans, which were genetically modified years ago, are used to produce tofu, soy milk, and byproducts that are used in a wide range of products such as bread, ice cream and chocolate.
Any procedure or technique that affects the food supply is a public safety issue.
The states, not the federal government, have the authority to require product labels to disclose that genetically modified ingredients are used.
The first thing to be done is for the Hawaii Legislature to determine the state’s definition of “genetically modified organisms.” After that, the state must determine the scope and limits of the issue by addressing allergenicity, gene transfer and outcrossing. Far too much political pressure from the left has blurred the lines. Someone must side with food producers.
My position on genetically engineered food and pesticide regulation is that the state of Hawaii must take responsibility for making this important regulatory decision. The state’s decision must be based on hard science. The decision-making process must be transparent, fair, and balanced between the legitimate needs of the consumers and the interests of those who produce our food.
4. Local officials and advocates have worked to address homelessness for years, yet the crisis is growing. What proposals do you have for this complicated issue?
I stand with Duke Aiona and support his position that we must seek creative, effective solutions to houselessness that are appropriate for Hawaii’s circumstances.
The causes of houselessness are complex, thus it is irresponsible to conclude that the solutions are simple. Hawaii’s help will target specific causes and need.
The state of Hawaii must establish a mobile court system as Duke Aiona has put forth, and it would be assigned to determine the causes of each person’s need. The first step in this analysis should be to examine the successes and failures of solutions implemented by other states and our agencies’ ability to assist. While we can learn from other states, Hawaii’s solution must not be blind imitation and should be compassionate. Poverty, drug use and mental health are not the same problem.
5. Hawaii’s cost of living is the highest in the country by many indicators. What can really be done to make things like housing, food and transportation less expensive?
I support several specific policies that, if implemented, will dramatically reduce the cost of living in Hawaii.
First and foremost among these policies is that Hawaii must be granted exemptions from the Jones Act.
The Jones Act, which is nearly 100 years old, is responsible for driving up sea transportation costs by over 10 times. These costs are passed along to Hawaii’s consumers. That may be reduced by 30 percent with competition and cheaper rates of transportation.
Hawaii Senator Slom, who has endorsed me, said it costs about $790 to ship a 40-foot container from Los Angeles to Shanghai, but it costs $8,700 to ship the same container from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Over 10 times more for over twice the distance.
It makes no sense to shift to cheap, clean energy supplies such as liquified natual gas unless the transportation costs are reasonable. As it stands now, the Jones Act requires Hawaii and other ocean bound locations to have more expensive U.S.-built ships deliver goods. That includes no liquid natural gas transportation ships made in the USA! Oil is brought here from other countries since foreign-made ships can not bring Alaska oil here.
This 100-year-old act costs Hawaii a great deal of money. It affects every item we have shipped here like food, cars, building supplies and retail goods. Alaska and the U.S. territories are working to have a bipartisan exemption.
Hawaii’s electricity is the most expensive in the U.S., making all of us pay three to four times the national average because of shipping and high oil prices. I will work with the people trying to get an exemption, and advocate for cheaper power with my experience in alternative energy.
6. Are you satisfied with the way Hawaii’s public school system is run? How can it be run better?
Hawaii schools must drop the Common Core, which has proven to be a poor method to teach students and improve education. Hawaii Republicans in convention this year adopted a resolution to that effect. Reduced central control should be a exercised. Better school options have been shown to get results.
With some of the most mediocre of students in public schools, parents would like to see their children get opportunity like private school education. Having more students in better schools requires a method of transferring the expense of the per child cost to those schools and the student staying in the higher possible standard. Communities should have a say, not the one central authority that teachers and principals are in fear of.
Many people overlook the fact that Hawaii’s public schools have become the primary way that thousands of children from poor homes get fed. The school lunch program has become a breakfast, lunch and in some cases dinner program as well.
Any plan to reform Hawaii’s public school system must address the fact that our schools are now responsible for feeding our poor children in an affordable, effective manner. In summer many go without theses meals and groups like Feed The Children help.
7. Would you support using liquefied natural gas as part of the state’s energy sources? And what thoughts do you have on improving the electric distribution system (the grid) so more renewables can be in the mix?
We have to have less expensive energy to satisfy the use of renewables. That is, wind and solar are very expensive, are oil and transportation. That said, we can not get LNG here since there are no ships that are U.S.-legal with capacity to make a dent in our power needs. Even a container outfitted is still too expensive to deliver here.
The law that makes it nearly impossible to ship LNG to Hawaii is the Jones Act, which protects ship-building unions, not the population of the state. It hurts all ocean-bound states like Hawaii and Alaska. See above question No. 5.
Another 20 megawatts of geothermal on the Kona side would be useful for that growth area to reduce power cost. It complements the wind and solar farms, but still a LNG generator would decrease costs quickly and with higher amounts to deliver.
To start with LNG and expand its use to even vehicles and cooking from the synthetic gas from oil used now, could reduce home energy cost by 20 percent, and with solar water heaters adding more savings. That is, if you pay $400 a month now it could possibly save $80 a month and $200 more with solar.
8. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Yet many citizens are unable to afford the costs that state and local government agencies impose. Would you support eliminating search and redaction charges and making records free to the public except for basic copying costs?
Hawaii should adopt the fee structures in the Federal Freedom of Information Act that cover search and reproduction costs. The FOIA fee structure has proven to be reasonable, effective and affordable. This would standardize the fees in a fair and transparent manner.
9. There is a desire to grow the economy through new development yet also a need to protect our limited environmental resources. How would you balance these competing interests?
The developers have taken over with large projects in Kakaako, Oahu rail, and areas around rail stations. If not, the rail would have started closer to the city like Mapunapuna and not in the suburbs of Ewa. They are developing the areas around stations as they come on board to increase the value. Some land is to be taken by the city so that rail moves ahead.
A possible negative backlash to the immense amount of construction on Oahu in the next five years could halt Honolulu and other affordable growth. Condos for only rich foreign investors, shopping centers near rail stations and no blue collar homes being planned will have a cost of living increase. Our environment is not in the planning of these projects and has been thrown out the window of opportunity to protect views from Mauka to Makai from Diamond Head to Kalihi. The whole state feels the wave of growth in a small area.
Neighbor islands have growth problems as more traffic goes to central business areas not distributed to rural neighborhoods when appropriate. The farming and ranching businesses are hurt by high costs and environmentalist pushing for control, though they are much more helpful for our environment than urban sprawl and city development .
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
I am against the Hawaii Health Connector. It must be ended. Hawaii is not able to afford it. This boondoggle has cost over $200 million and is the most costly per person in the USA at $24,000, 40 times the federal average.
Twice as many states are opted out of state connectors that are in. They pay less but the program of Obamacare is still causing many families to suffer to help a few. It should be cut.
With a $26 billion unfunded liability, Hawaii taxpayers do not need added cost of living and more debt. If a 2 percent tax on each insurance policy is used to pay for the connector it still is not sustainable.
After I am elected lieutenant governor and Duke Aiona governor, I will propose that we “Disconnect the Connector”!