Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Nov. 4 general election, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions.
The following came from Duke Aiona, Republican candidate for governor. Democrat David Ige, Libertarian Jeff Davis and Hawaii Independent Party candidate Mufi Hannemann, who did not respond to the questionnaire, are also running.
Name: Duke Aiona
Profession: JRA Inc. providing legal services as an attorney, mediator, and consultant. Substitute teacher with the Department of Education.
Education: Saint Louis High School; University of the Pacific; William S. Richardson School of Law
Community organizations: Founder, Ho’omau’ike mentorship program; director, Reid J.K. Richards Foundation; in addition to serving as a mentor for young people, I’ve also served in organizations to build homes for families in need and feed the hungry.
1. Why are you running for governor?
Becoming a grandfather really inspired me to be part of the solution to problems like our high cost of living, homelessness and education.
It’s clear continuing on this path is simply not an option for most people in Hawai‘i. More of the same is simply a recipe for disaster. I have innovative ideas and I’m prepared to hit the ground running on day one.
I’m the only candidate who has released detailed initiatives for affordable housing, education and homelessness, which are completely fleshed out and ready to go. None of my programs require increased spending or taxes and all of my programs are created with working families in mind.
All of our solutions will incorporate three key principles, trust, respect and balance.
Being governor will require leadership, but I know we can find innovative solutions that work for everyone if we keep these core principles in our minds.
Solutions to Hawai‘i’s toughest challenges will require innovative thought and ideas, not stale talk that results in more of the same. For example, our high cost of living is directly tied to our high taxes. Instead of raising the General Excise Tax (GET) as one of my opponents has suggested numerous times through the years, I would like to eliminate the GET on food and medicine.
Our state needs to focus on attracting and creating more naturally competitive industries such as astronomy, ocean and marine sciences and creative industries such as music, film and technology.
In order to attract these high-paying industries, we need to ensure local students are well developed and educated so they can keep these jobs here.
In order to prepare our students for these great opportunities, our school system needs to be about students, not administrators. In order to better prepare our children for the global knowledge-based economy, I would like our public schools to increase community and teacher input and to involve more local businesses so students are better prepared for the workforce.
I have a vision for Hawai‘i. A vision where businesses and families thrive and with your help, I can make that vision a reality for all of us.
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?
We owe our state workers their pensions and we owe it to the entire state to make sure we’re able to fulfill those obligations.
While I commend the Legislature for taking action, my primary concern with the current plan is the fact that even with a supposed budget surplus, the Legislature did not take more leadership on the timeline. Why did they wait until 2019 to begin full payment for our unfunded liabilities? Every year we wait puts us further in the hole.
As governor, I would ask the Legislature to create a budget that increases our payments immediately.
3. Where do you stand on labeling of genetically engineered food and pesticide regulation? Are these public safety issues, or are the dangers exaggerated?
I recognize the importance of pesticide regulation from an environmental perspective, and as a Keiki O Ka ‘Aina who played in the red dirt sugar fields as a child, I want to preserve our special environment for future generations.
We must balance the environment with the importance of growing food locally. If we over-regulate local farming, it leads to a reduction in local food, local jobs and higher food costs.
With those priorities in mind, labeling is something I could support so long as it doesn’t drive up the cost of local 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?
Homelessness is not a city problem, it is not a state problem, it is a community problem.
I’m delighted to see so many community organizations supporting solutions to homelessness.
In June I released a plan which addresses two of our most critical homeless populations: the chronically homeless and veteran homeless.
Both plans address the sources of homelessness, including criminal records, substance abuse, mental health and job readiness. Homeless court and the “Leave No Service Person Behind” program with the National Guard compassionately provide an opportunity for a fresh start with treatment they need and job training.
Also, I’ve sent a clear message to the governors of other states, if we find that other states are sending their homeless to Hawai‘i, we will send them home and we will collect the costs from those states.
5. Hawai‘i’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?
The high cost of living will be my number one priority as governor. Like everyone else, I’m shocked at my increasing grocery bill, electric bill and the average price of a home.
It’s always been expensive to live in Hawai‘i, but I really believe we’re now at a tipping point.
In July, I announced my proposal to increase affordable rentals by over 2,000 additional units in seven years. By using state land, we can expand these projections even more.
Affordable housing in Hawai‘i is a problem for everyone except the very well off. Anyone who wants to live in Hawai‘i has to find a long-term solution to housing protected from increasing rents and housing prices. I am also working with local leaders collaboratively on an innovative solution that will provide long-term solutions to affordable housing in Hawai‘i. This solution will provide people with a way to stay in Hawai‘i as they have families and as they age.
Energy is one of the biggest expenses to any household or business. While we must continue to have alternative energies like wind and solar, we must look at energy solutions which reduce the cost of energy for everyone, even those who can’t afford solar or don’t have access to it because they, like 43 percent of Hawai‘i residents, rent. I believe we can lower the cost of energy and be sensitive to Hawai’i’s environment.
The hidden truth to Hawai‘i’s high cost of living is our taxes. High taxes are directly connected to our high cost of living. We’ve had over 30 years of tax increases including over $800 million additional over the last four years alone. Ultimately, every tax is passed on to the consumer, who pays an additional tax at the register. To lower our cost of living, as governor, I will take a hard look at our taxes.
I’m also advocating for an elimination of the general excise tax (GET) for food and medicine. It’s simply unfair to tax people for the essentials and because the GET is included at every level, it increases our food and medicine costs significantly.
While the Jones Act is a federal law, it impacts Hawai‘i and other non-contiguous states and territories most unfairly by driving up our costs on everything from clothing to food.
6. Are you satisfied with the way Hawai‘i’s public school system is run? How can it be run better?
As a substitute teacher, I’ve seen first-hand some of the problems we have in education. I’ve listened to teachers and parents express their frustration.
A thriving public school system is one of the best investments our state can make. Yet, we’ve been talking about education issues for over 30 years. With the education budget taking 40 percent of our general fund, it’s clear to see that simply throwing money at education hasn’t solved our education problems.
We’ve lost sight of who education is for — the students. How can we ask our students to prepare for a global knowledge-based economy in buildings without air conditioning? One of my first actions will be an independent audit of the Department of Education. The purpose of the audit will be to identify ways in which we can spend our education dollars more intelligently and get more of the money directly to the students.
I believe we need more school and community empowerment; therefore, I am in favor of restructuring our school governance into a model known as “school empowerment.” This governance structure empowers our principles and teachers with the authority to develop and implement curriculum and administration of their schools. Those closest to the students, teachers, parents and principles need more input into where classroom dollars go and the kind of schools they’d like to see.
One in three Hawai‘i high school graduates takes remedial math or English classes in college. With the cost of college these days, that makes obtaining a college education more expensive and frustrating. By 2018, 65 percent of jobs will require post-secondary education and/or training, so the it’s vital we prepare our high school students for the global knowledge based economy and for industries in which Hawai‘I is naturally competitive: astronomy, marine sciences and creative industries such as film and digital media.
This is why I want to implement the Early College initiative in the Department of Education. This initiative starts in high school with college-level classes and by the time the student completes the program in grade 14, they will have both a high school degree and an A.A. degree at no cost. This program is unique in another way: it requires business partnerships to help fund the programs, but also to prepare students for real world work opportunities. Around the country, Early College programs have been shown to increase high school attendance, graduation rates and college attendance. Providing students with the best opportunity for success is what school should do, and Early College programs accelerate and support success for our students.
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?
Reducing the cost of energy is a matter of urgency for everyone in Hawai‘i. In some cases, residential energy bills have increased over $100 per month over the last three years, making energy one of our fastest growing costs of living.
I support updating our grid and increasing power storage in order to provide reliable, affordable energy for our Hawai‘i residents and businesses.
My number one priority with respect to energy is decreasing the cost of energy in an environmentally sensitive way. I believe including LNG could be a part of the equation to lowering energy costs. I believe other sources such as methanol should also be a part of the discussion.
8. Hawai‘i’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?
Transparency starts with me. Hawai‘i’s residents deserve trust, respect and balance from their government and providing access to public information is a key component to upholding those principles for the people of Hawai‘i.
More public information can and should be available online for two reasons. First, it’s an opportunity to save taxpayer dollars, the fees assessed for copying costs do not come close to covering the cost of gathering and copying public information, we can and should save taxpayer dollars by increasing the amount of information available online. Second, increasing the information available online makes it more readily and easily accessible for everyone when and where they need it.
There shouldn’t be secrets in government spending. It’s your money, that’s another reason for the Department of Education audit. I also believe information such as permits and tax exemptions should be readily available online. The people of Hawai‘i deserve access to this information in an easily accessible way.
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 priority on development should include affordable housing so that it not only grows our economy, but also provides housing for those who live here.
It truly is a balancing act. As unfortunate as it is, if we want to ensure open space on our islands, we have to build up, not out. But building up should also provide enough scale to include affordable housing options. Are the affordable units going to have sweeping ocean views? No. But will everyone benefit from increased affordable housing and open space? Yes.
Making good use of space by incorporating a variety of housing price points combined with retail and open space ensures that Hawai‘i maintains her identity and continues to provide the island lifestyle we enjoy.
10. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?
The reason I got into this race was because I feel the same as so many of you.
My wife, Vivian and I both need to work so we can afford to live in Hawai‘i. I’m not a life-long politician, I don’t have fancy “consulting” contracts, I work as a solo practitioner in law and mediation and as a substitute teacher. My family and I also feel the pressure of rising energy costs and the lack of affordable housing.
This is an important election for the people of Hawai‘i. It will decide not just the next four years, but impact the next 40 as well.
We deserve a government that respects us, but also a governor who has the courage to lead for the people. We deserve a leader who has the courage to fight for the average family.
I’m prepared to roll up my sleeves and work hard for all of you and for the next generation.
It’s time for change. If we continue on the path we’ve been on for the last 30 years, our government and most of our families will be forced to make hard choices.
We are truly at a critical point in our state’s future. We deserve government for the people, by the people. Therefore, I humbly ask for your vote on Nov. 4! Mahalo Nui Loa! Malama Pono!