Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 11 primary, Civil Beat asked candidates to answer some questions about where they stand on various issues and what their priorities will be if elected.

The following came from Will Espero, one of five Democratic candidates for lieutenant governor. The others are Bernard Carvalho Jr., Kim Coco Iwamoto, Josh Green and Jill Tokuda.

Go to Civil Beat’s Elections Guide for general information, and check out other candidates on the Primary Election Ballot.

Candidate for Lieutenant Governor

Will Espero
Party Democrat
Age 57
Occupation Former state senator
Residence Ewa Beach


Community organizations/prior offices held

Former Ewa Neighborhood Board member; state representative; state senator.

1. Homelessness continues to be a major problem in Hawaii. What specific proposals do you have to help reduce homelessness?

I support temporary safe or ohana zones with programs and services for the homeless. We should also provide more funding to treat substance abuse and to help the mentally ill.

I have a proposal to build dormitory-style housing for adults on state lands using private funding. These units would be rent controlled, and revenues could be tax free as an incentive for private investors.

I also support tiny homes and condominiums on Hawaiian homelands. Many of the houseless are Native Hawaiians, and DHHL is in a prime position to be an active participant in building low cost housing.

Mayor Wright housing is a Hawaii Public Housing Authority project that is a public-private partnership which is expected to add 2,500 new rentals in the Liliha-Palama area over 10 years. As Senate housing chair, I was supportive of this project and advocated for funding to begin construction by 2019.

I believe there is also a market for mobile homes and trailer parks in rural areas. These types of housing are low cost and can help residents with limited or fixed incomes.

A crackdown on illegal vacation rentals is also in order.  I would invest dollars in enforcement and work to end the illegal bed and breakfast operations.

2. What should be done to increase affordable housing, especially for the middle class? What could you as lieutenant governor do specifically?

I would be willing to provide no cost or low cost leases of state lands to nonprofit developers to build inexpensive rentals for residents at 100 percent of AMI and below. These units would be low cost in perpetuity.

I would also work to streamline the permit and approval process at the county level so more workforce housing can be built faster. I visited a project in Maui where the approval process took over 10 years. As lieutenant governor,  I would create a working group which would help find ways to shorten the approval process where possible.

I would also suggest performance measures for every county so residents can check and see the progress in their respective counties. I would offer state assistance to the counties to increase efficiencies and build more affordable housing for our families.

3. Do you support or oppose holding a state constitutional convention? Why or why not?

I support a state constitutional convention as this is an opportunity for residents to gather and discuss ideas that will impact Hawaii’s future. Our country was founded on the freedom to discuss issues and collectively solve problems. Hawaii has a very diverse population which must interact with each other in order to collaborate and find a path forward we can all support.

4. Do you support or oppose allowing citizens to put issues directly on the statewide ballot through an initiative process? Why or why not?

I would support statewide initiative, but would allow some exemptions. I would not support initiative on civil rights or equality issues, government union contracts, and land use. The three items noted should be decided by the judiciary and/or legislative bodies.

5. Hawaii’s public records law requires that records be made available whenever possible. Yet state agencies often resist release through delays and imposing excessive fees. What would you do to ensure the public has access to government records?

I am a strong supporter of open records and government transparency. As a leader in the executive branch, I would advocate for information to the public and media at low cost. I would be against excessive fees to keep the public informed.

6. Illegal vacation rentals have proliferated throughout Hawaii. The state is not collecting tax revenue on many of these properties and residents worry about overcrowded neighborhoods and other problems. Do you see this as a problem given Hawaii’s booming visitor industry, and what do you propose to do about it?

I believe illegal vacation rentals are having a negative effect on our housing market. We must invest in enforcement to eliminate these illegal operations. The counties and the state should work together to better regulate the bed and breakfast industry and collect the tax revenues owed to the state. I would ask the Legislature to provide funding for enforcement.

7. Is Hawaii managing its tourism industry properly? What should be handled differently?

Hawaii must have a conversation about tourism every year or two prior during the legislative season. Residents and stakeholders should discuss tourism and how to sustain our growing population and needs. The conversation should ask if tourism is being managed properly. The input, comments, and complaints would be a starting point by businesses, decision makers, policymakers, and lawmakers to resolve issues and concerns that must be addressed. Since tourism dollars dominate our state revenues, it is an important process and discussion that must be had.

8. Do you support amending the state constitution to allow taxing investment properties to fund the public education system? How would you implement it if it passes?

I would support an amendment to the constitution to raise taxes on residential second-home investments worth over $2 million. All funds would be earmarked for our teachers, inside their classrooms, and students’ needs. We must invest in education to develop the best public school system in the U.S. It cannot be done without the proper level of funding. A tax on the wealthy purchasing investment homes is reasonable.

9. Would you support using liquefied natural gas to generate electricity as the state transitions to renewable resources to supply power?

Yes, I would support liquified natural gas as an interim option as we work to build and expand our alternative energy sources and supply. The LNG must be cheaper than fossil fuels and provide a savings for our state. Solar energy is my number one source of energy that must be advocated for and supported. Research and development of battery storage must be encouraged. Ocean or wave energy and wind power should also supported.

10. What should Hawaii be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to coral reefs?

My involvement with the effort to ban sunscreen with oxybenzone to help protect our coral reefs was a highlight of my legislative career. Coral spawning districts should be mandated by law and the DLNR should have the authority to close certain ocean areas for up to two weeks to assist our coral during this crucial time.

Laws should be established as soon as possible to stop, end, or minimize any development or projects which will be impacted by climate change and rising sea levels in the near future. It does not make sense to invest millions in these risky areas. Coastal property owners must look at their land in the long term and understand government cannot allow developments that will be negatively impacted by rising sea levels and rising tides. Open setbacks must be encouraged and tax incentives could be provided to landowners who develop their property using best practices for rising sea levels.

11. The office of lieutenant governor is often viewed as irrelevant. What would you do to make it more productive?

My goal or obective is to be the most active and involved LG this state has ever seen. I would engage the public, and have conversations and meetings within my office to better our state. Many areas I had worked on as a senator would also be included in my LG agenda.

Since I was the Senate Housing chairman for two sessions, I would offer to go from policymaker to policy implementer. I would ask the governor to allow me to be the point man within the administration to help end homelessness and build affordable housing.

This past 2018 session, I introduced a bill to allow the governor to appoint the lieutenant governor to serve on the Board of Education. It would be ideal to have the LG working to improve public education for our keiki. I would also visit every middle school and high school in our state to have conversations with our youth to end bullying, support post high school education, and to respect diversity in our population.

12. What other important issue would you like to discuss here?

As lieutenant governor, I would also continue my work to reform law enforcement, support prison reform with an emphasis on rehabilitation and bail reform, and review our state’s asset forfeiture laws, which need amending. Government should not be taking personal private property from residents without a criminal conviction as is now allowed.

I also want to be involved with the discussion to replace OCCC (the Oahu jail) which will cost at least $600 million. I’m not convinced this is the best expenditure of tax dollars. Moreover, I believe if we invest in rehabilitation, we can reduce recidivism and save millions of dollars on prison costs.

Promoting culture and arts is another priority of mine. I want to make Hawaii a premiere international destination for culture and arts. Government can help to publicize local artists and Hawaii brands, and the 10 million tourists are a starting point to export Hawaii products.