John Carroll, an 88-year-old perennial Republican candidate who’s been running a gubernatorial campaign centered on removing a major trade barrier and building the agriculture industry, veered in two very different directions Tuesday in a livestreamed interview with Civil Beat.
Carroll proposed eliminating Hawaii’s general excise tax, the state’s largest single revenue source which accounted for 44 percent of Hawaii’s tax collections in 2017, and to hold a popular vote to decide whether to restore Hawaii to a sovereign monarchy.
He articulated those ideas as seemingly offhand remarks near the end of an hour-long chat with Chad Blair, Civil Beat’s politics and opinion editor, as part of the “Know Your Candidates” series. And he provided scant details on how to resolve the complex issues both actions would raise.
Hawaii has been illegally occupied by the U.S. military for generations, and the kingdom is still recognized under international law, Carroll said, echoing arguments made by some legal scholars. Whether to remain part of the U.S. or assert sovereignty, Carroll said, should be put up to a vote of the people of Hawaii: current residents born in the state and residents who can trace their ancestry to the Great Mahele, a massive land redistribution in the mid-1800s.
“By international law the kingdom still exists,” he said. “The question is, ‘What can you do about it?’”
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It was an unlikely call for a conservative Republican. And the fact that the comment didn’t cause much of a stir in the audience at Hawaii Pacific University was probably less a commentary on the idea’s audacity than the fact that there wasn’t much of a crowd to stir: only 12 people came to hear Carroll.
Then there’s the fact that Carroll is viewed as having practically no chance of being elected governor even if he captures the Republican nomination in the Aug. 11 primary.
“A lot of my haole friends get really mad when I talk about the kingdom still existing, but unfortunately that’s a fact,” he said.
Carroll’s call to eliminate the general excise tax was no less bold. The excise tax is akin to a sales tax; however, it applies to services as well as goods sold and is widely criticized for double- and triple-taxing items as they circulate through the economy, significantly driving up costs to consumers.
Carroll’s pledge to eliminate the tax came in response to a question from the audience about whether he would eliminate the excise tax on food and medicine.
Prescription drugs are already exempt from the tax under Hawaii state law, but that didn’t stop Carroll from making hay out of a pledge to exempt such sales.
Then he took that pledge many steps further.
“I don’t even think we should even have the general excise tax,” Carroll said.
“You’re not saying you would cut it altogether,” Blair said.
“I am,” Carroll said. “I think the general excise tax is ridiculous.”
Carroll declined to explain how he intended to make up for the massive loss of revenue, which totaled $3.24 billion in 2017, according to the Department of Taxation.
Carroll had previously based his campaign on a few sturdy planks: to eliminate the Jones Act, a federal maritime law widely believed to drive up costs; to rebuild Hawaii’s agriculture industry; and to conduct a study of government workers with the goal of cutting public employees by 25 percent.
Tuesday’s announcements spiced up his meat-and-potatoes campaign.
The avuncular Carroll has had a long and varied career — including runs as an Air Force and commercial pilot and as a lawyer — and he says he’s now the best person to lead the state.
“I don’t see anyone else who can do this job properly,” Carroll said. “I just took it on myself to do it.”
Carroll laid out several other ideas during the wide-ranging discussion.
• Although he supports agriculture, Carroll pledged to ban genetically modified crops in the state.
• Carroll also vowed to steer more education dollars to teachers and classrooms by cutting the Department of Education bureaucracy, which he called “a total waste of money.”
• He also said he would seek to halt the Honolulu rail project until an independent “forensic audit” could be performed.
Carroll has made repeated unsuccessful attempts to capture a statewide office – a tall order for any Republican in a heavily Democratic state. Asked why he kept running, Carroll related a story about his father, a track coach, talking about a young runner who could have won a race if the athlete simply hadn’t given up.
“The worst thing in the world is to be a quitter,” Carroll said. “I just do not quit.”
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