Editor’s note: For Hawaii’s Aug. 8 Primary Election, 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 Frederic Wirick, candidate for Hawaii County Council District 5 representing Kurtistown, Mt. View, Glenwood, Orchidland Estates, Ainaloa, Hawaiian Acres, Fern Acres, Eden Roc, Fern Forest Estates, Mauka of Pahoa Town, Kaohe Homesteads, Kamaili Homesteads, Kalapana, Opihikao, Kehena and Kaimu. The other candidates are Matt Kaneali’i-Kleinfelder and Ikaika Rodenhurst.
1. Hawaii’s economy has been hard hit with the outbreak of the coronavirus and measures to prevent its spread, mainly because of the collapse of the tourism industry. Should we continue to rely largely on the visitor industry for economic vitality? What concrete steps would you take to bring tourism back? What else would you do to diversify the island’s economy?
We should transition and not depend primarily on tourism and visitor industry for economic vitality. Now is the time to set new priorities, time to set a new course and prepare for uncertain economic times ahead.
Since 1959, the “state” has promoted and perpetuated this illusion of an economy primarily based on tourism. In 2018, we experienced an economic recession with the Pahoa lava flow in Puna District. Tourism dropped off dramatically.
We need to move from “state” and county-directed dependency on outside sources and transition toward becoming more independent on-island.
Our current situation is dire — up to 90% dependence on imported foods shipped from the U.S. mainland. And if the ships stop and/or transportation is disrupted, store shelves go empty and many residents would go hungry in three to five days.
This is totally unacceptable and clearly shows the lack of leadership over the past decades. The “state” and county has done very little to help promote and establish a local on-island food supply for our residents.
Now is the time for voters and elected officials to move into a state of emergency preparedness. Now is the time to set new priorities for the Hawaii County:
• Promote and secure local natural food production.
• Secure and protect our most precious resource, water.
• Maintain infrastructure and public health, safety and welfare.
•Push fuel production from agricultural waste products: biodiesel, biogas, ethanol, cellulosic hydrogen.
2. As the economy struggles, the county may have to cut expenses and seek new revenue sources. What would you cut? And what is an area where you see potential new revenue?
Cut expenses. Roll back the 2018 Hawaii County administration salary increase totaling $1.3 million per year. In this time of economic uncertainty, it is time to lead by example — time to cut from the top down.
In addition, Hawaii County is not operating as efficiently and effectively as it could for residents and taxpayers. A forensic audit of Hawaii County is long overdue. The results would help us get a clear picture of what works and what does not
To increase revenue, it is time to transition to home rule and for the county to go directly for federal funding. Home rule should become mandatory in times of economic hardship and global economic collapse and emergency preparedness. We know what is best for our island. Honolulu knows what is best for Honolulu. We are primarily an agricultural island community. If we are to grow forward quickly and secure a local food supply for all residents of the island — we need assistance now. And we need to cutout the Honolulu middleman.
For instance, federal funding to help bring all roads in Hawaii County up to federal minimum standards. If Honolulu can spend billions and billions of dollars for 20 miles of rail with the help of state and federal funds to serve its residents, why can’t we receive a billion dollars to improve a few hundred miles of roads in Puna District.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
The coronavirus/COVID-19 is likely just the beginning of what will become a regular and ongoing cycle of public heath and security risks throughout the world. Securing our island from “outside carriers” is most critical. The 14-day mandatory quarantine should become standard practice for visiting Hawaii County.
Our greatest risk for exposure not only comes from visiting tourists but also from the military personnel. As we have seen in the news, entire military ships had been contaminated. Military bases should also enforce the 14-day mandatory quarantine and testing of all personnel returning to Hawaii.
4. State and county residents, government officials and developers have been split over efforts to build the Thirty Meter Telescope on Mauna Kea. Do you support construction of the TMT? Do you support the protesters? What would you have done differently in the past year to resolve the issue?
I am in opposition to the construction of TMT. I support the “Protectors” of Mauna Kea.
To answer the question, what could have been done differently in 2019? We have to go back to 1959 — there were NO telescopes atop Mauna Kea before “statehood,” today there are 13. And the top of Mauna Kea is a “conservation district.”
Mauna Kea is deemed by the National Park Service as National Natural Landmark:
“Mauna Kea is an exposed portion of the highest insular mountain in the United States. It contains the highest lake in the country and evidence of glaciation above the 11,000-foot level. It is the most majestic expression of shield volcanism in the Hawaiian Archipelago, if not the world.”
The question is why has Mauna Kea, the most scared mauna, not received federal protection since “statehood”?
Whereas the “protectors” have been protesting the desecration of their sacred land since the first telescope was illegally constructed on “state conservation land” in the 1960s. The “protectors” are here today because TMT is threatening to destroy more pristine natural land atop Mauna Kea in a conservation district.
In 2019, many of us witnessed and participated in the most powerful, peaceful, protest the world have ever known! Now, we are all the “protectors” of Mauna Kea, stepping up to protect and preserve our natural and cultural resources and sites for future generations. Stop TMT, and in time remove all telescopes and restore these “state conservation lands” to their original natural state.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
Homelessness is a growing social-economic issue throughout Hawaii. The book “Land and Power in Hawaii” best describes what appears to be a “state” directive to create homelessness in Hawaii.
I have first-hand experience in Puna — for four years, from 2015-19, we had to stand and defend our agricultural community from an attempted hostile takeover by a small group of property investors, Realtors, property managers and even a land-use commissioner. We were successful in defense and protection, in 2019 received Summary Judgement and the Plaintiff(s) ordered to pay costs. And yes, some locally elected politicians supported the efforts of this attempted hostile take-over and some even accepted campaign donations in 2018.
In 2019, some of these same locally elected officials approved tax conversions from agricultural to residential, doubling the taxes of many.
The “state” and county basically turn up the heat, raising taxes and property values beyond the means of many. In turn, forcing many off their homelands – homelessness. Puna District has doubled in size since 2005, now with over 50,000 residents. Over 51% of the residents were born and raised here or are from neighboring islands. From Kauai, Oahu, Maui – yes, Puna has become the final frontier and the final homeland for many.
We must prevent the land investors and politicians from continuing their business of “Land and Power in Hawaii.” We must defend our final frontier and homeland for future generations and prevent “state”-imposed homelessness in Puna!
6. Recent deaths of citizens at the hands of police are igniting protests and calls for reform across the country, primarily aimed at preventing discrimination against people of color. Do you see this issue as a problem in Hawaii County? What should be done to improve policing and police accountability on the Big Island? Should oversight of the police department be strengthened or reformed?
I have lived in four states on the U.S. mainland and four countries, including Hawaii. I have also served as a federal law enforcement ranger for the National Park Service and participated in many protests in my lifetime.
From what I have seen here, discrimination against “people of color” by local law enforcement is not an issue.
Improvement of policing and police accounting in Hawaii County regarding peaceful protests? During the six-month peaceful protest at the base of Mauna Kea, there was no reason for the governor and county to deploy an army of “militarized” police and “state” rangers — and to threaten National Guard intervention. This was and is a peaceful protest to protect natural and cultural resources and sites for future generations.
This was a show of force and a possible attempt to provoke violence. Had violence erupted, the protesters would have been labeled as violent combatants and the action deemed an act of “domestic terrorism.” That would have opened the door to federal funding from Homeland Security. It is likely both the governor and the county mayor were and are well aware of this possibility of direct federal funding. And with Mauna Kea in 2019 they both likely banked on it — instead their unnecessary action cost us over $10 million! Gross mismanagement of “state” and county tax dollars.
Federal funding for the “militarization” of our law enforcement officers is a misuse and misdirection of tax dollars. This funding and directive need to be brought under control by the voters and elected officials.
7. Hawaii’s public records law mandates that public records be made available whenever possible. Gov. David Ige suspended the open government laws under an emergency order during the pandemic. Do you agree or disagree with his action? What would you do to ensure the public has access to open meetings and public records in a timely fashion?
I disagree with the governor’s recent directive and actions regarding public records and meetings. Instead of closing the doors to the public, the governor should have ordered an emergency forensic audit of the “state” and county governments. A third-party forensic audit that would have showed us where and how our tax dollars are being misspent and would give the voters and newly elected leadership a new course and direction.
These are our tax dollars — federal, “state” and county. I believe the governor has violated our rights as residents and tax payers to participate in government. The “state” and county governments and their spending of our tax-dollars should be always be an open book and open meetings.
8. What more should Hawaii County be doing to prepare for the effects of climate change, including sea level rise and threats to the reefs?
It starts by taking responsibility for our actions while living on Hawaii island — a world in and of itself. We need to start growing our own food, naturally and locally, to reduce the need for imported goods. To create our own natural energy and fuel sources from agricultural waste. We need to put the health, safety and welfare of the people, our natural resources, our island — first and foremost. Ultimately, we need to be responsible for our actions and use of natural resources.
9. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed numerous flaws in Hawaii’s structure and systems, from outdated technology to economic disparity. If you could take this moment to reinvent Hawaii, to build on what we’ve learned and create a better state, a better way of doing things, what would you do? Please share One Big Idea you have for Hawaii. Be innovative, but be specific.:
Back to the basics, back to the future, back to Hawaii. It’s time to set new priorities for Hawaii County:
• Food: Promote and secure local natural food production.
• Water: Secure and protect our most precious resource.
• Shelter: Home and garden space, affordable and protected from bank foreclosure.
• Maintaining infrastructure and public health, safety and welfare: Roads, water, sewage, solid waste, law enforcement, etc.).
• Fuel: Local fuel production from agricultural waste products: biodiesel, biogas, ethanol, cellulosic hydrogen.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
Global economic collapse is the biggest issue facing our district, our island and the world. Now is time for real and lasting social-economic change.
Food and water are more valuable than money. Ask anyone who has lived through a depression and/ or war.
In Puna District, we are very fortunate to have abundant rain water. I moved here from the Southwest desert on the U.S. mainland – water is our most important and most precious resource.
Most of the land in Puna is zoned agricultural. Combined with abundant rain we can only grow forward. Our gardens, neighborhood farms and up-and-coming community food hubs will allow us to grow and share all the food and livestock our residents require. Natural growing and regenerative methods will ensure natural resources for future generations.
But we must protect our agricultural lands from tax conversions and rezoning – from residential and commercial development. In 2019, Hawaii County began the process to convert agriculturally taxed land to residential taxation. They targeted half-acre or less agriculturally zoned parcels. Doubling their taxes without warning – and without providing even the basic residential services: no county water, sewer or roads. In 2019, the county raised $1.3 million in new revenue, likely to cover their own 2018 county administration salary increase of $1.3 million dollars.
I will move forward with both a roll-back of the 2018 county administration’s salary increase of $1.3 million and move forward to rescind the constitutionally questionable 2019 tax conversion from agricultural to residential of $1.3 million.