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 Ikaika Rodenhurst, 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 Frederic Wirick.
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?
Our over-reliance on tourism has been exposed by the coronavirus pandemic and it has left us economically vulnerable. We need to bolster our economic vitality through diversification. Support toward the local agricultural and construction industries will be the first steps toward diversifying the economy.
Our ability to engage in sustainable agriculture and reduce reliance on imported goods would help tremendously, as would selling goods produced within our county to neighbor islands and others outside of Hawaii.
Support for critical shovel-ready projects will provide benefits in areas such as transportation that allow us to effectively and quickly access necessities like health care and get us from home to our jobs. Tourism will eventually return and we need a plan in place to address the safety of workers and the public.
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?
At this time, our people are struggling unlike anything we have seen the last 100 years. Hawaii County needs to effectively use CARES Act funding to offset these impacts. If any cuts are to be made, they should be made to non-essential services that do not directly impact the health and well-being of our community.
Agriculture has the potential to feed our people and provide exportable goods produced within our county. It can go a long way to providing sustainability to Puna and Hawaii County.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
The safety of our people always comes first and that should have been made clear from the initial COVID-19 response. I would have collaborated with local leaders to develop and provide a response plan addressing public safety and well-being in a timely fashion. Clear communication of the response plan and adjustments made as verified information became available would have been another priority.
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?
As a Native Hawaiian and engineer, I have a unique perspective on this situation. I am for the advancement in science and technology TMT represents, but argue that Native Hawaiians need a recognized established seat at the table during the planning and management of these types of projects.
Additionally, the lease for the land needs to be revised to adequately compensate not just Native Hawaiians, but the people of Hawaii.
I support the construction of TMT. I would have preferred to see our local leaders engage in effective, open communication and negotiations with practical solutions.
5. Homelessness remains a problem statewide, including on Hawaii island. What would you do to come to grips on this persistent problem?
Homelessness is the symptom of a variety of problems including mental health and substance abuse. I will collaborate with community organizations to address these issues and provide our affected population with the services they need.
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?
As a Native Hawaiian, I am familiar with the injustices people of color have faced and continue to face. I have been educated on the stories of our past and experienced prejudices firsthand.
In Hawaii, we are blessed that our local police officers are also from our community. We need to collaborate with law enforcement to ensure they have the support and services required to effectively protect and serve us, while keeping them accountable and fiscally responsible.
Locally led public safety programs working alongside law enforcement will go a long way in helping them help us.
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 do not agree with Gov. Ige’s decision. The people of Hawaii need to know how the government is working for them and what is being done to address our needs. COVID-19 exposed the importance of communication from our leaders and the lack of this led to a spread of anxiety and uncertainty in our communities. I will communicate and engage regularly with our community to ensure they have access to this information.
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?
Hawaii County is no stranger to the natural disasters and other effects of climate change. In the short term, I will develop a plan to prepare and address how we respond in the face of these adversities. Damages can be mitigated and lives saved with a proper disaster response plan prepared in advance that collaborates with government and local community entities.
It is significantly more cost-effective to take proactive precautionary measures than it is to mobilize extensive recovery efforts. Communication and accessibility are vital to emergency responses, which is why our infrastructure needs to be brought up to standard to support coordinated and swift emergency responses where they are needed.
In the long term, I will support alternative energies such as geothermal and solar that reduce our reliance on oil and lessen our environmental impact.
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.
Infrastructure is a critical component of our lives that is in dire need of improvement in Puna and Hawaii County. Many of the issues we face as a community can be addressed through improvements to our infrastructure.
Puna has the fastest-growing population in Hawaii, and with it comes the need for affordable housing, jobs, access to health care and education, and overall connectivity. COVID-19 has exposed the need for connectivity more than ever through telecommuting, telehealth and distance learning. A well-planned and coordinated effort to improve our existing roads, provide alternate routes and improve our mass transit system will raise Puna to its potential.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
The most pressing issue for Puna at this time is economic recovery. We need to get our community back to work safely and diversify our economy to protect us in the long run. I will work to ensure jobs are available and accessible to our people.