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 Matt Kaneali’i-Kleinfelder, 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 Ikaika Rodenhurst 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?
Hawaii is highly dependent on imports and tourism and extremely vulnerable to outside economic and environmental disturbances. The county Department. of Research and Development is developing a Strategic Tourism Plan to incorporate community concerns and the impacts of tourism.
Given recent events, I am focusing on diversifying economic resilience through agriculture, alternative/renewable energy and specialized labor force.
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?
As one of the few small business owners on the council, my main concern is balancing our budget for at least the next two years. 30,000 people in our county are unemployed. The state is a half-million dollars in debt. Unless the feds increase funding to state and local governments, our county will have no choice but to sacrifice over the next two years to balance the budget.
Fortunately, our county is set to receive $80 million in CARES funding from the state that can act as a lifeboat to many struggling sectors in our community and offset revenue shortfalls through December 2020.
3. What would you have done differently to handle the coronavirus crisis on the Big Island?
I need to say that it’s easy to offer opinions in hindsight on how we could have done better at the onset of COVID-19. Our administrators should pay close attention to other nations’ response in future situations and listen carefully to community concerns.
In the future, I would: provide free testing for everyone and collaborate with local testing facilities, require the use of face masks in public early on, and halt all interstate and international travel into our county at the outset of any pandemic as most cases were travel-related.
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?
When it comes to Mauna Kea, I was very concerned by the processes followed by the state and county in 2019. The issue of jurisdiction of Mauna Kea Access Road is still to be decided.
The current shortfalls in our global economy lead me to believe that one of the most controversial projects in our state will not move forward soon. Our current focus should be helping local small businesses and decreasing the unemployment rate by supporting jobs that do not negatively affect the environment.
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 persistent challenge in our communities. Cost of living, lack of “affordable” housing, and access to services are some of the current priorities in our county. Likewise, many nonprofits concurrently offer programs, rehabilitation and services for these folks and the county is very supportive of their efforts. The recent tiny houses built by the county speak to our commitment in finding solutions to the homeless.
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?
In light of recent events across the nation, I am pleased to see that our county has remained so peaceful. We are a melting pot of culture, race and beliefs. With that said there’s always room for improvement going forward.
I respect our officers and what they do every day in our communities to keep us safe. We need to follow the 1st amendment and find balance between community concern and police accountability. At the end of the day, even through the most divisive issues we face as a county, we all sit down at the same table. That’s Hawaii — that’s what makes us special.
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?
The No. 1 concern of citizens nationwide regarding government is transparency. It is every elected official’s responsibility to ensure that there is light in all corners of government. I stand firmly behind the Sunshine Law in our county. “Democracy dies in darkness.”
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?
Over the last 10 years I installed thousands of solar systems. My knowledge as an electrician in the solar field gives me first-hand experience in helping our county meet state mandates of 100% renewable energy by 2045.
It’s 2020 and our state is still dependent on fossil fuel to create energy. We live on an island with finite resources and space. Our keiki need us to start making decisions that benefit Hawaii and our planet. In my first term I worked hard to get hydrogen fuel cell buses, utilize existing hydrogen infrastructure and purchase electric buses. We are mandated by state law to be carbon neutral by 2045. Without PGV online, our county is running at 30% renewable energy.
We are all responsible for our keiki’s future and its time to step up to the plate. We need to lead by example; build resilient economies to build clean sustainable energy infrastructure.
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.
Recent events have highlighted our dependence on outside resources, minute investments in agriculture and how finite our resources are. My big idea: Listen to our community and reshape our economy.
Moving forward I will work hand in hand with communities to reinforce the Strategic Tourism Plan, helping communities collaborate with the tourism industry during our post-COVID reopening. I am currently working with local farmers to start local food hubs and reinvent local resilient economy.
10. What do you see as the most pressing issue facing your district? What will you do about it?
I came into politics because I saw needs in public safety and infrastructure in Puna. Our office worked hard to increase police presence by 10 positions in Puna and better our roads. Now, due to COVID-19 and the upcoming shortfalls in our county budget, we need continuity of service and experience in Puna.
The council has to make hard, informed decisions over the next few years to keep our county in the black. Puna needs infrastructure to increase economy, increase public safety and decrease our cost-of-living.
I have come to understand that the root causes of public and private roadway challenges in Puna are related to flooding and drainage. I am committed to increasing all aspects of public safety in Puna.